Perceived wisdom says that the only thing harder than winning a league title is defending it the next season and if Liverpool need excuses there are a few to be found.
This campaign has been mentally tougher than most. The Coronavirus lockdown has impacted on everybody, including footballers. Moreover, there will be less time than normal to reset and recharge. The 2020-21 Premier League season will start in only seven weeks.
But captain Jordan Henderson has heard the talk, considered the schedule and is unfazed.
‘I am ready now,’ Henderson said without flinching when speaking to Sportsmail on Friday.
Jordan Henderson has picked up some of the biggest trophies in football within the last 18 months, yet is determined to go from strength to strength with Liverpool
‘The day I woke up after lifting the trophy it was about the next challenge.
‘I have listened to people who have won in the past and they say it is hard to win the Premier League trophy but even harder to retain it, so the challenge starts now.
‘It will be a huge challenge but one myself and the team are ready for.
‘I love what the gaffer said. He said that we will not defend the trophy, we will attack it.
‘That is the perfect way for our football team. That is the mentality we have shown over the past year. Improve, give everything on the football pitch and in training. Give everything.
Henderson has joined a select group of players in captaining Liverpool to the league title
‘The time off is the same for everyone. That will not be an excuse. The lads would be ready to start the new Premier League tomorrow and do everything to retain the title.’
For Henderson, a dream couple of seasons will finally conclude when Liverpool play at Newcastle on Sunday.
A player who arrived from Sunderland nine years ago as a 21-year-old just hoping to get in to Kenny Dalglish’s team, Henderson has lifted the Champions League, World Club Cup and Premier League trophies in the space of 13 gilded months.
On Friday it was revealed that he has been voted Player of the Year by the Football Writers’ Association and joins an eminent list of Liverpool players to have won the award before. The likes of Steven Gerrard, John Barnes, Dalglish, Emlyn Hughes and Kevin Keegan already have their names on the trophy.
‘It’s an incredible honour,’ he said.
‘There have been great players in the past that have won it and to be part of that list is amazing really.
‘It’s very hard to describe but at the same time I would be wrong to sit here and accept this award just for me personally because I look at the team and what they have achieved over the past year and I think you could pick anyone that dressing-room who would deserve it.
‘So for me, it is about receiving this on behalf of them because without them, this isn’t possible.’
That is a typical Henderson take on his career and on life and reflects a quality that has seen the 30-year-old at the forefront of the Players Together initiative that was formed during the break in the season.
This week Henderson was awarded the prestigious Football Writers’ Player of the Year award
But the Sunderland-born star is quick to ensure his Liverpool team-mates also share the praise
All he asks now is that the momentum and the quite unprecedented unity between the 20 Premier League captains that built over the course of the lockdown does not stall now.
‘That was a real positive over the last few months when we’ve all been in a bad situation,’ added Henderson.
‘A lot of the captains and representatives have come together to do something good for the people who needed it the most. It is something we are all very proud of, a huge thing for us.
‘Put all the rivalry aside and do something for the greater good of the country. The captains, the players, the representatives of each and every single club were unbelievable in the last few months.
‘Going forward, I think we have started something really special so, in the future, if the players can come together and do more stuff when it is needed, then I am sure we can do that.’
The challenge facing Liverpool next season will be significant. Rivals Manchester City are expected to recruit extensively while another traditional foe, Chelsea, have already done so. It is unlikely to be a quiet summer for Manchester United either.
So the size of the task is clear which makes the backstory of Liverpool’s captain entirely fitting. Famously written off by former United manager Sir Alex Ferguson for having an unusual running style, Henderson also took a while to persuade Brendan Rodgers that he was good enough. Rodgers – Jurgen Klopp’s predecessor at Anfield – almost sold him.
Henderson has formed a tight bond with Jurgen Klopp, who has turned him into team’s engine
‘I think at times criticism can hurt,’ he reflected.
‘You understand criticism is part and parcel of football, but when you are a young player it is harder to deal with when you are not used to it.
‘At a big club like Liverpool the expectation level can affect you. It is about learning and dealing with it as best you can.
‘I have found ways to deal with it through experience. Now I look more for criticism as fuel to drive me forward.
‘I will never stop trying to get better. It is something I will always do until I finish playing football. That is a big part of life.
‘You are going to have setbacks and criticism but it is how you react to those situations. Use it as energy and fuel and motivation to come back stronger and improve. That is all I have ever tried to do.’
Rodgers, it should be noted, was the Liverpool manager who gave Henderson the captaincy once Gerrard had moved on. His progression to the role and then in to the role was something of a slow burn but as improvement came as a footballer so too did his ability to lead.
To captain a club like Liverpool is not a small responsibility. In English football, only the captaincy of United weighs as heavily. Over time, Henderson has learned to adjust and appreciate the load.
‘It’s a huge responsibility,’ nodded Henderson.
‘And I knew that when I took on the role. It’s such a huge club but at the same time you’ve been given it for a reason.
‘So for me it was about doing everything I’d done up to that point, but also growing and improving, learning and becoming a better player, a better person to help my team-mates.
A mural is now being created in Liverpool to celebrate the achievement of the team’s captain
‘Everything I’ve done is to try and help them perform to the best of their ability and make an environment where they feel comfortable to express themselves, to perform at the high level.
‘And I’ve got the responsibility as captain to continue to do that, whether that’s young players coming into the squad or players that were signed.
‘The dressing room is a massive part, and it’s not only me. There’s so many leaders within the Liverpool dressing room that show that and lead that. It would be wrong to say it’s all down to me. It’s certainly not.’
For Henderson a family holiday beckons now. Time, perhaps, to reflect on the most remarkable year of his life, for good reasons and bad.
Part of him will regret not being involved in the conclusion of the Champions League that will play out over the first half of August. Liverpool’s defence of their crown ended with defeat to Atletico Madrid back in March.
But he will head in to his short summer break as a Premier League champion. Those with designs of stealing it away will know the bar has been set high.