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 By Steven Kelly

Battling Jordan Henderson struggles to win over Liverpool, England fans

Jordan Henderson has had two good games for England in this World Cup so far. The quality of opposition certainly must be taken into account but for a player who's had his share of critics among Liverpool fans, never mind England's, he has done well.

"Quietly effective" is about the highest praise he'll ever receive from anybody but in a tournament where some truly great players haven't really turned up yet, his efficiency and work for the team should not be disregarded.

He nearly scored too, placing a difficult shot against Panama narrowly wide. Captain Harry Kane received plenty of plaudits for his goals -- two penalties and a deflection -- yet it wasn't a surprise when he handed the armband to Henderson as he was substituted.

Football is a team game and steady, methodical players have their place like anybody else. Henderson's managers, at club and international level, have always appreciated his contribution yet he's often struggled to receive acknowledgement from supporters.

It is the eternal fate of the water carrier, the faint praise once used by Eric Cantona to damn fellow countryman (and World Cup winner) Didier Deschamps.

Some of the criticism at international level can be attributed to club bias, including one rather bizarre article in a Manchester newspaper which put the blame for Raheem Sterling's poor performance on Henderson's shoulders. 

Gareth Southgate has chosen him in a stabilising midfield role which frees more attacking players like Jesse Lingard and Dele Alli to focus on creativity. Even that was an excuse for some to complain about Eric Dier's exclusion.

Liverpool fans cannot agree about their own captain either. Even praise from the sainted Jurgen Kopp doesn't budge them from long-held antipathy.

Next season may see vindication for such supporters, since Liverpool have already added Naby Keita and Fabinho to their central midfield stockpile. The bid to land Lyon's Nabil Fekir is also still alive, according to some outlets.

That's three players who could all take the besieged Henderson's place. From almost lifting the European Cup to the substitutes' bench would be quite the comedown but Henderson's demise has been predicted so often that one more spell of adverse prophecy won't affect him.

Klopp's whole style and formation depends upon having a lung-busting centre, with three forwards all supplying goals but effectively reducing the usual midfield numbers. Even if they didn't sign Fekir, after also losing Emre Can to Juventus, Liverpool still have an impressive number of central players to choose from.

You'd assume the two most recent signings will feature the most, although a big transfer fee didn't exactly rush Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to the head of the selection queue.

Squad strength is a major factor in Liverpool's bid to compete meaningfully at home and abroad but even for one of the big clubs their midfield is pretty convoluted while in other parts of the pitch, choice is looking skimpy at best.

Even his harshest critic wouldn't have placed Henderson on top of Liverpool's "fix list". It is however in the nature of any club to keep improving wherever it can. You can be pleased with Liverpool's two consecutive fourth-place finishes but now comes the hardest part; continuing the progress.

Admirers of Henderson aren't blind to his limitations, especially creatively, and if the newcomers prove to have his strengths while expanding on his weaknesses few of the captain's admirers will complain. The club ultimately comes first.

At England level too, he attracts many complaints but fewer suggestions for improvement and of course Southgate can't go out and buy somebody else like his club counterparts.

For the moment the England boss seems happy with the Liverpool man in his engine room. Harder games are certainly coming but it's to be hoped he will keep performance levels high.

Support for him does verge perilously close to a natural inclination to show sympathy for a mistreated dog. His delight in his team's goals is also deliriously infectious.

At every stage Henderson was compared to predecessors that had more talent than he does, usually Steven Gerrard. That unfair comparison has been cited by Klopp as one of the more admirable aspects of Henderson's career, harking back to his first year at Anfield when he impressed few.

He was even offered an ignominious way out to play for Fulham, a club subsequently relegated while he instead became a key player in Liverpool's title bid of 2014 and later captain.

Easy targets are often easy for a reason, so if all this seems to imply Henderson is a more talented player than he is, you would be mistaken.

Character, work rate, honesty and discipline aren't to be sniffed at. Managers know talent by itself isn't always enough.

That is one of the reasons he brings out the paternal/maternal instinct in so many fans. That stubborn refusal to accept anyone else's derogatory view of him as the truth is a great inspiration to all young footballers.

Steven Kelly is one of ESPN FC's Liverpool bloggers. Follow him on Twitter @SteKelly198586.


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