Unsung hero Henderson on fire after being unshackled

Ever since joining Liverpool from Sunderland in 2011, Jordan Henderson had struggled to silence the critics.
Ever since joining Liverpool from Sunderland in 2011, Jordan Henderson had struggled to silence the critics.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON • Jordan Henderson has emerged as the unexpected driving force in Liverpool's midfield after persuading Jurgen Klopp to grant him the freedom to roam.

The Englishman has spent most of his career as an unsung support act for more glamorous team-mates with Liverpool and England.

But the 28-year-old has won Klopp's trust so completely that he goes into today's Champions League quarter-final second leg at Porto firmly established as one of the key components of Liverpool's push for a European Cup and Premier League double.

Ever since joining Liverpool from Sunderland in 2011, Henderson had struggled to silence the critics.

Former Manchester United boss Alex Ferguson once wrote in his autobiography that he opted not to sign Henderson because of the way he ran.

"We looked at Jordan Henderson a lot, but we noticed that he runs from his knees, with a straight back," Ferguson said.

"The modern footballer runs from his hips, and we thought this gait might cause him problems later in his career."

But the level-headed Henderson refused to be beaten down by Ferguson and others who wrote him off.

Impressing Klopp with his tactical discipline and relentless work ethic, Henderson has improved significantly since the German took charge at Anfield in 2015, earning the captain's armband.

But even with his place in Klopp's plans secure as a reliable defensive midfielder, Henderson remained restless for a bigger role in the team's attacking scheme.

Offered the chance to play in an advanced midfield berth during England's recent Euro 2020 qualifiers against the Czech Republic and Montenegro, Henderson showcased his versatility with two terrific performances.

Emboldened by those displays, Henderson made a beeline for Klopp's office on his return to Liverpool's Melwood training ground and made his case to be used in the same role with the Reds.

Intriguingly, Klopp decided to bow to Henderson's request and the results have been a revelation.

He scored his first goal in 18 months in Liverpool's 3-1 win at Southampton on April 6, delivered a dynamic show in the 2-0 Champions League first-leg victory over Porto three days layer and then set up Sadio Mane's opener in Sunday's 2-0 success against Chelsea.

"From now on, all the time when players come into my office and ask for a different position, I will play them. It's brilliant," Klopp joked. "Actually we had that talk. He played the other positions when we had a need and played them really well.

"For the game against Porto, wow. So no problem. That is my job, to play the players in their strongest position.

"In the last three games he's obviously on fire."

Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah believes Henderson's switch to a more attacking position has benefited the rest of the side.

"Hendo did a great job and it makes it easier for me. I think we do a good job together," he said.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 17, 2019, with the headline 'Unsung hero Henderson on fire after being unshackled'. Print Edition | Subscribe