Jordan Henderson drew the ire of many this weekend when he was given his marching orders late in the game at Vicarage Road. The decision was harsh yet most probably deserved when you consider all variables in the situation. It was a classic case of if you give a referee a reason no matter how flimsy, then you essentially get what is coming to you. The criticism did however spiral dangerously out of control after the match as the anti-Hendo vultures took their opportunity to lay siege on the captain’s now breached defenses. It was unnecessarily brutal. If you didn’t know any better, you’d have assumed based on the reaction that Watford actually beat us 3-0! It is essentially the story of Henderson’s Liverpool career in a nutshell.
In reality though the skipper has only been sent off twice in his in seven years at Liverpool. The consequences of his first dismissal were quite a bit more significant though. The date was the 13th of April 2014 when Liverpool were in the process of completing a stunning 3-2 victory over title rivals Manchester City at Anfield. Philippe Coutinho had scored what turned out to be a memorable winning goal with about 10 mins to go. The win widened the the gap to City to 7 points though the Manchester club still had two games in hand at the time. The stage was very much set.
It was in stoppage time when the ever competitive Henderson lunged in forcefully to a challenge on Samir Nasri. Just like Saturday, the challenge was avoidable but that is just not how Henderson plays. It probably merited a yellow but referee Mark Clattenburg showed no hesitation in whipping out a red card. Many supporters were in agreement that the appearance of that card may well have driven a knife into the remaining life blood of our title challenge. That card was basically written confirmation of a three match ban for the player which would rule him out of the now infamous fixtures against Chelsea and Crystal Palace. Make no mistake, we badly missed him.
Hendo was instrumental in providing the athleticism of the midfield at the time which consisted of an aging Steven Gerrard and Coutinho alongside him. The Reds of the time under Brendan Rodgers were nothing like the stingy outfit we see today. They were a team set up to play to their strengths which was attack behind the snarling front three of Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling. Jordan Henderson was the glue that held the very fragile link between defense and attack just about together. His loss was devastating. It was a massive case of what could have been.
Since that tragic moment against Man City, Henderson has gone on to be certainly the most controversial club captain of my lifetime. He has had the unenviable task of following in Stevie’s giant footsteps. In doing so, he has never shown less than complete commitment to the cause. He has also had the added burden of several trying injuries yet he has always fought back to become an essential member of the first team. He was an integral part of out run to the Champions League final and yet many still believe him not good enough to play at the highest level. I believe too he was badly missed in the Europa League final against Sevilla.
Over four years has passed since these two painful isolated incidents for Jordan Henderson. He has given everything he has to the Liverpool Football Club cause, and yet he continues to get lambasted by many supporters. He has never asked for any sympathy but it has been hard to ignore the lack of respect he has been shown at times. In both red card instances, the decision could certainly have gone either way. If Clattenburg brandishes instead a yellow card back in 2014, who knows potentially an entire chapter of Liverpool’s history could have re-written. We could still be polishing league title number nineteen in the trophy room. The same probably can’t be said of the sending off on this occasion but the overlying message has been similar all along.
Whether you like Jordan Henderson or not, he is our captain and he has led the team to the best of his abilities. He has played out of position essentially since Gerrard departed. This was done for the good of the team. He is a selfless individual who has sacrificed his own personal ambitions for what he knew made the team better. He is also clearly well liked by the squad and is captain for a good reason. Just like Dejan Lovren, the main critique one could level at Henderson is that perhaps he sometimes tries too hard and lets his passion get the better of him.
It is that very same dedication which got him in trouble on both occasions years apart, but you will never hear him make excuses and he backs his team through thick and thin. History has proven one thing, in that he will be greatly missed in the Merseyside Derby this weekend, there is no doubt about that. But the rest of the squad will do their best to win for their skipper, and that says so much about the person that is Jordan Henderson.