Jordan Henderson on leadership, Liverpool’s Premier League title win and a very special next tattoo

The 30-year-old on eradicating a three-decade wait for the title, needing to get another tattoo and why the league champions won’t be letting up anytime soon.

Melissa Reddy
Senior Football Correspondent
Wednesday 01 July 2020 08:34 BST
Liverpool's Premier League title-winning season in pictures

Amid Liverpool’s squad and staff chorusing a thundering cry of ‘campione, campione’ at Formby Hall as Jurgen Klopp’s wife and sons listened in on speaker, Andy Robertson and Adam Lallana pointed to the blank canvas on Jordan Henderson’s right thigh.

On the opposite side, ink serves as a permanent homage to lifting the Champions League trophy in Madrid a year ago.

When the captain decided to tattoo the biggest achievement of his career at that point while on holiday in California, his teammates told him to prime for the pain of getting another trophy immortalised on his skin. Not just any piece of silverware either.

Before securing their sixth European Cup and the first trophy under Klopp at the Wanda Metropolitano, Liverpool missed out on the league title to Manchester City by a point.

The team reported back for the current campaign with a crystalline focus: winning the top-flight for the first time in three decades.

When that objective was reached, the players duly reminded Henderson of their prediction and the fact he’d now have to decorate his right thigh.

“A few of the lads have mentioned that to be fair,” the skipper said, fresh from the celebrations of Liverpool being crowned England’s best.

“So I don’t think I can let them down, but we’ll have to wait and see.”

This conversation takes place on Friday afternoon, the effects of an all-nighter to toast ending a 30-year wait for domestic supremacy by a 23-point margin still visible.

The party the evening prior stretched into the early hours, with the final players standing only going to bed just before 5am.

But when Henderson returned home after a round of golf, there was no respite from his most important responsibilities.

“As soon as I came in, I was on the back foot,” said the father of two daughters and a baby boy. “I had to start looking after the kids and basically letting them boss me about for a few hours before bed.

“They were just having their tea and asking me to make them a drink. As I walked through the door, the baby was handed into my arms. To be fair, I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

The stream of congratulations hadn’t stopped, so much so that Henderson “can’t open my phone, I can’t literally get through them all and reply to them all.

“It will take quite a while to do and at the minute I cannot even look at it or think about that. It is overwhelming you know. It will take a while to sink in properly.”

Henderson has been key
Henderson has been key (Getty)

Henderson has become the first captain in British football history to hold the European Cup, European Super Cup, World Club Cup and domestic league title simultaneously.

But typically, it is the collective effort that resonates with him rather than individual honour.

“I don’t really think about stuff like that,” the 30-year-old said when his record, highlighted by Kenny Dalglish, is brought up. “I’m thinking ‘we’ve done it. We finally got over the line and won the Premier League.’

“After so many years, to give back what the fans have wanted so badly, feels amazing for all of us involved at the football club.

“I’m just honoured and proud to be part of it. I think the manager mentioned it – this is not only for us as players and the fans, but it is also for people like Stevie [Steven Gerrard] and Kenny, who mean so much to this football club.

“I know how much it means to Stevie to win the league title. He is so happy for us to be able to do that.

“I was devastated in 2014 that we couldn’t get over the line for him, but I know that he will be so happy and so proud of this team to be able to bring the league trophy to Liverpool.

“This one is quite personal for me and definitely to do it for him is quite big.”

Gerrard was one of the first to salute Henderson privately, before sharing an image of him putting the armband on his successor with the caption “couldn’t have passed it to a better person, proud of you mate” on Instagram.

Since taking over the captaincy in 2015, Henderson has hurdled unfair and myopic comparisons with the club legend.

When the final whistle went at the Wanda Metropolitano a year ago, it finally felt like a full stop to that exhausting discussion.

Following that up with a benchmark-setting title win only further underscores a Trent Alexander-Arnold declaration: “We wouldn’t be where we are now without Hendo.”

Henderson has led by example at Anfield
Henderson has led by example at Anfield (Getty)

The England international has always interpreted the leadership role in his own way, playing to his own strengths. Finally, his approach is being appreciated and respected in its own right.

“I have said this before when I first took over the role of the captaincy when people might have doubted me and criticised me as a person, but I will always say this – no one will replace Steven Gerrard at this football club no matter what captains or teams win,” Henderson said.

“No one will ever replace him. It wasn’t even in my mind when I took over the captaincy to replace him, it was just to do the best I could the best for this football club and this team and that is all I ever try to do.”

Klopp’s description of Liverpool as “mentality monsters” is a mirror of himself and also of Henderson.

From overcoming Osgood-Schlatter disease, a growing-pains condition requiring regular treatment, to being “smaller and skinnier” than the other young hopefuls at Sunderland’s academy, the midfielder has been flipping the finger to setbacks and severe criticism for two decades.

At 21, he was considered an expensive flop when transferring from the Stadium of Light to Anfield. A year later, he rejected being used as a makeweight in a deal for Fulham’s Clint Dempsey. Joey Barton accused Henderson of “trying to impersonate legends” in 2015, while Alex Ferguson was critical of the player’s gait in his autobiography.

For a long time, a large swathe of Liverpool fans were blind to his value too.

Henderson has used his own experiences to help others in the squad through similar periods of self-doubt and he credits the resilience of the squad for a silverware-lined year.

“There have been so many setbacks,” he said.

“Losing the league on the last day by a point was tough but we reacted in the right way to win the Champions League.

“We started this season really well, showed consistency and a great mentality from everyone to keep a high standard and the winning run going. Then you’re at the point when you’re nearer and nearer to the title and then there’s a global pandemic!

“It was unbelievable really. I’m sure anyone could actually believe what was happening and it still hasn’t really sunk in. We’ve had different things that we’ve had to deal with and again that’s just credit to the boys.

“It was a frustrating time, certainly for me, over the past few months. Obviously, what was going on in the world is much more important, but at the same time, I just wanted to get back and play football to do what we’ve been working so hard towards for so many years.

“Thankfully, the season resumed and even though it was under different circumstances, we finished the job off. I couldn’t be prouder of this team and how they’ve reacted to so many different obstacles not only this season, but over the past few years.

“It’s not particularly hard to be honest when you’ve got the group that we’ve got and the lads we have. We have leaders within that and we see the manager as being someone who would never let any distractions get in the way of what we’re trying to achieve.

“And to be honest, if you asked the same question after the Champions League final, you could ask ‘would they still have that drive, that hunger to go on and win more?’ And I think we have proven this season we do.

“It is down to us next season to prove we still have that desire and hunger and I have no doubt we will have, knowing the lads for a long time, knowing the manager and myself.

“We just want to win football games. It’s been a special journey so far, but I hope it can last a lot longer and there’s a lot more to come because we can still do better and still be better.

“Of course now, you’ve got to enjoy the moment, but then straight away the attention turns to Manchester City, for me. We’ll probably get another period where we can enjoy it a little bit more on holiday with family, if that is possible. But then quickly it turns again and you get straight back into it, and the focus will be on what we can achieve next season and what we want to do as a team.

“And I know that hunger will always be there, certainly for me and the lads and the manager. We have just got to go out and show everyone that is the case.”

Does Thursday’s encounter at City help Liverpool refocus given the quality of the opposition and the growing rivalry between England’s top two teams?

“To be honest, we’ve got seven games left and I’m not bothered who we’re playing,” said Henderson, who flagged Pep Guardiola’s juggernaut and Chelsea as challengers next season.

“What we’ve been so good at over the last few years is of course we respect the teams we face, but we want to win every game regardless of where it is or who we’re playing.

“The next game is City, who are a fantastic side – an unbelievable side, really. They’ve got amazing players, but we’ll go into the game wanting to be the best that we can be and do everything we can to win the game. The mentality of the lads will never change.

“Look, I know what they’re like and I know they’ll want more.

“They’ll want to keep going and keep improving because the hard bit now is continuing that consistency and intensity to keep going at the highest level, keep winning trophies.

“That’s going to be a new challenge for us to cope with and I’ve got every confidence from us that we’ll meet it.”

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