The last 18 months have been a bit of a blur for Jordan Henderson. In that short space of time the young midfielder became almost an ever present for Sunderland, appearing in 37 league games, was handed his first England cap by Fabio Capello and made the difficult decision to leave his boyhood club for a resurgent Liverpool.
It was a brave move for the 21-year-old, who knew that he would be competing with players of international pedigree on Merseyside. The £20million Liverpool spent on prising him away from the Stadium of Light also heaped extra pressure on the shoulders of a player that had only made his competitive debut in February 2009.
This meteoric rise has all been taken in Henderson’s rather sizeable stride as he attempts to help Liverpool push for European football, while also being handed the task of captaining the England Under-21 side as they attempt to qualify for the European Championships in 2013.
Henderson has already opened his account for the Reds with a curling left-foot shot against Bolton, but how does the likeable midfielder believe he is coping after making such a high profile move?
“I’m happy with the way things have gone at Liverpool but it has been tough,” admits the man charged with following in the footsteps of Steven Gerrard. “I feel I can still improve and playing alongside some great players will certainly help me improve.”
Many questioned whether Henderson would be able to command a place in Kenny Dalglish’s first team with Steven Gerrard, Lucas Leiva and Charlie Adam all vying for places in the heart of midfield. However, the vastly experienced Scot instantly showed faith in the youngster by allowing Alberto Aquilani to join AC Milan on a one-year loan deal, while Raul Meireles was moved on to Chelsea.
The trust shown in Henderson has certainly handed him a newfound confidence that is far from arrogance. He is acutely aware that he must still improve if he is to remain a regular in the starting XI with Liverpool and hopefully one day soon with England.
“It’s a big challenge but it is one that I am relishing at the moment,” responds Henderson after being asked about the competition in midfield at Liverpool. “I have confidence and self-belief. There are a lot of great midfielders at the club but we all help and learn from each other so I am really happy to be here.
“I need to stamp my authority on the Liverpool first team and try to get a regular place in the side. Hopefully by leading by example with the Under 21’s as well will show that I am ready to get the call-up to the England side.”
With Capello at the helm, there has been plenty of opportunities for young players to make their mark on the international stage. In recent weeks it has been Manchester United’s Phil Jones and Everton’s Jack Rodwell that have had the chance to impress in midfield, but last year Henderson lined up alongside Gerrard in a friendly against France.
It has been exactly one year since Henderson made his debut in the 2-1 loss at Wembley Stadium and the midfielder is brutally honest in his own assessment of his performance.
“I didn’t perform on the night as well as I would have liked but I analysed my performance after the game and then moved on. It was a massive experience for me, I learnt a lot from it and loved every minute of it.”
While Henderson has been forced to watch on as fellow midfielders have leapt ahead of him into the senior set-up, he is still an incredibly important member of the Under-21 side, with manager Stuart Pearce heaping praise on his skipper.
But has the captaincy added extra pressure on Henderson? “I don’t make too much of a big deal out of it as I am still a player for the team and I need to do my job. I try to lead by example, but they are a great bunch of lads and they have been superb in every game. It’s a great role that anyone would want.”
The Under-21 side recently lost their first game in qualifying for Euro 2013, but the number of players that have seamlessly made the jump from Pearce’s side to the senior squad certainly proves that there is plenty of potential in the youth set-up.
Henderson continues to show that he has matured quickly off the pitch as well as on it, lavishing praise on his fellow ‘Young Lions’ colleagues that were handed the chance to impress for England in the recent friendly wins against Spain and Sweden.
“I am over the moon for the lads [Daniel Sturridge and Jack Rodwell] that have made the step-up, they really deserve it,” declares Henderson, who then outlined his own plans for retuning to the senior side. “I believe in my own ability and I have confidence in my own game. Hopefully one day I will be given another opportunity and I need to make sure I take it.”
For the moment Henderson is solely concentrating on his performances for Liverpool. Fans of the club hope that the box-to-box midfielder can one day emulate the sort of performances that have made Gerrard a legend at the club. With a fantastic engine and ability in both feet, the likeable lad from the north-east certainly has the drive to succeed.
Despite remaining grounded, Henderson finally allows himself to dream of one day being handed the captaincy and leading Liverpool down that famous tunnel. “It’s a great role that anyone would want. Hopefully, one day.”
Henderson represents the new era of players at Anfield and should he manage to match the success of Gerrard, he will certainly be able to reflect on a long and successful career.