Jordan Henderson might just be the answer to England’s World Cup problems
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As somebody who was born and raised in the North East, let me assure you that there are very few issues that cannot be resolved by a screaming Mackem. Waited over an hour for a Chinese takeaway that was meant to arrive in thirty minutes? Screaming Mackem. Addressing an ongoing parking dispute with your neighbour who continues to encroach on the bit of pavement outside your house? Screaming Mackem. Being criminally overrun in the centre of the park in a World Cup group stage match that you really should be on top of? Allow me to recommend a screaming Mackem.
Jordan Henderson isn’t the most voguish footballer in Gareth Southgate’s England squad. In a world of Bellinghams and Fodens, he can often feel decidedly agricultural. Rarely does he quicken the pulse, rarer still does he do anything worthy of social media virality. He’s a ham and pease pudding sandwich, or Bonehead’s rhythm guitar on Definitely Maybe; steady, understated, essential.
On Friday night, the Three Lions played out a 0-0 stalemate with the USA. Although, saying they ‘played’ might be something of a misnomer; playing usually implies at least some level of fun or enjoyment. Southgate’s side trudged through a drab affair with all the enthusiasm of a family pet being led into the vet’s for a neutering. Worse still, however, was the manner in which they relinquished any kind of meaningful control in the midfield. The last time that America wrestled something from the English so unexpectedly and unceremoniously, King George III was still on the throne.
England’s remedy in that match, much to the frothing vexation of armchair pundits across the nation, was to introduce Henderson. Many questioned the logic of bringing on a player who has scored just two goals in 72 international appearances when creativity was evidently at such a scarcity, but the reality was that Southgate had realised his side were trying to anchor their trebuchets on foundations of sand. Like a reliable pair of oven gloves or a foldable kagoul, Henderson was a boring necessity. With the Liverpool captain hauling himself around the engine room, England looked, if not galvanised, at least less stagnant.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Southgate once again opted to include Henderson against Wales on Tuesday night - this time from the outset. Deployed alongside Declan Rice at the base of midfield, allowing Jude Bellingham to roam with less culpability, the veteran was steady without being wondrous; he completed 85% of his passes, he made four interceptions, he won eight of his 13 contested duels. But he also brought a grit and a guile that England had lacked against the USA.
Henderson spent so much of the match charging around the middle of the park, marshalling and corralling his compatriots, bellowing and roaring and hollering them into a state of animation, that it would be no shock to seem him miss the clash against Senegal on Sunday with an exploded larynx. He may not be a mercurial agitator, but he is a born leader - something that England desperately require.
And this is the thing, sometimes it’s okay to be a bit humdrum, especially if you compensate for it in other ways. A little bit of blandness can even make the stars around you shine just that smidgeon brighter, too. Leonardo da Vinci may have painted The Last Supper, but somebody had to make his brushes and mix his paint.
Whether Southgate chooses to persist with Henderson in the centre of midfield heading into the knockout stages remains to be seen. There are arguments for and against the matter, certainly. But the England manager will be acutely aware of the problems that his team faced against the USA, and will be desperate to avoid any kind of repeat blunder from here on out. Maybe he should fall back on the North East’s answer to the Swiss Army knife; a screaming Mackem.