I voted for Jordan Henderson as my Footballer of the Year. It was an easy choice.
Not because there weren’t other outstanding candidates. There are. But amid the thoroughbreds that play all around him at Anfield, Henderson is the beating heart of a Liverpool side who have swept all before them. As a player and as a man, he had no equal this season.
He is the core of Liverpool. He is their strength. The irony — if he wins the Football Writers’ Association Award, the result of which will be announced on Friday — is that he hates attention and cannot abide flattery. A couple of years ago, I tried to get him to talk about his role in Jurgen Klopp’s team. He turned the conversation away and heaped praise on Mo Salah and Trent Alexander-Arnold instead.
In any case, faint praise is the dish he has dined on most regularly during his nine years at Liverpool.
That’s another reason I voted for him. Because of what he has overcome. Because he did not give up when people told him he could never be Steven Gerrard, when they said the Kop would never love him like they loved Stevie G, when they said he’d never have the same gravitas as skipper as Stevie. When Brendan Rodgers was in charge, he wanted to sell Henderson to Fulham. Or, more accurately, swap him for Clint Dempsey. Henderson refused to go. He said he’d stay and fight.
Rodgers told him how he felt he could improve. And so Henderson stayed and he fought and he prospered. And then he was given the armband. And the fight for acceptance began again.
And now he has won that fight, too. And that’s another reason I voted for him. Because he is such an unassuming, unselfish, self-effacing team player, a player devoted to making other players look good, a player who genuinely puts the team before himself.
Because it only feels right he should be given individual honours, too. He is the type of player you feel pleased for when good things happen to him.
Klopp summed it up succinctly after Liverpool beat Spurs in the Champions League final in Madrid last summer. ‘Jordan Henderson is captain of the Champions League winner 2019 — that’s satisfying actually,’ said the Liverpool manager. It meant a lot to him that Henderson got his due.
And now, he deserves this award. Gerrard was a magnificent player, one of the best of his generation, but Henderson has gone one better than him as skipper. Like Gerrard, he led Liverpool to victory in the Champions League. This season, he did what Gerrard never could and led his team to their first domestic title for 30 years. On Wednesday evening, he will lift the Premier League trophy at Anfield.
I voted for Henderson because I thought Liverpool would be drained by their epic losing battle for the title with Manchester City last season and that they would fall away this season. Instead, they came back full of the dogged fury that Henderson epitomises. Their captain refused to let them be discouraged. He drove them on to scale heights even they could not have imagined.
And I voted for him because he sums up what this Liverpool team are about. They are not about highlights reels and champagne. They are about togetherness and working for each other. They are about class and amazing ability, of course, but they are also about graft. And Henderson is about graft. He is about sweat and toil and relentlessness.
Liverpool are a team, above all. They are greater than the sum of their parts. They have outstanding players but their success is built on the collective. And if there is one man who sums up that spirit, that willingness to work for each other, to make Liverpool a team who work harder than any other team in the division, it is Henderson.
He held them together this season. He led them. He was their base. He was the platform for the lightning brilliance of Salah and Sadio Mane. He was the enabler for the vision and cleverness of Roberto Firmino. He was the anchor as Andy Robertson and Alexander-Arnold hurtled past on either side of him. Virgil van Dijk is a Rolls Royce. Henderson is the team’s engine.
There were other players I’ve loved watching over the last 10 months. Kevin de Bruyne, obviously. David Silva, always. Adama Traore, James Maddison, John Fleck, Willian, Son Heung-Min, Bruno Fernandes, Troy Deeney, Mason Greenwood, Mark Noble, John McGinn, Marcus Rashford and many, many more.