WHEN Jordan Henderson hoisted the Champions League trophy last May, he became just the 51st man to captain a team to European football’s greatest prize.
Paolo Maldini. Johan Cruyff. Franco Baresi. Bobby Charlton. Franz Beckenbauer. It is a club more exclusive than White’s, Hertford Street or any other opulent Mayfair haunt.
And there’s an obvious reason for that. To skipper any side capable of winning the European Cup, you need to be an exceptional footballer.
Yet despite a welter of evidence to the contrary, a sizeable proportion of football supporters in England think Henderson is – for want of a better word – s**t.
He doesn’t score enough goals. Doesn’t create any chances. Too many sideways passes. Essentially, he isn’t Steven Gerrard. Get the essential odds for your weekend bet www.asiabet8888.com.
I could defend him, but I don’t need to. Henderson is a European champion, the fulcrum of a side unbeaten all season and is set to win the Premier League title whilst breaking all manner of domestic and continental records.
If you still think he’s is crap now, nothing will change your mind. “If anyone doesn’t see the quality of Jordan, I can’t help him,” said Reds boss Jurgen Klopp last month.
And he can’t. Because that’s how confirmation bias works. It isn’t logical. It isn’t objective. Often, it isn’t even conscious. It is a mental shortcut whereby the brain sees what you expect to see and filters out anything unexpected.
When a player endures a difficult start to his career at a new club, or simply an extended run of poor form, his perceived inadequacies anchor in the collective psyche of its supporters. Social media exacerbates the effect.
Very quickly, the fact that a player lacks bottle or can’t pass isn’t a matter of opinion. It is a rule of thumb. A whale is big. A snake is poisonous. And Jordan Henderson is an average midfield player.
We are all guilty. At any given Leeds or Sheffield Wednesday game, I may perceive that Pablo Hernandez played incisive passes or Sam Hutchinson showed some aggression.
Is that because they did so in that specific instance? Or because prior experience has associated such traits with those players in my subconscious? I couldn’t honestly say.
The net result is that instead of starting every game as a 6/10 and working to impress, a perceived ‘bad’ player kicks off at 4/10 and must constantly prove people wrong.
For a “good” player, the opposite is true.
One player currently on the wrong end of this dichotomy is Trevoh Chalobah, the 20-year-old Chelsea midfielder on loan at Huddersfield Town.
As a relatively (see above!) objective observer at the John Smith’s Stadium for last weekend’s 0-0 draw with Brentford, I judged Chalobah one of the best players on the park.
Athletic. Combative. Quick to cover and alert to danger. Exactly what you want from a defensive midfielder facing one of the Championship’s most fluent attacking units.
Yet reading message boards and social media platforms in the following days, praise for the youngster was scant. Too soft. Too weak. Lacking, in the words of Troy Deeney, cojones.
The consensus, in fact, was that the Terriers would be better served by replacing Chalobah with Jon Gorenc Stankovic, a central defender dropped to accommodate new signing Richard Stearman.
That Chalobah has lacked consistency and concentration in previous performances is not in doubt. Manager Danny Cowley has admitted as much, albeit whilst pointing out that Chalobah is an academy kid learning his trade in a fiercely competitive division.
Yet in this specific match, Chalobah did very little wrong and certainly did not deserve some of the vitriol he received.
The whole episode reminded me of my visit to Ewood Park at the fag end of Danny Murphy’s career.
The former Liverpool player’s legs were long gone, and his vision and technique were of little use in a bang-average team of Championship plodders. Blackburn fans felt – with some justification – that he was a dead weight.
On the day, however, Murphy raged against the dying light, turning in a display full of guts and guile. I said as much to a local reporter, who looked at me incredulously. “Waste of f***ing space,” he said. “Done nothing all day.”
Such is life for a player who – like Henderson, Chalobah and Murphy – begins every game not on the mountain-side but several miles below base camp.