Henderson brings breath of fresh air to England

Skilful, serious and teetotal, the Sunderland midfielder's call-up represents a break from the excesses of the past
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The Independent Football

He does not drink and he considers a good night to be one spent in front of the television watching Match of the Day, preferably with Sunderland winning in the style they did at Stamford Bridge on Sunday. Welcome to the world of Jordan Henderson, the new generation of English footballer.

It was a good weekend for Henderson, 20, who turned up at Stamford Bridge on Sunday already knowing he was in the England squad and subsequently put in a performance worthy of an international footballer. It followed another day of headlines suggesting he is on Manchester United's radar, not to mention Manchester City and Chelsea, too.

The man of the moment was at England's hotel in Hertfordshire yesterday, an unassuming new boy in the squad whose accent immediately locates him. He is Sunderland born and bred and has been at the club since he was seven years old. With that in mind, was there ever a chance he might go elsewhere? "No. My dad is a Sunderland fan, all my friends are Sunderland fans and I am a Sunderland fan. I got asked to go on a trial when I was seven and I have been ever since."

Now that England's golden generation is ebbing away, the one that is coming in to replace it has some abstemious characters who take their professional lives very seriously. Henderson is young enough to be able to say that his role models growing up were David Beckham and Ryan Giggs. Beckham's generation were inspired by Paul Gascoigne and Italia '90. Not Henderson. He was born the day after England drew with the Dutch at that World Cup.

If that makes you feel old then consider that Henderson's first meeting with Giggs was when Henderson was three years old and encountered the United man on holiday in Majorca. "I cannot even remember it but I can remember the picture my mum had with me on his shoulders." Does Giggs recall it? "I've never asked him."

Like most 20-year-olds, Henderson's world still revolves to a large extent around his father Brian, a policeman, and mother Liz. He has only just moved out of home into his own place but it does not sound that the independence has changed his lifestyle much. "I just love playing football and I don't want anything to jeopardise that," Henderson said. "I like to go in every day, training and working hard."

There is a seriousness about the likes of Henderson, James Milner and Theo Walcott that suggests England's future will have its fair share of level-headed players to counter-balance Andy Carroll, who has enough nights out for all of them. Henderson's development as a player has accelerated beyond all reasonable expectations, however, and it is now a question of how long he will stay at Sunderland.

Steve Bruce admitted last week that Sir Alex Ferguson is interested and that, if push came to shove, it would be difficult to stop United taking Sunderland's best young player. "It just gives us a little bit more confidence," Henderson said. "I don't think about it too much. I don't let it affect my football or anything like that. My best friend is a Manchester United fan, so he's going like: 'What's going on here, then?' He's the only one who gives us a bit of banter about it.

"To be honest, my mates have been good since school. They used to go out but they'd probably tell me not to. Which is a good thing. But none of them are bad lads. They didn't really drink at a young age or anything like that. I didn't really go out much. I had to be back by a certain time, according to my mam.

"A fun night out for me was Sunday night after the Chelsea game. Watching the highlights. I never go out. The only time I go out is Christmas night when the whole team goes out for team bonding and stuff like that. But I still won't drink or anything. I'll just have a good night out with the lads and a bit of craic.

"My mum and dad have been a good influence on me. They have brought us up really well, they have always kept my feet on the ground and not let us get carried away. My dad used to be a policeman and play for the police force. There was no real back-up plan [beyond football], to be honest. I was a little bit fortunate to become a player. My mam would say 'What will you do?' but I would say 'This is all I ever wanted to do'."

He made his Premier League debut for Sunderland at Stamford Bridge two years ago, had a loan spell at Coventry City in the early part of 2009 and broke into the Sunderland team last season. Last month, his first goal for England under-21s in the first leg of their European championship play-off against Romania at Carrow Road marked him out as one of those in Stuart Pearce's squad ready for promotion.

He has already played for two managers who had stellar careers at United, in Roy Keane and Bruce, and curiously Henderson says that he never felt intimidated by Keane. "I felt I could go to him anytime and talk to him about anything. I did that a couple of times when I felt I needed to improve."

The England midfield of the future would ideally be built around the likes of Henderson, Jack Wilshere, Jack Rodwell and Josh McEachran, but there comes a time when all that potential finally has to demonstrate that it deserves its place. Henderson's chance has come very early but he certainly looks like he is ready.

England's midfield of the future?

Jordan Henderson

Club: Sunderland

Age: 20

League apps: 45 (2 goals)

"He has everything you need from the modern-day player" Steve Bruce

Josh McEachran

Club: Chelsea

Age: 17

League apps: 4 as sub (0 goals)

"He has the ability to change the game" Carlo Ancelotti

Jack Rodwell

Club: Everton

Age 19

League apps: 27 (2 goals)

"There's no doubt he'll play for England" David Moyes

Jack Wilshere

Club: Arsenal

Age: 18

League apps: 22 (1 goal)

"He has a good combination of talent and intelligence" Arsène Wenger