It was the 2013/14 season, and a 23-year-old Jordan Henderson was running the show in midfield on most weekends under Brendan Rodgers.
The former Sunderland man, an academy graduate of Black Cats, had developed a bit of a reputation as a box-to-box midfielder during his time on Wearside, as well as in his early days at Anfield.
Here was a player with evident bundles of energy, a real burgeoning midfield player who could pass the ball, cross it, and find the net from a very young age.
Five goals and seven assists were what Henderson came out of the aforementioned 2013/14 season with, as he and Liverpool came within touching distance of a first Premier League title – it was telling that Henderson was suspended for the final three games of the run-in, when Rodgers’ men ultimately bottled it.
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Rodgers was given the sack in October 2015, and in came Jurgen Klopp, a man who has done wonders for the football club so far ever since, but not so much for Henderson.
The energetic player who was making an impact at both ends of the pitch had quickly turned into a stifled midfielder, one who didn’t really look to have a unique role in the team nor did he have a defining presence on the field as Klopp deployed him deeper.
“Boring sideways passer”. “He offers nothing!” These were the types of cries that would find their way onto Liverpool fans’ and neutral fans’ Twitter accounts, or would be the topic of the post-match pub chat amongst supporters. What had happened to Henderson, someone who was rated as one of the best English talents in the country just a few years previous?
Henderson a sideways or back passer…nothing really spectacular about him…. https://t.co/M04fOlnaUn
— SJohnson (@sheeun11) November 4, 2017
Henderson as a 6
– constant sideways and safe passing
– poor positioning and tracking back for a DM
– takes no risks
The thing is he’s a very good passer short and long but rarely uses it. Better as box to box
— Md Abul Hasan (@hasanlfc08) October 4, 2018
Henderson is slow on the ball & is very much a sideways/ back passer of the ball. If you’re in that role specifically to pass, you need more
— Tristan (@trisbk) November 5, 2017
A natural No.8, Henderson now found himself stuck as a No.6 under the German. With the armband strapped around his bicep, was he going to kick up a fuss about it? Of course not. The England international simply got on with it for the sake of his team, sacrificing his reputation in the game as an exciting roaming midfielder, and instead picking up the label of a non-creative figure simply happy to keep the game ticking over.
A lack of a natural holding midfielder meant Henderson had to cover there with no other options available.
However, following the arrival of Fabinho, a natural defensive midfielder, Henderson has taken the opportunity to return back to his ways of old. A conversation with Klopp, in which he discussed his preference to play in a more advanced role, saw the 28-year-old thrust back into his former position from the bench against Southampton.
With the score at 1-1, Henderson got an assist and scored a goal to help his side to a 3-1 win, and immediately looked far more comfortable in the advanced role than he had whilst playing deeper for the last 18 months.
He was deployed there again in the 2-0 win over Porto in the Champions League quarter-finals, where he was instrumental in victory over the Portuguese side.
Following that game, Klopp even admitted to stifling his captain’s ability, and apologised. The former Borussia Dortmund boss said: “It was my fault that for one-and-a-half years he played as a No 6. Sorry for that! But we needed him there.”
Now approaching his 29th birthday, Henderson is regarded by many neutral fans as a bang average midfielder who offers very little, an opinion that may not change despite his obvious preference for the No.8 role.
Klopp may now have realised the errors of his ways after Henderson took it upon himself to chat with his boss, but could his entire career have been completely different had he been played in his favoured position?
We’ll never know, but the chances are that Henderson would be viewed very differently right now.