Ordinarily, Jordan Henderson would be at Wembley on Sunday to cheer on his boyhood heroes and former club Sunderland in their play-off final against Charlton.
Instead, he’ll be flying back from Marbella where Liverpool have been in camp preparing for their Champions League final against Tottenham. Even the staunchest Mackem wouldn’t begrudge that as an ‘excuse’.
The all-English final in Madrid on Saturday night is huge for Liverpool, but for Henderson also.
Jordan Henderson is determined to seal Champions League glory with Liverpool
After coming so close to glory on many occasions – two European finals, a World Cup semi-final with England and second in the Premier League with 97 points – victory this time would see him follow in the footsteps of Emlyn Hughes, Phil Thompson, Graeme Souness and Steven Gerrard as Liverpool captains lifting the European Cup.
‘It has been difficult to take but I think I’ve reacted well each time,’ says Henderson frankly about past near misses. ‘You go through all the different emotions and then it’s a case of: “Okay, let’s go again”.
‘That is just the way I am and will be until I finish playing. You try even harder to get an opportunity again and, when you do, you need to take it.
‘Hopefully the outcome is different this time and I can say we’ve won a big trophy.’
There are compelling cases for either English club becoming European champions. Tottenham were just seconds away from elimination against Ajax in their semi-final. Liverpool’s own comeback, from 3-0 down against Barcelona to winning 4-3 on aggregate, may never be bettered.
Henderson wants to follow the likes of Steven Gerrard by lifting the Champions League
Henderson would ordinarily be watching his boyhood club Sunderland in the play-off final
Henderson plays alongside several Spurs players for England and sees similarities in the two clubs.
Spurs haven’t bought a single player in the last three transfer windows while all of Liverpool’s 10 outfield starters from last season’s Champions League final against Real Madrid are still at the club.
‘Tottenham haven’t made signings but that can help a team. You get a unity and togetherness they have in abundance,’ says the midfielder. ‘I wasn’t surprised they beat Manchester City (in the quarter-finals) and have reached the final.
‘Stability has helped us as well. We did have some new faces at the start of the season but they settled in really well because the other players helped them feel at home. The longer you’re together as a team, the stronger you get.
‘That spirit has helped us against Barcelona. If we play with the same intensity again, with and without the ball, we hope it’s enough to win the final, but Tottenham play with that high intensity too. We are similar in that sense.’
Henderson doesn’t want to crank up the pressure by considering this final as make or break for the Jurgen Klopp generation even though the German hasn’t won a trophy at Anfield.
Win or lose, the skipper insists it’s the start of a new era, not the end game.
‘It gives us the opportunity to make our own history like Istanbul 2005. But we want to keep going whatever the result,’ he insists.
‘Don’t get me wrong, it is a huge game and we will do anything for the right outcome. But afterwards, whether we win or not, we can deal with it and carry on improving.
‘We don’t just want to win one trophy. If you look at Manchester City they are winning two, three trophies a season and that’s something where this football club should be at.’
Henderson stressed that Mohamed Salah is especially eager to impress after last year’s final
Henderson dismisses the idea that it’s Liverpool’s fate to win the Champions League because they’ve already seen off Lionel Messi and Barca.
Since then, they’ve suffered the blow of being so close to winning the Premier League, pipped by a point behind Pep Guardiola’s City.
Unlike 12 months ago against Real, Liverpool will be favourites having finished 26 points head of Mauricio Pochettino’s side. ‘It doesn’t change anything for us,’ says Henderson. ‘Tottenham are trying to take our dreams away. We’ve got to go out there and do the same to them.
‘I’d hope our experience of being in European finals will give us an advantage but I don’t really think so. Spurs players have been in big games.’
Henderson texted ‘see you in Madrid’ congratulations to his England pals at White Hart Lane after their Ajax win but says the banter has now stopped leading up to the final.
It’s hard to imagine Klopp naming a line-up for the final without Henderson. The skipper was dropped for the semi-final first leg at the Nou Camp and Liverpool were beaten 3-0.
Henderson says Jurgen Klopp faces a big decision, with Georginio Wijnaldum aiming to start
‘Of course it was hard to take (being on the bench). Everybody wants to play,’ admits the 50-cap England international before reverting back to his usual diplomatic self.
‘You accept the manager has a decision to make. He’s got a lot of good players to pick from. You can’t pretend it’s easy but you can still have an impact. Gini (Wijnaldum) came off the bench in the second leg and scored twice.’
Another player with a special reason to shine against Spurs is Mo Salah, forced out of last year’s final after 31 minutes after hurting his shoulder in a Sergio Ramos challenge.
The game was goalless at the time but Liverpool ended up losing 3-1 with two blunders by goalkeeper Loris Karius – replaced this season by Allisson – and a worldie from Gareth Bale.
‘It was a massive disappointment for Mo after the season he’d had,’ acknowledges Henderson. ‘He was so emotional that he couldn’t contribute. But football changes very quickly. We’ve been given this chance again. I’m sure he can’t wait to get out there again. None of us can.’