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Criticism helps me to push past my limits: Henderson

Jordan Henderson knows scrutiny falls on him seemingly more than most at Liverpool, because his status as captain and one of the club's longest-serving players means the pressure is always on him to perform.
Jordan Henderson knows scrutiny falls on him seemingly more than most at Liverpool, because his status as captain and one of the club's longest-serving players means the pressure is always on him to perform.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

LONDON • Jordan Henderson had spent half an hour discussing where Liverpool have come from and, more importantly, where they could be headed when his voice suddenly trailed off. Reality had bitten.

"But I don't think you can define how the season has been because everything rides on the next few months really," he said. "It is a big couple of months for us as a team but, if we give everything we can give, then hopefully we can do something special. This is the crucial part. It is make or break really."

For all the strides that Liverpool have made, all those scintillating performances in which they have blown opponents away and sent shockwaves through Europe, it is still not enough.

There is always something more that needs to be achieved, whether it is laying down a marker in the Premier League or going on to win the Champions League, where they are through to the quarter-finals.

Henderson knows this. Scrutiny falls on the midfielder seemingly more than most at Liverpool, his status as captain and one of the club's longest-serving players meaning the pressure always to perform offers no "free hits", as he puts it.

A recent quote from Steven Gerrard is shoved in front of the player who inherited his armband and he takes a second or two to read it. Gerrard argues Liverpool are better when his former team-mate is at the hub of the side, before adding that the black-and-white nature of modern-day analysis, the trial by social media, is something players just have to accept.

The latter could have been a difficult subject to broach with Henderson, given the "noise" that can sometimes swirl around his displays, with no way of measuring what it truly represents. What is certain is that any criticism would not reflect Jurgen Klopp's view, nor is it that of his team-mates.

POSITION OF STRENGTH

You never want (the manager) to buy in your position. But that is when you have to back yourself. That is Liverpool, isn't it? You want to be playing with the best players and competing for trophies.

JORDAN HENDERSON, Liverpool captain, on the impending arrival of fellow midfielder Naby Keita from RB Leipzig.

But as Henderson listens, it is refreshing that he does not simply move the conversation on but engages with disarming honesty.

"I don't think it is a question of feeling appreciated because I don't think that matters," said the 27-year-old, who moved from Sunderland to Liverpool in a £20 million (S$36.5 million) deal in 2011.

"I think that is the way it has been my whole career. There have always been questions: Is he good enough to play for Sunderland? Then, when I moved to Liverpool, is the price tag too big?

"I feel I have answered the questions but then there will always be another one and that is a good thing. That is healthy. That is me pushing myself to my limits and beyond, really.

"At times people can criticise the way I play as a No. 6 and say I am better further forward but, at the end of the day, the manager has huge belief in playing me in that role or he wouldn't play me there.

"I would rather people question me than questioning any of my team-mates. I know that I can handle that. A lot of the younger players, who maybe haven't experienced that as much, may find it difficult."

Roberto Firmino has moved off the wing and now operates centrally under Klopp, while Mohamed Salah is far less a winger and can be found interchanging infield with Firmino or Sadio Mane.

Yet these have essentially been positional tweaks for players still granted a licence for freedom.

In contrast, Henderson - an unused substitute in Saturday's 2-1 defeat by Manchester United - has been redeployed as anchorman from midfield runner.

What is clear is that he plays for the team and follows Klopp's instructions to a tee.

It means the moments which shape him are likely to be less eye-catching and more subtle but, ultimately, no less important - an interception, a covering tackle or even when he triggers Liverpool's press in games with a cry of "Go!"

He said that he has learnt to enjoy football. His sense of perspective has been shaped by more important events in his life such as the birth of his daughters and his father Brian's successful battle against cancer.

"When I had a bad game I would be really down, when I had a good game it was more of a relief that I had a good game," said the England international. "Before, I was a bit more emotional. But again I was very young coming to a huge club and you have to have the balance."

Whatever the coming weeks bring, the only guarantee is that there will be no time to catch breath.

Liverpool are awaiting the arrival of £57 million (S$104 million) Naby Keita from RB Leipzig in the summer, another midfielder who will complicate team selection.

"You never want (the manager) to buy in your position," he said, laughing. "But that is when you have to back yourself. That is Liverpool, isn't it? You want to be playing with the best players and competing for trophies.

"For me it doesn't matter who comes, I will always back myself to challenge and hopefully I can do that for a long time."

THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 12, 2018, with the headline 'Criticism helps me to push past my limits: Henderson'. Print Edition | Subscribe