The fledgling career of 23-year-old Liverpool midfielder Jordan Henderson is the perfect example of the shameless hypocrisy that the English media is capable of.
Once regarded as the brightest prospect in English football after Arsenal's Jack Wilshere, Henderson was considered to be the perfect man for Manchester United's midfield and was even linked very strongly with a £20million move to Old Trafford in 2011.
However, after a £16m move to Liverpool (who had recently been bought by John W. Henry and subsequently significantly backed in the transfer market) in June of that year was followed by a series of performances that were perceived as disappointingly below-par from the two-time Sunderland Young Player of the Year, the media were quick to brand him a flop signing by Kenny Dalglish (even though Henderson went on the win the Liverpool Young Player of the Year award in the 2011-2012 season) and a huge waste of money.
Before looking at how, under the nurturing tutelage of current manager Brendan Rodgers, Henderson has gone a significant way towards dispelling doubts concerning his suitability (or lack thereof) for a club of Liverpool's stature, it would be prudent to consider that Henderson has never been nearly as bad a player for the Merseysiders as he has been made out to be.
Granted, the multi-million pound move from Sunderland to Liverpool and the pressures of playing for a team that for a very brief period at the beginning of the 2011-12 season was considered a genuine title contender were probably a lot to take in for the Sunderland Academy product, but he settled in very quickly, and stuck manfully to the roles he was given by Dalglish.
Henderson played the majority of the 2010-11 season at the Stadium of Light in central midfield, usually as a box-to-box midfielder, and was fantastic in the role. However, owing to the presence of the likes of Steven Gerrard, Lucas Leiva (granted, the two spent much of the 2011-12 season injured), Charlie Adam, Jay Spearing and Jonjo Shelvey at Anfield, Henderson was forced to make most of his 48 appearances on the right side of midfield, a position that was clearly not the best for him, despite his having played there for much of the 2009/10 season while at Sunderland.
This combination of him being in a new environment, feeling the pressure of a big-money move, and not being completely suited to the position he'd been given, led to Henderson not winning over too many Liverpool fans during his first season at the club.
The media was quick to latch onto this, and vilified him as a poor player not worthy of wearing the Liverpool shirt.
And now to look at how Henderson has performed under Rodgers.
After Dalglish was relieved of his duties as manager of Liverpool having led the club to an eighth position finish in the league--the club's poorest finish in 18 years, and Brendan Rodgers was appointed as his replacement, many people wondered whether Henderson would be a part of the new manager's long-term plans. People feared the worst for the youngster's future when Rodgers spent a mammoth £15m on one of his key midfielders at Swansea and a player who was perfectly suited to his tactical philosophies, Joe Allen. Henderson was an unused substitute for the opening-day loss to West Brom (3-0 at the Hawthorns), with Rodgers going for the midfield combination of Lucas-Allen-Gerrard, and it looked like Henderson was on the fringes of the manager's plans.
However, after Lucas suffered a thigh problem five minutes into the 2-2 home draw against Manchester City in August and Joe Allen suffered a dip in form, Henderson was given an opportunity to play in the central role he preferred, and as the season progressed, he grew in stature, and his performances increasingly displayed the assurance and confidence of a player coming into his own.
He had a stellar second half of the season, his no-nonsense determination and hard-tackling approach perfectly complementing Rodgers' style of play which focused on possession football and quick retention of the ball in the middle third of the pitch.
A particularly satisfying personal high was his magnificent performance in the 6-0 defeat of Newcastle United in April, a game in which he scored two goals, assisted another and completed 95% of his passes.
The 2013/14 season promises to be an even better one for Henderson, especially since he has had enough time to acclimatise himself with the pressures of playing for Liverpool and the manager's expectations of him in his central midfield role in the team.
Added bonuses for the midfielder come in the form of the departure of Jonjo Shelvey to Swansea and the impending transfer of Jay Spearing to Bolton Wanderers. Without the intense competition that these two players would have provided for a berth in the starting XI, Henderson will likely be given some assurance of a position in his preferred role.
It is well-documented that Rodgers is a fan of what Henderson brings to the table in terms of his ability to play 90 minutes as a tireless box-to-box player (a role that the ageing Steven Gerrard will not be able to play in for too long), and his dynamic approach to wasting as little time as possible in using possession of the ball to feed wingers and instigate counter-attacks will come in handy for Liverpool this season.
While Lucas and Allen are more patient with possession, Henderson provides a much more energetic option, and will be a key player in maintaining a high level of momentum in Liverpool's already-efficient possession style of football.
In addition, Henderson is also currently the best defensive midfielder in the squad, and having a player like him who can be trusted to hold down the fort while attack-minded full-backs Jose Enrique and Glen Johnson bomb up the flanks in support of the wingers is an added bonus to Rodgers and the style of play he will be looking to implement at Anfield.
Henderson can be quite neat when in possession, and never hesitates to offer an extra body whenever a counterattack is on. He will certainly continue to be a useful player for Liverpool in the future.
It seems like Liverpool and Brendan Rodgers are embarking on a promising new chapter in the club's illustrious history, and as the Northern Irishman works towards helping the club return to the elite echelons of European football, one of the most crucial cogs in his machine will be the much-maligned yet severely unappreciated midfielder Jordan Henderson.
As the World Cup fast approaches, Henderson will look to use the 2013-14 season to establish himself as a worthy candidate for selection to Roy Hodgson's final England squad, and if he is to succeed in doing so, he will have to have a fantastic season with Liverpool.
So far, so good, and all the signs point towards Henderson finally getting the monkey that is the English media off his back.
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