I recently wrote a piece about why I think Jordan Henderson is finally beautifully suited to the role as Liverpool captain. I was chuffed when, hours after my article went live, he became named as England captain against Slovenia. I felt like saying ‘told you so’ to everyone around me. I was particularly pleased because he’s been given a hard time after inevitably not quite filling Steven Gerrard’s, quite simply, enormous boots. A lot of that is down to who he is as a player, though.
Not only is he not capable of the same buccaneering runs, game-winning goals and breathtaking episodes of sheer ‘YOU BEAUTY!’ moments, but he’s a different kind of player in a very different kind of team. Jürgen Klopp gets his team to run hard, press, tackle and pass quickly – all things Hendo excels at. 4th in the league for tackles made, 1st for passes completed, 90% pass success rate and a greater average pass distance than anyone else inside the top ten passers in the division this season, he leads the club in every one of these statistics. Leading the way in what your manager expects of the team would ordinarily justify the responsibility and honour of being named club captain.
The fact that he’s clearly so well suited to a very specific style of play makes him the right choice in my eyes. Some still aren’t sure, but among Liverpool circles his popularity is increasing quickly. And reflecting on his brilliant form and ideal suitability to Liverpool, this is precisely why I don’t think he should be England captain.
After seeing the lad struggle with doubters for a lot of his time at Anfield, and become club captain nonetheless, it gave me immense pride in seeing him skipper the national side this week. I personally play my football a similar way to him (Sunday pub league standard I’ll stress) – running around a lot, making tackles and getting the ball away quickly. It’s not glamorous, you don’t win any awards for it, but it’s a useful role to play and so I strongly sympathise with a man who has grown hugely over recent years and now plays it better than anyone. But his style of play is perfect for Klopp and Liverpool, and he’s leading the way in statistical individual success in 2016/17 so far.
For England, however, he’s no perfect match and it’s very much a different matter.
Problem one: he thrives off being perfect for Klopp’s system. How, then, can he be perfect for a system when there is no system in place? With a third manager this year comes a third philosophy, and with a third philosophy come a third different set of methods. Yes, the FA have a way they want England to be, and while Hodgson, Allardyce and Southgate may have sung from the same hymn sheet, they will inevitably do so with a different voice. We can’t begin to think of England’s best formation or best team at the moment because we don’t see any consistency.
This is reflected in Henderson’s personal statistics in recent England games. Yet to score an international goal, far from first choice at Euro 2016 and a long way from being the most successful tackler, passer or anything else for that matter. He does his job well enough but can’t get his groove on on the international stage because of how England (don’t) play.
This inconsistency is horrifyingly disruptive at club level. Sunderland, Swansea and Leeds have all had 3 different managers in less than a year recently, and the players have struggled to adapt and build any kind of form. If it’s difficult for players who are working around 6 days a week to make it work at club level, throw into the mix the infrequent diaspora of International football training camps, and there’s next to no chance to find any consistency whatsoever.
This has ruined the way the team play and England’s fickle, impatient fans are compounding the damage that’s been done. Have you ever been stuck in a rut at work or felt like things aren’t going your way somewhere in life? Horrible isn’t it? I sell cars as my day job, and it’s soul-destroying when you aren’t on the kind of form you should be. What makes it bearable is people around you saying ‘don’t worry, better luck next time, you’ve got it in you, you can be a success’. That can drag you from rock bottom back to where you should be. What England’s squad have instead is constant derision, accusations of lacking passion and constant, utterly non-stop, claims that they’re now rubbish at the very thing they work hard to be good at day after day after day after day. England, in this current environment, can’t possibly be expected to develop a happy, healthy personality on the pitch in this environment can they?
If that’s the case, then I don’t see Henderson as the right fit for the captain’s armband. At Liverpool, the players can look at him and see ‘he’s the very best at what we all try and do. I need only look at him and see what I should aim to become’. What an inspirational thing to have in your team. At England, he doesn’t have the opportunity to do this. Here, however, is my suggestion for captain – Joe Hart.
I appreciate, probably not a terribly groundbreaking suggestion. The reason I’d go with him stems from England’s lack of a consistent system outfield. Whatever they play, his game doesn’t have to change a lot. Incidently, I also spent much of my youth in goal – again, at a very low level, but I’ve played with different teams and defences and, whoever is in front of you, your job remains much the same.
Hart can put in a top notch performance whether England have a good day or a bad day, as shown against Slovenia as he single-handedly – literally – earned the national side a point. The rest of the team were a mess collectively and fair little better on an individual level, but Hart still has the chance to shine in goal. He’s the next most senior member after Wayne Rooney, who for all his accomplishments and virtues I think, is really looking like someone who’s played Premier League football for 15 years. Hart’s had the armband on at City plenty of times before, so he knows what’s expected of the role. Bear in mind the quality in that dressing room at times and it’s all the more impressive that he’s captained the side in the past. England’s squad are a serious step down in quality.
The way he handled his unfair exodus from City was brilliant, and he’s put himself on good form on loan at Torino with 2 clean sheets and some exceptional saves in a current 5 game unbeaten run. I know he was dreadful at the Euros, but as I’ve found out the hard way before, goalkeeping mistakes get found out so, so much more easily than outfield ones. Everyone else was dreadful too, so if his claim for the armband should lessen as a result of that torrid tournament, everyone else’s ought to as well.
Those performances, though, are a reflection of someone not short of quality but short of confidence. He’s had a mistake or two in him, but Euro 2016 was the worst he’s played at that level his whole career, when scrutiny from the press and England fans was at its peak. The added pressure of his future at The Etihad may well have been on his mind as well. At Torino, he’s starting to flourish. Immensely popular, and important already, his performances alone have won points for a team who have just one win by more than a one-goal margin. If you must know, that was 3-1 at home to the mighty Roma and Hart was in splendid form all the same.
I’m a Liverpool fan (in case you haven’t noticed), so I’d love to say Henderson should be England captain. I think he deserves it based on his club form, his standing role as LFC captain and his proven ability as a leader of men, but I don’t think it’s quite right to give him it for England. Hart gets my vote on that one.