Jordan Henderson is Liverpool's heartbeat and deserves more respect

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So often has Jordan Henderson got his hands on a piece of silverware over the past 12 months that the Liverpool captain has perfected his routine of triumphantly lifting it above his head.

The midfielder shuffles over with the trophy in-hand, back to everyone else as if to show his teammates first. Then he emphatically swivels around and thrusts the prize into the air. It’s an act Henderson has performed as a Champions League and Club World Cup winner and he’ll almost certainly be repeating it in May as a Premier League winner.

Henderson’s importance to Liverpool goes far beyond his use as an exceptional trophy lifter, though.

The 29-year-old has become a key component of Jurgen Klopp’s side. He is the Reds’ engine through the middle of the pitch, driving others forward both as a player and a character. Without Henderson, Liverpool would be a much weaker proposition.

And yet the former Sunderland man still doesn’t receive the credit he deserves.

Henderson likely wouldn’t feature in a list of the best midfielders currently playing in the Premier League when in actual fact he warrants a mention alongside the likes of Kevin De Bruyne, Paul Pogba and Jorginho.

His qualities might not be as obvious as some of his peers, but Henderson is among the very best at what he does.

“Hendo, from my point of view, is a brilliant player,” Klopp explained in an interview given earlier in the season.

“He’s our skipper, he’s a fantastic character. If I had to write a book about Hendo, it would be 500 pages. So I’m very positive. The most difficult job in the last 500 years of football was to replace Steven Gerrard. In the mind of the people it was like if it’s not Stevie, then it’s not good enough. And he has dealt with that outstandingly well so he can be really proud. Now we have to think of the future and he is a very important part of our team.”

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As Klopp references, the challenge of succeeding Steven Gerrard as Liverpool captain was one many believed to be beyond Henderson when he was handed the armband four-and-a-half years ago.

Gerrard had been a spiritual leader at Anfield for a generation and in Henderson many saw a character with more bark than bite who wasn’t even assured of his place in the first team.

Since then, though, the 29-year-old has grown into the role.

It’s not just in the way he covers more ground than anyone else, in the way his on-the-field drive sets an example for his teammates, but in the way he has a grasp of what it means to be the captain of a club like Liverpool.

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For instance, when all others had returned to the dressing room after Sunday’s win over Manchester United, another landmark moment in a season to remember, Henderson stayed on the pitch to applaud all four sides of Anfield. Rather than being burdened by the responsibilities place on him, Henderson has fully embraced them.

It's taken a while for Henderson to fulfil the promise he showed earlier in his career, but Klopp has got the best out of the player. His Liverpool career has been a slow burn - Brendan Rodgers told Henderson in 2012 that he could leave the club, accepting an offer from Fulham - but the German coach has been the one to bring it to a full flame.

The signing of Fabinho in the summer of 2018 liberated Henderson. Until then, Klopp has frequently used Henderson at the base of his midfield unit.

As a number six, he lacked positional awareness and discipline, giving in to the temptation to roam when Liverpool needed him to provide structure. It was a role Henderson wasn’t terribly suited to and so the arrival of Fabinho, a true number six, allowed him to be moved further up the pitch.

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He’s a good passer, crosser and has the mobility to drift out to the right side, providing width in a midfield that doesn’t naturally have any to truly speak of.

Henderson is the perfect midfielder for Klopp’s Liverpool, someone who perhaps embodies what the German has built at Anfield better than anyone else.

Klopp recognises what Henderson offers even if many others still seem reluctant to acknowledge the improvement in the 29-year-old’s game.

In the right place at the right time, he could finish as one of Liverpool’s most successful ever captains. Maybe then, with countless medals around his neck, the acclaim will come.

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