LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - AUGUST 27: Jordan Henderson of Liverpool appaulds the crowds as he is substituted during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Bolton Wanderers at Anfield on August 27, 2011 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
We have a well-documented love for Jordan Henderson around here, and while we haven't had much of an opportunity to see him this season, Thursday night offered a chance to celebrate nearly everything positive he can offer. No doubt that he struggled through a challenging first season with Liverpool, often a product of being selected to play a position that he was and is unsuited for, but when picked to play centrally--both last season and this, in limited action--he's one of the more promising young players in Brendan Rodgers' squad.
I'm still haunted by his appearance against Manchester United at Anfield last fall, in which he came on in the 57th minute and very nearly volleyed Liverpool into the lead from thirty yards. David De Gea, who'd struggled to that point in goal for the visitors, used every inch of his 6'4" frame to almost impossibly tip the shot wide. It was destined for the top corner, and Henderson was already in the process of wheeling away as it was tipped to safety by De Gea.
There's no telling if his season would have gone any differently had it gone in--highly unlikely given Kenny Dalglish's preference to continually select him in an advanced position on the right, where he was just baaaaaad--but it would have at least done a fair bit to endear him to a section of the fanbase that was quick to label him a bust based not on his age or development or work rate, but on the price Liverpool paid. Which wasn't really the player's fault anyway, but rather the fault of a windowless van-driving Director of Football who came in with an initial offer about £10m or £12m over asking price on the first approach. But that's just good business, right?
Regardless, it all conspired to leave Jordan Henderson looking completely inept and without promise for the knee-jerkers, despite being 21 years old and flourishing when given the opportunity to play in what seemed like a more preferred central midfield role. Never a world-beater, but a player that possessed plenty of potential for someone who couldn't quite live up to the price tag that so many were infatuated with discussing whenever his name (or Andy Carroll's, for that matter) came up.
Which made rumors of Rodgers' apparent distaste for the player all the more worrisome, particularly given the fact that the manager spoke glowingly of his potential upon first arriving, downplaying much of the hysteria that saw him lumped in a bad buy category with Charlie Adam and Stewart Downing:
"This kid can play football. If he is in a certain system - in an environment which is going to help him and educate him in the game - you will see that. The biggest thing for me that I've heard about Jordan is his attitude. He has got an incredible attitude. If you have got a player like that who has got the ability and the thirst to learn - he can run all day, he is physically good, he is strong, he is quick - and you can remodel him, you can end up getting the value you paid for the player."
Talk of him being offered for Clint Dempsey still bothers whether or not it's true, and while he might not be the preferred option as the third or fourth midfielder at the current time, especially with Jonjo Shelvey's excellent form, shifts like today's will hopefully make the type of impression that sees his Liverpool career extend for a long while. Everything Rodgers pointed to over the summer was on display--great engine, constant pressuring, calmness in possession, and a willingness to step into a leadership role when needed.
It's clear that we like Jordan Henderson quite a bit, and that's probably not going to change. Hopefully today, all the caveats about price tag and opposition and etc. included, left others feeling similarly.