Jordan Henderson is a man on a mission. Close to silverware in 2018, the dynamic midfielder wants to win big in the year ahead
It’s been quite the year for Jordan Henderson. In May 2018, the Liverpool skipper had to watch on as opposing captain Sergio Ramos lifted the Champions League trophy following Liverpool’s narrow defeat in Kiev. Two months later, he starred as Gareth Southgate’s new England side exceeded expectations by reaching the World Cup semi-finals, though the Three Lions were defeated by Croatia despite leading for 63 minutes. Far from being disappointed at coming so close to lifting silverware, the increasingly influential figure approaches 2019 with plenty to look forward to. As things stand, Liverpool are a key part of the title race and are on course for progressing in Europe as they look to go all the way. Meanwhile, England, for whom Henderson continues to star in the engine room, are looking ahead to the Nations League semi-finals after edging past both Spain and Croatia. Here, he reveals what makes him tick, why has always tried to work harder and smarter than everyone else, and why he owes it all to kickabouts with his dad.
Jordan, you’re a key part of the midfield for club and country, constantly up and down the pitch. Does that kind of fitness come naturally, or do you work hard on it?
I do enjoy the gym, but we have such a small window when we can actually get in there and do a lot. Playing for Liverpool, who are competing in a lot of different competitions, we have to play a lot of games each year, often playing two or three matches per week. There is very little time to recover in between, so during the season we spend most of our time just recovering from one match in time to play the next. If there is a break in league fixtures during the season then most of us will be on international duty, which means more training and more matches. So, we only have a very small window during pre-season where we can get into the gym and lift a lot of weights. This year has been busier than most with us getting to the Champions League final and then straight to the World Cup where we got to the semi-final, so I missed nearly all of pre-season and then spent the first few weeks trying to play catch-up. I eased my way back into full training and worked my way back into matches, ready for the rest season with Liverpool where we plan to be competing for trophies on several fronts.
Do you dread pre-season or do you see it as a way to give you the foundations for a good campaign?
No, I don’t dread it at all. Of course, as footballers we want to play football. But at this level we also know that our bodies need to be in top condition to be able to cope with the amount of matches we have to play, and to maintain the high standards that we set ourselves. Pre-season gives us a great chance to lay the foundations that will get us through the long season. At Liverpool, we have such a good group of coaches and sport scientists who do a great job of getting us through the season and that gives us the chance to compete for trophies… although I may not always enjoy the hard training at the time, haha, but I know it is important.
How important is nutrition and supplementation for you from a performance/recovery point of view?
Very important, not only to help with our performance but also for recovery. Again, Liverpool are a huge club with a great team of backroom staff and we are very well looked after with the meals that are provided to us. I am also a big fan of Maximuscle Promax bars, to have as snacks in between meals or when we are travelling, and I use Cyclone to help with my recovery.
You came so close to winning silverware last season, and again in the summer. Is winning something your biggest aim of 2019?
That is why I am at Liverpool and we are getting close.
We have a great team, a great manager and we are confident that we are getting better. The Premier League is the obvious target – it is the best and toughest league in the world to win. Manchester City are world class, Chelsea and Manchester United aren’t far behind, and then Arsenal and Spurs have their eye on the title too. They are all very good teams and we have to do what we can to be better than them.
The physical attributes you need at the highest level are so advanced. You are in the middle, constantly battling with some of the fittest players on the planet. Who’s the toughest player you’ve faced?
Moussa Dembele at Spurs. He is so strong and tough to get off the ball. Steven Gerrard too – I don’t need to say why he is one of the best players I have ever played with, he just made the game look so easy and was a player I had grown up admiring. To then sign for Liverpool and play with him was very special for me and I learned a lot from him.
But probably the best and toughest player I have ever played with or against is Luis Suarez. When he was at Liverpool, and now at Barcelona, he is just world class. He has everything. He is quick, he is powerful and he can keep going forever. His level of skill is second to none, but he is also tough and not shy to mix it up. He was hardly ever out injured, he never had treatments from the physios/masseurs, if he got hurt he would play on and he was just absolute quality. The sort of player you would want to have on your team, not against you.
What can you remember about playing football in the early days of your career?
I had a ball at my feet from as soon as I could stand up, so I’ve been playing since I was about one year old. My dad always had me practising in the garden and in the park. I was one of those kids who always had a ball with me everywhere I went. If my mum sent me to the shop to buy some milk, I dribbled my ball all the way there and back.
When did you start playing in a team and at what age were you spotted?
I started playing in a team when I was five years old and fairly soon after, at around six/seven years old, I was spotted by the Sunderland academy. I then worked my way through the age groups all the way up to the Sunderland first team who I played over 70 times for them before moving to Liverpool.
Was there a specific moment when you realised you had what it takes to be pro?
Not really. When I was in my mid-teens playing for Sunderland I remember thinking that if I wanted to go further I had to be doing more than everyone else. That is when I started doing extra football training with my dad, started working on my strength/fitness and also started paying attention to my nutrition. I had to make sure that I was working harder and smarter than everyone else.
As I got into my late teens I would sometimes be asked to
train with the reserves or with the first-team squad. I always gave training
100% but if I was asked to go and train with the senior pro’s I used to make
sure I did something to make the manager and the players remembered me.
I didn’t put pressure on myself to do anything different, I just made sure that they all remembered who I was afterwards, and it worked because I was soon part of the first-team squad, then playing in the team before moving to Liverpool.
You clearly love playing the game, but what’s the hardest thing about being a footballer?
The worst thing for me is not being able to see my family as much as I would like to. The Christmas period in particular is traditionally very busy on the football calendar, and I don’t ever complain about having to train on Christmas Day or New Year’s Eve etc. I am in a very fortunate position to be doing something that I love as a job, and my family understand that there are some sacrifices that have to be made to give us the lifestyle that we have. But for all the great things that come from being a professional footballer the amount of time spent away from the family is by fa