Jordan Henderson: Liverpool legend with a tainted legacy

Of all the players, did it really have to be Jordan Henderson whose Liverpool career ended this way?

Since arriving at Anfield in 2011, the 33-year-old has had one of the most intriguing and unpredictable stories of any Reds player in recent memory, with so many different chapters.

There were those dark early days when Henderson found it painfully difficult to justify the big money that Sir Kenny Dalglish had been willing to pay for his services, which eventually almost led to him being sold.

It is now common knowledge that a move to Fulham was on the cards when Brendan Rodgers was manager - Clint Dempsey was set to head in the other direction — but Henderson wanted to fight for his place and the rest is history.

He went up a gear as a player in 2013/14, having shown some promise the previous campaign, when his defensive nous and energy were so priceless in a recklessly attacking Liverpool team that not only featured Philippe Coutinho, Raheem Sterling, Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez, but also an ageing Steven Gerrard who could no longer cover ground.

Henderson's red card against Manchester City late in the season remains an underrated turning point in the title race — without him, the Reds were never the same force in those remaining matches and they fell agonisingly short.

Once Gerrard left and Henderson took on the captaincy, his star only continued to rise, and he ultimately led Liverpool superbly during one of the greatest periods in the club's history.

The Englishman became the first Reds player to lift the Premier League trophy, and hoisted the Champions League prize aloft 12 months earlier, with FA Cup, League Cup, Club World Cup and other smaller trophies also thrown in for good measure.

Age has started to catch up with Henderson. He was part of a dire midfield unit that struggled badly last season, but the general consensus was that he remained a leader and a key squad player whose playing time would become more limited moving forward.

It seemed a fair assumption, and one that would be accepted by all parties, but from nowhere, Henderson is now on the brink of a shock Liverpool exit.

A reunion with Gerrard beckons in Saudi Arabia — with Fabinho also heading to the Pro League — and his Reds career has fizzled out in the most regrettable fashion.

In our heads, we might've pictured an adoring Kop showing their respect to Henderson on the final day of the season in the near future, with endless compilations dedicated to him, as was afforded to Roberto Firmino and James Milner. Instead, he is slinking out of the Anfield exit door in a manner that is both horribly unsatisfactory and ultimately hugely disappointing.

READ MORE: How much will Jordan Henderson really earn in Saudi Arabia?

In an era where so many footballers feel distanced from reality, Henderson always stood out as one of the good guys – a down-to-earth figure getting the absolute best out of his ability.

A fantastic captain both on and off the pitch, he has led Liverpool admirably, speaking intelligently and thoughtfully down the years, carrying himself with class and showing his support for some very important topics.

Perhaps the most significant of those is his backing of the LGBTQ+ community, championing the rainbow laces campaign back in 2019 and saying: "I’m a parent, a husband, a son and a brother, and the idea that anyone I love and care about wouldn’t feel safe or comfortable coming to watch me play if they were part of the LGBT community makes me wonder what world we live in."

Such comments saw him nominated for the Football Ally award at the British LGBT Awards, and while some found it impossible ever change their view on him as a footballer, it was impossible to deny that Liverpool's captain was a great person.

Now, Henderson has essentially sold his soul and opted to move to a country where homosexuality is illegal and can be punished with the death penalty, which to put it bluntly, leaves a terrible taste.

There will be some who argue that, even while already earning vast sums of money, any footballer would jump at the chance to double or even triple their wages in Saudi Arabia, in order to support their family for generations.

Those with genuinely sound and unconditional morals look beyond that, however — just look at Rory McIlroy's stance towards to the LIV golf tour, for example — and accept that they are already in an incredibly fortunate position and don't need greed to take over.

I, and I'm sure millions, have adored Henderson for so many years, getting behind him during the tough times and feeling great joy in seeing him win so much, become a legend and silence so many doubters.

While he will forever be a Liverpool legend for what he has achieved, it is impossible to avoid the fact that his Reds legacy is now tarnished fairly significantly.

Sure, Gerrard tried to leave for Chelsea two summers in a row - some fans even set fire to his shirt - but he ended up staying put and the saga blew over. This is different, though.

Firstly, Henderson is leaving for good and won't be able to win around his detractors on the pitch like Gerrard did, and secondly, the moral side of his decision makes it so much more disappointing.

In many ways, this could be viewed as the modern version of Graeme Souness inexplicably deciding to conduct an interview with The S*n in the mid-1990s – a decision that is still held against him to this day. That doesn't mean that many don't still love the Scot for what he achieved at Anfield, also accepting that human beings can make big mistakes in life, but he will never be the same in the eyes of some.

It is certainly easy to draw comparisons with Henderson, and while his place in Liverpool history is secured, this rather ugly exit will also be held against him.

After all we've been through together, it's a dreadful way to bow out.

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