By Simon Evans
MADRID (Reuters) – Liverpool’s sixth European Cup win, celebrated on the streets of Merseyside on Sunday, was a triumph of a multinational squad, expertly welded into a winning machine by German manager Juergen Klopp.
Yet in the surprisingly scrappy contest, won 2-0 against Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday, it was the club’s English captain Jordan Henderson and his often under-valued qualities which came to the fore.
The images of Henderson passionately hugging his father at the final whistle and then sitting with the trophy on the flight back to Liverpool, provided some deserved attention for the 28-year-old midfielder, signed from Sunderland eight years ago.
Henderson’s most obvious qualities are his work-rate and his ability to break up opposition moves, but those attributes are allied with positional awareness, an organisational role and a tactical mind that have not always been noticed, or appreciated, by all of the Anfield crowd.
“I’ve had tough times but I’ve kept going – just as this club has. It’s the best moment of my life, this is what I dreamed of since I was a kid,” Henderson said amid the scenes of jubilation at the Wanda Metropolitano.
“It’s not about me, it’s not about me being captain or lifting the trophy, it’s about this club, these players, this manager. Now we must keep going and kick on,” he said.
Yet a part of Saturday’s success was indeed about Henderson.
“The unsung hero for me tonight was Jordan Henderson – he did all the ugly stuff, all the hard yards. He knows he has the quality around him but he’s the glue that holds it all together,” said Sean Dyche, the Burnley manager who was at the game in Madrid as a pundit.
Henderson is unhailed by some but certainly not his manager Juergen Klopp who, despite increased options, has relied on his captain, and another English midfielder James Milner, throughout this season.
“You know what people said about a couple of players of this team,” said Klopp, in his most pointed remarks after the game.
“Jordan Henderson is captain of the Champions League winner 2019 – that’s satisfying actually. And that Millie did it at the age of 33,” he said.
Much of the credit for Liverpool’s progress this season has rightly been given to the expensive signings that provided the missing ingredients for Klopp’s side.
The Brazilian pair of goalkeeper Alisson Becker and holding midfielder Fabinho and Dutch defender Virgil van Dijk, played a major role in pushing Liverpool to their Champions League triumph, which culminated in Saturday’s 2-0 win over Tottenham.
The added defensive solidity has turned Liverpool from an entertaining sideshow into European champions and the only close rivals to champions Manchester City in the Premier League.
So often though, teams can lose some of their personality when they bring in new faces.
Klopp, however, has led his team’s transformation while still leaning on Henderson and Milner, acknowledging their key role in the dressing room and on the field.
Henderson often initiates Liverpool’s high press, urging those alongside and in front of him to push forward and close down the opposition and that was amply evident against Spurs.
The sight of the England international raising the trophy was particularly poignant for his father Brian, a cancer survivor, who clearly has a close bond with his son.
“I took him to see the Champions League final when he was 10 in Manchester between AC Milan and Juventus and he said to me as they came out, ‘Dad, I’m going to play there one day’.
“He’s not only done it once, but twice now and now he’s won it as well and we’re absolutely delighted for him.”
Brian Henderson knows the impact that the game and results can have on a player, who never fails to give his all for the cause.
“If he hadn’t lifted that trophy today it could have given him a bad, bad summer. But he can go and enjoy his summer now. He’ll have a rest, spend time with his children.”
Before that though, there was the celebration, sharing the glory with the club’s supporters who lined the streets of Liverpool to show their appreciation.
Henderson was rightly front and centre in the parade and no-one is questioning his value to the team now.
“I’m so proud to be a part of this football club and to cap it with this is so special to me,” he said.
(Reporting by Simon Evans; Editing by Toby Davis)