“Oh wow! Are you chucking that out there, yeah?” Jordan Henderson’s shocked response to the suggestion that this could be his last World Cup will have earned a wry smile from many in recent days, with his Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp inevitably being one.
“I’ve seen a lot of 36-year-olds play in World Cups so no reason why I couldn’t!” the Reds skipper insisted, prompting ITV’s Gabriel Clarke to defend his questioning by highlighting his use of the word, ‘probably’. This earned a laugh from Henderson, but behind the light-hearted response, the 32-year-old was being deadly serious.
And why shouldn’t he have been? At the 2022 World Cup, Olivier Giroud, Manuel Neuer and Diego Godin are three of the nine 36-year-olds taking part. Six 37-year-olds are also competing, including Luka Modric, Cristiano Ronaldo and Bryan Ruiz, while Thiago Silva is one of two 38-year-olds.
And then you have Dani Alves and Pepe as two of five 39-year-olds taking part. Even if you lower the age bracket down to 35, you’ll see a list including the likes of Lionel Messi, Hugo Lloris, Keylor Navas, Jan Vertonghen, Dries Mertens, Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani.
Egypt goalkeeper Essam El Hadary was as old as 45 at the last World Cup, with Rafael Marquez the oldest outfield at 39. Meanwhile, Henderson’s former Liverpool team-mate Brad Jones was a 36-year-old inclusion for Australia, joining a 38-year-old Tim Cahill, with Pepe Reina aged 35 when called up by Spain.
Roll back the years further and Didier Drogba, Miroslav Klose and Gianluigi Buffon were 36-year-olds at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, with Frank Lampard, Diego, Forlan and Andrea Pirlo a meagre 35. And in 2010, the year of a 20-year-old Henderson making his England debut, a 39-year-old David James, 37-year-old Mark Schwarzer, 36-year-old Fabio Cannavaro and Martin Palermo and 35-year-old Giovanni van Bronckhorst and Andre Ooijer were all called up for the tournament in South Africa a few months older.
When you consider the iconic Roger Milla was 42 when he famously scored his final World Cup goal for Cameroon back in 1994, it’s very clear that there is nothing stopping even the most senior of veterans gracing the globe’s biggest stage.
Age is just a number, after all. And while players have to be made of exactly the right stuff to enjoy such an Indian summer, Jordan Henderson certainly is.
He might not be a first-choice starter for the Three Lions anymore, with injury prior to Euro 2020 prematurely resulting in him transitioning to squad player for Gareth Southgate’s side, as the likes of Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips stepped up in his absence. Yet he is England vice-captain and remains a most valuable presence and leader in the squad.
The midfielder will have just turned 35 when his current Liverpool contract expires in 2025. With his vice-captain at Anfield, James Milner, set to turn 37 in January and still going strong, even if long since retired from international football, Henderson has witnessed first-hand the perfect example to follow to keep on powering on. Roll on the 2026 World Cup in Canada, Mexico and the United States.
Even if Henderson ultimately fails to make the cut for England in four years’ time, the fact that his mentality has him thinking such a way, and left him surprised to consider the possibility of this being his last World Cup, showcases exactly why he has been as successful as he has for club and country throughout his career.
A £20m signing for Liverpool from Sunderland in 2011, it’s been well-documented countless times how the Reds tried to offload him to Fulham just 12 months later. Instead, he bounced back in emphatic fashion to repeatedly write his name in the club’s record books and emerge as one of their greatest ever captains.
The 32-year-old has played 465 times for Liverpool over the past 11-and-a-half seasons, and has captained them to every major honour going in recent years. While many scoffed at his £20m price-tag at the time, and his place in Klopp ’s squad is questioned by some even now, it has certainly proven to be money well spent.
And the fact that he has proven to be such a shrewd long-term investment for the Reds should come into Liverpool thinking as club bosses eye up a potential move for Borussia Dortmund’s Jude Bellingham.
The Reds have a long-held interest in the 19-year-old, who opened the scoring and shone for England in their World Cup win over Iran over Monday. And while he is currently expected to leave BVB in 2023, the problem for Liverpool is they won’t be the only side interested in the teenager’s services.
Man City and Real Madrid have also both been credited with monitoring Bellingham’s situation ahead of a potential move, prompting a suggestion that the Reds have already been caught up in a transfer battle they are incapable of winning due to them not being able to compete with the finances on offer from the rival suitors.
Yet while the fee required to lure Bellingham away from Dortmund is almost certain to be a club-record one if Liverpool were to land him, toppling the £75m spent on Virgil van Dijk and the £85m that add-ons could see them pay for Darwin Nunez, the overwhelming consensus so far is he will certainly be worth it.
A generational talent, Bellingham has captained Dortmund on occasions so far this season, showcasing his leadership skills while still just a teenager. Meanwhile, he is versatile, capable of playing as a number six, a number eight and a number 10 in midfield.
He has stayed clear of injury for the majority of his tender career so far, with Transfermarkt crediting him as only missing three matches to date because of knocks. Meanwhile, his record of nine goals and three assists from 22 matches for Dortmund so far this season is certainly impressive.
If his World Cup opening performance against Iran is anything to go by, his pedigree and price tag are only going to rise in the weeks ahead. Understandably, that could scare Liverpool off, given FSG ’s admission they are looking to sell the club and they have often been criticised for a lack of significant investment at Anfield.
After all, Klopp raised the question of the Reds occasionally taking more risks in the transfer market earlier this season. Yet FSG have insisted regardless of any takeover talk, it remains business as usual at Liverpool.
Henderson was the most significant arrival of their first summer window at Anfield when snapped up for £20m from Sunderland. A lofty fee at the time, it admittedly looks a …