Here are some things I don’t get. TOWIE; I mean, what’s the point? Mozzarella; it doesn’t taste of anything. Snooker; soporific, not a sport. Fearne Cotton; what does she do exactly? But all of these mysteries pale in comparison to the one which has been nagging at me for some time now: Jordan Henderson.
Word Cup Captain, Jordan Henderson?
You know Henderson. He’s the captain of Liverpool and, who knows? he could be lifting the Champions League trophy in a few days’ time. And, as I write, he’s in the frame to be England’s captain at the World Cup. Let that sink in for a minute.
I’m not into personal evisceration. I don’t know the guy and have nothing against him. I’m sure he’s good to his mum. Oh, and I have nothing against Liverpool either. I lived there as a boy a hundred years ago and went to Anfield every week. I loved The Flying Pig (ask your dad), Roger Hunt, Emlyn Hughes, Bobby Graham, Cally, Thommo. And despite my Spurs allegiance for the last 48 years, and the somewhat pitiful carping of some LFC fans about that penalty (those penalties?) and, especially, diving (their players are all saints, you know) I love watching them play and hope they win the Champions League.
No. This is about a footballer or an anti-footballer perhaps. Henderson is, apparently, a box-to-box midfielder. Defensively, it is his job to patrol the area in front of the back four, cover the gaps, anticipate problems and head them off before Lovren can make a dog’s dinner of some harmless lob into the box. Further forward, he is meant to be a prompter, a creator, the guy who makes things happen, a goal scorer. Think Bryan Robson. But not too hard.
So, How Does Henderson Compare?
It wasn’t that long ago that Liverpool fans were groaning at his negativity, his inability (or was it unwillingness?) to try anything more elaborate than a three-yard backwards pass. He seems to have come through that particularly bad patch, but has he suddenly become a good player, a player worthy of a berth in the England midfield? I would argue that he is nowhere near.
I’m not suggesting he can’t play. He is a bit one-paced, but has decent control, is accurate over short distances and he certainly works hard. He’s a good team man, too. But if he’s starting at the World Cup, then it is legitimate to ask how he compares with some of the midfielders he may encounter. And, honestly, who would you rather have in your team Henderson or – Kroos, Busquets, Kante, Casemiro, Isco, Pogba, De Bruyne, Dembele, Modric? I could name many more. I know this isn’t scientific, but up against any of that lot, Henderson is decidedly pedestrian. His stats bespeak a steady-Eddy, his passing accuracy distorted by the fact that he rarely knocks it further than a couple of yards. Usually backwards. Sometimes sideways. His tackling is ok, he wins a few duels, not much to shout about really. And as for goals? Forget it.
Are There English Alternatives?
God knows England isn’t blessed with outstanding box-to-boxers, but couldn’t we have done better? Maybe there isn’t another player quite like Henderson, and Southgate clearly seems to believe in him. But who can do everything Henderson does yet add something extra, like goals or creativity or ambitious passing or a genuine threat? Or all of the above? Dier is a better all-round footballer but he is likely to play alongside Henderson rather than instead of. I like the tough and skilful Delph. Loftus-Cheek is a gem who should get his chance. The loathsome Wilshere is far superior to Henderson but accident-prone. And the equally loathsome Shelvey would have been a better option. Sadly Oxlade-Chamberlain and Lallana are unfit. I would choose all of these players above Henderson.
A Modern Day Wilkins
I remember the 1986 World Cup and groaning at the infinitely negative Wilkins as we made a mess of the group games against Portugal and Morocco. He kept out better players, not least Hoddle. Brian Clough once praised the moral courage of Hoddle for demanding possession despite the heavy tackles and man-marking, and for being so adventurous and creative with his passing. Oh for a Hoddle now. As an aside, I worked with Wilkins on a BBC show many years ago and wanted to remonstrate with him. How could such a gifted player be so dull and cowardly on the ball? But he was such a nice man I couldn’t. Anyway, when he got sent off against Morocco, I remember feeling a sense of relief. He was out of the tournament. And suddenly England blossomed. Hoddle came into his own and the team only fell to that little cheaty fella’s handball (and that other quite good goal).
So, I don’t wish any harm to come to Henderson, but should something happen to keep him out of the side in Russia, I won’t be too disappointed. And I believe England will be all the better for it.
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