The manner in which we assess successful signings in the transfer window is atypical. Hype, elation, and belief fill the air, but along with the positive vibes come a sense of accountability. The demand to instantly perform has become mandatory, as supporters and the media are quick to tarnish your name if you fail to make an impact.
Factors such as adapting to a new club, city or country, living arrangement and style of football are forgotten. Patience is no longer a virtue – it’s a rarity. Ask Jordan Henderson, a promising English talent whom was the media scapegoat when he moved to Liverpool in summer 2011. It was a transitional period for a club that was looking to head in a different direction, but their decisions in the transfer market provided inadequate assistance.
Unfortunately for Henderson, being signed around the same period as Andy Carroll, Charlie Adam and Stewart Downing wasn’t beneficial – their combined transfer fee equaled £78m. Unlike the other signings – Carroll and Adam were brought in as poor replacements for Fernando Torres and Raul Meireles, while Downing was purchased to supply service to Carroll – Henderson was a future prospect that required time to develop. Shockingly, Henderson started 31 of 38 Premier League games, playing in various positions across midfield – his performances were lacklustre, and his steep transfer fee led to more criticism.
“Players used to come to Liverpool and go into the reserves for two years. These kids are having to go straight into the team,” said Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers, after a draw against Arsenal in January. Theoretically, he had a point – Henderson was thrown into the fire, but that didn’t affect the young midfielder, who was familiar with encountering daunting challenges.
Although Henderson enjoys playing table tennis and badminton during his leisure time, football always played a significant role in his life. Yet, there was skepticism as to whether he would receive a professional contract from boyhood club Sunderland – where he’s plied his trade since the tender age of eight. Towards the latter stages of his youth career, manager of the Sunderland academy, Ged McNamee feared that Henderson may not make the grade.
“There were times you’d look at Jordan and you’d think ‘There’s something special about that boy’ and then other times you’d see him struggling and you’d worry for him,” McNamee said.
“It was only really when he turned 16, where we were forced into making a decision whether or not to give him a contract that we began to realize what kind of special player we’d signed.”
Likewise, matters got worse for the 16-year-old starlet when he learned that he was diagnosed with the Osgood-Schlatter disease. According to Boston’s Children Hospital the disease is an overuse condition or injury of the knee that causes pain and swelling below the knee area over the shinbone. Growing children and adolescents whom participate in athletics are prone to the disease because that is when bones are growing faster than muscles and tendons.
Nevertheless, Henderson overcame the roadblocks that nearly halted his career, but his move to Anfield wasn’t rosy. Succeeding Steven Gerrard in midfield looked unlikely, and his ability to maintain a certain level of consistency was non-existent, as he constantly drifted out of matches. The demand for Champions League football was evident, and neither fans, nor upper management were settling for mediocrity.
Henderson’s Liverpool career was hanging by a thread, and the Merseyside club was willing to offload the Englishman to Fulham, in exchange for Clint Dempsey 16 months ago. But Henderson refused to leave – he wanted to prove his worth and fight for a starting role in midfield. That’s the type of man Henderson is – while his slender build may be deceiving, the 23-year-old possesses the heart of a lion.
His unmatched work ethic separates him from many players his age, as he covers every blade of grass tirelessly. Henderson’s characteristics can stem from the upbringing he developed within his household – The Liverpool midfielder doesn’t drink or smoke, and isn’t afraid to admit that he’s a tad introverted.
“I don’t really go out. I stay in and watch TV. None of my mates are bad lads, they didn’t go drinking at a young age or anything like that, but when they used to go out, they’d tell me not to, which was a good thing,” Henderson said.
“I just love playing football and I don’t want anything to jeopardize that. I like to go in every day training and working hard.”
Henderson’s performances this season have been superb – his powerful forward runs from midfield, combined with his ability to press the opposing midfield higher up the pitch to make key tackles have been acknowledged. While his finishing in front of goal could improve, the absence of Steven Gerrard has provided Henderson the platform to display his proficient passing.
The 23-year-old has started every Premier League game this season, and there’s been a vast improvement in his passing statistics. Henderson averages a career high 53.5 passes per game with an 87% success rate. And while scoring goals may not be Henderson’s niche at this point in his career, halfway through the season he’s recorded five assists – matching a career high.
Liverpool doesn’t possess a player of Henderson’s stature in midfield – a dynamic, tactically disciplined, hard-working runner, whom is also a reliable passer. Henderson is an ideal role model for many young footballers – his ‘never say die’ attitude and determination to succeed will enable him to improve over the course of his career.
More so, the Liverpool midfielder is a prime example of why supporters should have patience with new signings. It took the 23-year-old two full seasons to find his feet at Anfield, but he’s developed a prominent role in Liverpool’s push for Champions League football – Henderson is gradually silencing all the cynics.