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leader of the pack Captain of captains Henderson steps up as the voice of the players

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Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson (centre) and his team-mates celebrate with the Premier League Trophy last season. Photo: Laurence Griffiths/PA Wire

Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson (centre) and his team-mates celebrate with the Premier League Trophy last season. Photo: Laurence Griffiths/PA Wire

Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson (centre) and his team-mates celebrate with the Premier League Trophy last season. Photo: Laurence Griffiths/PA Wire

Before he had made his first-team debut at Sunderland, there were signs of leadership from Jordan Henderson as he organised and coordinated his friends during his early days at the Academy of Light.

It may have only been a bit of after-training fun, but Kevin Ball, his lead coach, was impressed when Henderson sent him footage of what had been filmed.

“They sent me a YouTube clip of his mates doing a video,” Ball said. “One would be over the other side of a wall and he’s controlled it and does a piece of skill, then it would be clipped to another friend. It was pure fun and I saw someone who loved playing football. It was choreography to the nth degree. The amount of effort that went in was what impressed me. I thought, ‘He’s really thought about it’ rather than how they controlled the ball.”

Ball says the making of Liverpool’s captain occurred in those early years at Sunderland, where he was close to being released as a teenager but never looked back after he stayed on.

During the lockdown, he contacted fellow Premier League captains to raise money for the NHS.

Then, in football’s next moment of crisis, he rallied them again to fight against the European Super League breakaway.

His post on Twitter was one of the turning points of the 48-hour farce: “We don’t like it and we don’t want it to happen.” There was no hinting at concern over the proposals. This was one of the captains from the six breakaway clubs saying the players were against it.

“This is our collective position. Our commitment to this football club and its supporters is absolute and unconditional.”

From those early days at Sunderland, his leadership qualities were honed after his move to Liverpool almost 10 years ago. He was training with Steven Gerrard and just listened and learned.

“Jordan would definitely have had leadership values, but I definitely think once he left Sunderland, I know he admired Steven Gerrard from when he was at Sunderland,” said former Ireland international David Meyler, his best friend.

“Then when you were working with him daily, he would be studying him more closely. The way he trained, the way he conducted himself and the way he went about his business. Gradually, year-on-year, he has got better as a captain. With the NHS fund, that is the type of person he is. He has a kind heart. He’s organised. It would have been hard to get the captains together, but he wants to go the extra mile.”

That Liverpool dressing-room had a big influence on Henderson. There were big characters such as Gerrard, Jamie Carragher and Luis Suarez, while Glen Johnson had won trophies at Chelsea.

His standing now in the Premier League is that of one of the most influential figures among players. Marcus Rashford’s campaigning has made the biggest impact away from football, while Henderson is the captain among captains.

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At England, he is part of the leadership group in Gareth Southgate’s squad, and he has been given every opportunity to recover from adductor surgery to make the European Championships.

His actions off the pitch have not been a surprise to those who have worked with him. “I saw with other players that he was a very humble and caring lad,” said Ball. “Maybe with lads who weren’t as fortunate as himself. He made sure his team-mates were looked after. That’s easy to say with how his career developed and what he’s done recently, but I saw it as I was his lead coach.

“He would challenge me and argue with me in the most respectful way, over training or set-plays. He was part of a group of lads where, as a coach you could start it and they would finish it.”

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