Jordan Henderson heard the idea and puffed out his cheeks in relief.
The Liverpool captain was about to give his third media interview of a busy afternoon when he was told that this one would not be about him.
Having answered articulately and thoughtfully during a previous conversation that ranged from his dad’s cancer diagnosis to his initial struggles settling at Anfield, Henderson shifted happily in his seat.
He was glad to hear that the focus was about to be moved elsewhere.
The Reds skipper was around 24 hours away from lifting the club’s first league title in 30 years – on a specially constructed podium on the Kop, no less – but true to form, he was content to spread the praise elsewhere.
“That’s what I like to hear!” Henderson joked when the ECHO informed him of the plan to have him reveal all about the team-mates he had skippered to Liverpool’s 19th league title, rather than any prolonged discussions about his own success.
“I’m going to say a lot of nice things about a lot of people here now, aren’t I?” he added, without a whiff of ego that is sometimes a prerequisite for the successful modern footballer.
It is this sort of selflessness that has come to define Henderson as one of the greatest captains in Liverpool Football Club’s history.
Considering some of the iconic performers who have gone before Henderson, that might sound hyperbolic, but two trophy-laden years between 2019 and 2021, dispel any notion of that where the 30-year-old is concerned.
It’s 10 years to the day since Henderson flew the nest of his native Sunderland to try and make the grade at one of the biggest clubs in world football.
And it has not been an overnight success story.
But the boyhood Mackem now breathes rarefied air as a legendary leader of men at Anfield.
“You can take a lot from Hendo in terms of being a captain,” says Andy Robertson.
“He’s an unbelievable captain, he pretty much gets everything right for me in terms of wearing the armband.
“I will always look up to him as a player and a person. Being a captain myself now [with Scotland], I can take a lot from him.”
For anyone who has covered a Liverpool game during the behind-closed-doors era, Henderson’s barking of orders have become famous.
No game has passed without the characteristic cajoling of Liverpool’s No.14.
A constant flea in the ear of his colleagues, the roaring or orders, admonishment and motivation has escaped few.
One such example went viral last season after Liverpool’s official website put out a compilation video of Henderson’s dishing out the instructions inside an empty Gewiss Stadium in Bergamo.
Henderson’s ability to lead by example goes beyond what he can achieve on the pitch, however.
It is away from football where Henderson has truly earned his stripes over the past year or so.
As an underfunded NHS struggled to deal with the COVID-19 crisis in the spring of 2020, Henderson wanted to help.
The Reds star opened up WhatsApp on his phone and made contact with his counterparts inside the ‘PL Captains’ group to discuss just what could be done.
He was met with widespread backing and within a week, the Players Together initiative was birthed.
The voluntary scheme saw the creation of a contribution fund that was subsequently used to distribute money to where it was most needed at a time of genuine national crisis.
As many as 27 of the Liverpool squad put their own name to it as footballers began to mobilise on a number of groundbreaking social issues.
A first contribution was reported to have come in at around £4m for the nation’s health service.
“If you just think of what a captain does and what they have got to be about, it’s not always their ability as players, it’s what they do off the pitch as well,” Jamie Carragher, who played with Henderson for two seasons, tells the ECHO.
“And I don’t think many captains, if any, have ever done more than Jordan Henderson off the pitch.
“He’s an ambassador for his club, his team-mates, helping the NHS with what we’ve been through with the pandemic as well.
“In COVID times he’s been a huge leader and not just for Liverpool but for the Premier League and the football fraternity, really.”
As the Black Lives Matter movement took centre stage in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, Henderson took time out to educate himself on the complex topic of police brutality in the United States.
After speaking to former team-mate, Nedum Onouha, to gain a better understanding on the subject, Henderson got together with James Milner, Virgil van Dijk and Gini Wijnaldum inside the inner sanctum of the Anfield dressing room.
Finessing an idea between themselves, the quartet – known unofficially at the captains’ committee at Liverpool – agreed that the team would make their feelings on the situation known.
“Unity is strength #BlackLivesMatter” was the uniform message from the squad in June last year, as a powerful image of the entire team taking the knee inside Anfield’s centre circle was plastered all over social media.
It was subsequently Henderson’s idea to place a Black Lives Matter emblem on the sleeves of all shirts following the return of Premier League football 12 months ago.
“He’s our captain,” says Virgil van Dijk. “That’s what we all respect.
“He has been fantastic, in and out of the pitch he is very important for us whether he plays or not. We all respect him on that level.”
The extension of Henderson’s off-the-field leadership would not end there, however.
His willingness to listen and learn about a whole range of topics from online abuse to LGBT+ matters is perhaps what sets the Liverpool captain apart away from the game.
After being shortlisted for a ‘Football Ally’ award at the British LGBT Awards, Henderson agreed to hand his social media accounts over to an anti-cyberbullying charity in an attempt to raise awareness of the impact of online abuse.
“I’m sick of seeing people I know, and people I don’t know, having to put up with the kind of abuse that turns my stomach,” he would write.
“It has to stop and anyone who has a shred of decency has to play their part in making it stop.”
At a time when his club and international colleagues have been routinely subjected to personal and racist abuse by anonymous accounts, Henderson’s willingness to highlight the issue spoke volumes.
His Instagram, Twitter and Facebook accounts were placed in the care of the Cybersmile Foundation as a result, before he was prompted to take the decision to regain control of them on the evening of April 20.
As the criticism rained down on the clubs involved in the breakaway plans to form a new European Super League, Liverpool were placed firmly in the eye of the storm by their owners, Fenway Sports Group.
Led by principal owner John W Henry, FSG’s part in the controversial Super League left many at Anfield aghast.
Get all the latest Liverpool breaking news, team news, transfer rumours, injury updates plus analysis of what’s next for the Reds.
You’ll also get the latest transfer talk and analysis straight to your inbox every day with our FREE email newsletter.
Sign up here – it only takes a few seconds!
Once more, Henderson would be instrumental in taking a stand as the entire squad followed his lead in opposition to the owners’ wishes.
After arranging a meeting with his fellow Premier League captains, Henderson rallied the troops inside the Reds’ dressing room to voice their collective displeasure, once more, via social media.
“We don’t like it and we don’t want it to happen.
“This is our collective position.
“Our commitment is to this football club and its supporters is absolute and unconditional.
“You’ll Never Walk Alone.”
Speaking out against the plans of the ownership group was a courageous decision on the part of the players, but one which Henderson, true to his beliefs, felt was necessary at the time.
“He is definitely one of the greatest legends in this club. He should be up there with everyone else,” says former team-mate Jose Enrique.
“Off the field too, what he is doing, like giving his social media to the company fighting abuse.
“Some people think he just has to do that stuff but he does it because he really cares and he wants to do it.
“He gives his social media to that company and I am sure he was thinking of just deleting social media [instead] but he did it with his heart and that is why I say, him and Stevie G, you don’t see leaders like this all the time.
“He is such an unbelievable guy and unbelievable player. When he doesn’t play you feel he is not playing. We talk about Van Dijk and Salah and I believe the importance of Hendo is on that level.”
Ten years at the football club have empowered him with the fortitude and bravery to stand up for what believes is right.
And the willingness of his colleagues to rally behind him is testament to the influence and respect he holds within the game.
“It’s been a huge journey, [he’s] an inspiration,” adds Carragher. “It’s not just for people in this city, it’s for people around the world.
“He was written off at different times around his Liverpool career, he’ll finish his Liverpool career one day and go down as one of the most successful captains.
“You can’t do more than lift a league title and a European Cup.
“There’s not many more captains for Liverpool who’ve done both, so huge credit to him. A lot of that is not just ability but his personality as well.
“And when you’ve got a personality and a character like that they always come through, no matter what questions are asked of them, what obstacles are put in front of them, they always come through with flying colours.
“You speak of the likes of Graeme Souness and Steven Gerrard and I think Jordan would say he’s not as good as those two players, but I think you could argue Jordan is one of the best captains.
“So, yes, [he is] one of the best if not the best captain Liverpool have ever had.”
Now with England for what he hopes will be a successful European Championships, Henderson will return to his club later this year with a narrow-eyed determination to get Liverpool back to the top of English football’s mountain.
Having pulled the sled to the summit just 12 months ago, it will be a goal that will once more burn bright in August.
“If I can be half as a good a captain as Hendo I will be happy,” Robertson adds.
“Maybe you see things like his leadership and driving us to three points but he cares for all of us as well.”
Credit: Source link