””

Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson: The slow burner

Unassuming but persistent Henderson adapts to captaincy and new role for resurgent Reds

Jordan Henderson does not stand out. He doesn't want to. Even on a week when he was named England captain for the first time in his career, the first thing he could think of was not the pride of wearing the national squad armband, but the two points lost against Slovenia in a 0-0 World Cup qualifying draw.

Ask him how he leads the cast of different countries, cultures and personalities to play their hearts out for Liverpool week in, week out, and he simply says he is lucky that he has lots of help from others.

"We have strong and vocal characters all over the pitch - Adam (Lallana), James (Milner), Dejan (Lovren) - so my job is easier with them around," he explained in a phone interview with The Sunday Times on Thursday.

Yet perhaps it is this understated personality, coupled with a willingness to run to the ground for the cause, that makes the 26-year-old midfielder a natural choice as a leader for both club and country.

In a league filled with genuine talents - and more than a few overhyped ones - Henderson has had to struggle to even be a first-team regular at Liverpool, after joining from Sunderland for about £18 million (S$30.5 million) in 2011.

That hefty price tag weighed heavily early on in his time with the Reds, and former manager Brendan Rodgers was even on the verge of letting the struggling youngster move on to Fulham.

  • Seeing the change

    When the Liverpool players take to the Anfield pitch tomorrow for their Premier League clash against Manchester United, look out for their jerseys.

    Instead of the usual logo of shirt sponsors Standard Chartered across their chests, the players will be wearing the logo for Seeing Is Believing, StanChart’s flagship community programme which works to tackle avoidable blindness.

    To date, the partnership has raised more than £250,000 (S$423,300) through fan donations and auction proceeds.

Yet he stayed on, fought on, adapted to any midfield role Rodgers and his successor Jurgen Klopp want, and played with such drive that, when the time came to replace Steven Gerrard as Reds captain, he was far and away the top choice.

This season, in Klopp's first full season in charge, Henderson has had to play in a more withdrawn yet disciplined position to support Liverpool's buzzing array of speedy forwards.

It is an unfamiliar role from his usual dynamic, non-stop running style, and more than a few critics doubted his capability to succeed, yet Henderson has grown into the role slowly but surely.

"I have had to run less, but be in better positions to pass to my team-mates," he explained. "It's not a major change, and coach has told me what he wants, what he expects, so I'm trying to learn as much from him as possible."

So assured is he in his latest playing role that he has even earned the Premier League Goal of the Month award for September, with his long-range strike against Chelsea the result of his astute positioning to regain possession and let fly that stunning attempt.

With the Reds flying high on a five-match winning streak, coupled with the expanded Anfield stadium to raise the atmosphere and gate receipts, optimism is high within the Merseyside club as they chase honours under Klopp.

Yet, Henderson preaches caution. Decades of promising yet unfulfilling football have dogged the Reds since their last domestic league triumph in 1990, and while Klopp's brand of high-tempo football has thrilled many, it is still early days in the Premier League season to start celebrations.

"We're trying not to get too far ahead of ourselves," he said. "It's a good start, but there's plenty of work to be done if we want to win titles. The good thing is the team understand that, and we push one another to do better with each game."

Again, the ever practical side of Henderson re-appears. The cynics might say that the ever-rebuilding England and Liverpool deserve only this kind of captain, and not those gung-ho, swashbuckling ones a la Gerrard or Wayne Rooney.

Still, Henderson shows that persistence is golden, as he carves out his own special niche amid the Premier League. Surely you're happy that Liverpool are above Manchester United in the Premier League table, Jordan?

"I'm happy only if it happens at the end of the season."

Completely in character.

• Jordan Henderson and Liverpool FC are supporting Standard Chartered's Seeing Is Believing charity initiative, which helps the 285 million people around the world who suffer from preventable blindness. For more information or to donate, visit https://www.sc.com/

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 16, 2016, with the headline 'The slow burner'. Print Edition | Subscribe