Sam Drury has words of praise for the way Jordan Henderson has turned around his Liverpool career. The midfielder hasn't had it easy in his Anfield sojourn to date but is starting to win over even his staunchest critics
By Sam Drury - @SamDrury11
Last Updated: 12/09/13 11:33am
On the 9th June 2011, Liverpool confirmed the signing of young English midfielder Jordan Henderson from Sunderland.
The fee, which depending on which report you believe, was between £14m and £20m and caused more than the odd raised eyebrow. However, with the so-called 'English Tax' and the fact he was coming in off the back of a promising season for Sunderland that had seen him linked with Manchester United, Liverpool were thought to have done well. In summary, Kenny Dalglish and Damien Comolli could be pleased with their work even if they had been forced to pay slightly over the odds.
A year on and Henderson had been labelled a flop.
Despite winning the League Cup and reaching the FA Cup final, Liverpool had had a poor season. Finishing eighth in the Premier League was considered a failure. To make matters worse, in two of the Reds' biggest triumphs of the season, the League Cup final victory and the FA Cup semi-final against Everton at Wembley, Henderson froze and was substituted after failing to make any impact.
Used predominantly on the right of the midfield, the former England U21 captain rarely looked comfortable in the role. Henderson has never been the type of player to trick his way past a full-back and whip in a cross and after sections of the crowd started to get on his back, his confidence visibly drained.
Too often he resorted to playing the simple, backwards or sideways pass for fear of trying anything more ambitious and risking the wrath of elements within the Anfield crowd should it not work. The crab a (shell) fish out of water as it were.
While his brighter moments came when he was afforded the chance to play in a more central position, the then 21-year-old was rarely given an extended run in his preferred position and instead was shunted back out to the wing.
So low had his stock fallen at Liverpool that when Brendan Rodgers replaced Dalglish as manager, he was reported to have offered Henderson as a makeweight in a deal to bring Clint Dempsey to Merseyside.
Henderson though maintained support from plenty of Liverpool fans who had seen enough from the former Sunderland favourite to believe he could, at the very least, become a useful squad man. However, convincing the new boss of his understated usefulness seemed a hopeless task; even for someone considered to be a quintessential 'Rodgers-type' player.
Fast forward a year on and Henderson has more than persuaded his manager of his worth.
After half a season struggling to get regular playing time, the Reds' no.14 forced his way into the Liverpool team with a good run of form over the busy Christmas period. A committed performance away at QPR, despite the fact he was suffering with a bug that had ruled out a number of the Liverpool side already, was arguably the turning point for the Mackem.
Between that match in late December until the end of the season, Henderson featured heavily. Liverpool's best performances came when the midfielder was in the side. His energy and efficient passing became vital to the way Rodgers had his team playing towards the end of the season.
Henderson was finally showing the quality that led Liverpool to invest so heavily in him. Whether the most advanced of the three central midfielders or playing slightly tucked in on the left, he was no longer on the periphery and even chipped in with five league goals.
A disappointing U21 campaign in the summer has done little to dent the 23-year-old's renewed confidence and Henderson has started all three of Liverpool's Premier League fixtures this season. His display against Manchester United in their most recent win earned him stellar reviews.
The timid showings of the past two seasons have been replaced by increasingly mature and commanding performances. His goal against Notts County in the Capital One Cup - where he nutmegged a defender before bursting through to finish with aplomb - was further evidence that Henderson is no longer afraid to attempt the more ambitious option when the opportunity arises. There is self-assurance to his play that was desperately lacking in the past.
He may not have been selected by Roy Hodgson to have the chance to add to his five England caps, but Liverpool fans are unlikely to mind. The international break will allow Henderson to go into their next Premier League fixture at Swansea refreshed and raring to go.
If he maintains his current form though, Brendan Rodgers will have to accept that a player fast becoming a first-team regular at Anfield won't be getting a rest when international matches next come around.