WHEN an energetic teenage talent made waves in a Sunderland academy side during a run to the FA Youth Cup semi-finals six years ago, a couple of the coaches turned to one another and agreed that the young midfielder would one day play for England.
Kevin Ball, the Wearside club’s academy coach, never informed the player, of course. Yet fast-forward to the summer of 2014 and the maturing sight of Jordan Henderson could be a prominent player in a Three Lions shirt at a World Cup in Brazil.
Henderson has, well and truly, come of age over the last nine months when he has turned in consistent performances to help Liverpool run Manchester City so close in the Premier League race.
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He turns 24 two days before England face Uruguay in Sao Paulo on June 19. It could be that his drive and influence from midfield will be required against Luis Suarez and his compatriots, with Roy Hodgson clearly impressed by his emergence as an international footballer during the last six months.
The young man from East Herrington, Tyne & Wear, was nurtured by Sunderland from the age of nine and as the son of a policeman and fitness teacher he learned how to combine his incredible work-rate with his developing football talent.
Yet there were still those with reservations, including from Sir Alex Ferguson who mocked his running style.
Despite being described with having the potential to be the ‘next Frank Lampard’ by the Sunderland manager he played regularly under, Steve Bruce, if he could improve his goals output, there were fears from certain quarters that there would be no endproduct.
Such concerns increased after a disappointing England debut at the tender age of 20. His performance in his less preferred wider role left a lot to be desired atWembley that night, yet the truth was this was a young, likeable man from Sunderland expected to reach heights on the international stage at the very first time of asking. t took the former England Under-21 captain 18 months to return to that level. During that time he had a £20m move to Liverpool in June 2011 to weigh heavily on his mind and criticism of his inflated fee when he was singled out along with Andy Carroll and Stewart Downing as expensive mistakes made by Kenny Dalglish.
Yet Henderson survived the summer cull of 2013 at Anfield, when both Downing and Carroll moved on to West Ham.
While it might have been his idea to reject a chance to join Fulhamin a swap deal involving Clint Dempsey, he has been justified in his reasoning behind that decision. Whether Brendan Rodgers has used his stamina to slot in to a more withdrawn role alongside Steven Gerrard – which could yet be a pairing used by Hodgson in Brazil as it was in a friendly win over Denmark in March – or he has charged up and down the flanks, Henderson has made hismark at Anfield. The next four weeks will be about replicating his club form on to the biggest stage of them
“I’m playing with a lot of confidence and I’m loving playing at the minute,” said Henderson. “Things have been going well for me at Liverpool and it means everything to me to be going to the World Cup and to represent my country. It shows you how well we have all done this season at Liverpool that we have a number of players in the squad. We all worked really well together and linked up brilliantly. We have to try to bring that in to the England set-up as much as we can.”
In having Gerrard, his Liverpool skipper, alongside side him in the squad, he should have had no problems scene over the last few weeks. The talking, however, is almost over and Henderson’s World Cup dream will come alive.