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Jordan Henderson shines on the biggest stage to silence critics

Midway through the second-half of England’s dramatic 2-1 win over Tunisia on Monday, the latest in an endless stream of WhatsApp messages came through to my phone.

Posted by Andy Thompson
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It was from a Tottenham-loving mate – someone whose friendship I cherish and who knows the game well – and it read: “we are learning that Henderson definitely cannot pass a ball forward”.

Such a message is like a red rag to a bull for me, considering I increasingly find myself sticking up for Henderson like a close family member.

A moderately heated exchange took place in the minutes afterwards:

Me: “Did you just miss the 50 yard pass he pinged straight to Trippier’s feet?”

Him: “He’s played about three good forward passes, the other 99% have been backwards.”

Me: “The bias against him is unreal.”

Him: “Gives us no momentum.”

Everybody is entitled to an opinion, of course, but when it comes to Henderson some of the bizarre negativity he has to deal with leaves you scratching your head.

Any Liverpool player to score in the World Cup final is 9/1.

The idea that Liverpool’s captain can only pass sideways or backwards is one of the worst opinions in football and it is a lazy way to criticise one of the most harshly-maligned players in living memory.

You simply cannot play regularly for Liverpool and England, with a manager of Jurgen Klopp’s stature rating you highly, if you are not a very adept footballer. It really is that simple.

Henderson was excellent for England on Monday night, as the Three Lions made a dramatic winning start to their campaign, beating Tunisia 2-1. Henderson, along with Kieran Trippier, was comfortably their best player.

He covered every blade of grass, provided his ever-improving leadership and, most importantly, thrived with the ball at his feet.

One early first-time pass that fell straight into the path of Dele Alli was majestic in its execution – had Alli himself done the same we would be hearing about it until some time around Christmas.

That’s because he’s fashionable and Henderson isn’t. In a modern era where child-like celebrations, strong social media games and ever-changing haircuts are all the rage, Henderson doesn’t fit the bill. He is old school.

It works against him every time he takes to the field, but just because he doesn’t look the silkiest or catch the eye like more illustrious teammates should not work against him.

England to beat Panama exactly 3-0 is 21/4.

After that beautiful aforementioned early pass, there were a number of Steven Gerrard-esque long-range missiles that landed straight onto the feet of appreciative teammates and he was also crisp and incisive when it came to threading understated passes into the final third.

Thankfully, Henderson’s efforts finally seem to be earning praise from a wider audience, rather than just the section of Liverpool fans who realise the worth he brings to any side.

BBC trio Rio Ferdinand, Frank Lampard and Alan Shearer singled him out for special praise and the same applies with Martin O’Neill and Gary Neville on ITV.

Lampard claimed Henderson has “used real intelligence” to thrive as a deep-lying midfielder, O’Neill described him as “really, really brilliant” and Neville called him “a manager’s dream.”

Henderson is a tremendously likeable individual off the pitch and a player enjoying arguably the best football of his career.

This unfair vitriol constantly thrown in his direction is something that leaves a bad taste, though.

Hilariously, some desperately tried to still be critical after England’s win – when you can’t laud Henderson after a performance like that, your opinion becomes meaningless.

Perhaps some are too stubborn to admit they were wrong about him, following his early struggles at Liverpool.

Maybe others are so lazy that they see a slightly awkward-looking player and assume he is bad on the ball. Let’s call it ‘Mamadou Sakho-itis’.

Whatever it is, it is unwarranted.

England to finish top of Group G is 6/5.

Henderson will never be Gerrard, we all know that. He will never be world-class and there is every chance that the arrival of Fabinho and Naby Keita at Anfield will see him used more sparingly next season and beyond.

He is, however, a good player in his own right and it was heartwarming to see him thrive in front of a global audience at a World Cup on Monday.

If you watch Henderson sporadically, like my great friend and many others, you will never fully appreciate him. He is your classic under-the-radar player.

The hope is that Liverpool’s stunning Champions League run, and this promising start to the World Cup, is finally seeing Henderson earn the acclaim he has always deserved.

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