Jill Scott’s jibe nailed Jordan Henderson – he’s a problem for England on and off the pitch

Jordan Henderson had the chance to score against Ukraine but shot wastefully over – Action Images/Matthew Childs

The problem for Jordan Henderson came even before a ball was kicked. But there was also a serious one after the game had started.

“I’m a Jordan Henderson fan … but, for me, the fact that I couldn’t go and watch him represent his team, that’s what doesn’t sit well for me,” said Jill Scott, on duty as a television pundit.

And with that Scott – a fellow Mackem, whose liking of Henderson meant she once nominated him to follow her into the ‘I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here’ jungle – nailed it.

Henderson has made his own trials with his controversial move to the Saudi Pro League, compounded by the weakness of his arguments defending himself last week, and it is a country where Scott would not be welcome.

The former England international is gay, and same-sex relationships can be punishable by death in Saudi Arabia, and as she passed comment on Henderson on the corner of the pitch occupied by Channel Four, the midfielder warmed up not so far away.

It was not the only discomfort he faced. As the game unfolded, Henderson looked off the pace and certainly was so as Ukraine opened the scoring. England were cut open down their left and while there was a collective failing, the sight of Henderson ambling back as Oleksandr Zinchenko scored was an indictment.

Harry Maguire came in for immediate criticism as he ran towards Marc Guehi, and vacated the area where he could have tried to block the shot, and his involvement is another big issue for Gareth Southgate. But Maguire was not at fault. He was tracking his man, Roman Yaremchuk.

No, Zinchenko was fully in Henderson’s view but he did not close down the space and in that moment he looked like what he is emerging: a problem for Southgate on the pitch as well as off it. There may not have been the promised protest from LGBTQ+ supporters but the spotlight was on Henderson nevertheless.

In a midfield that contains Declan Rice and Jude Bellingham, it is the third component that needs to be finalised. Henderson is surely losing his grip on that position and there were two moments involving those young superstars that highlighted that even further.

Henderson had the chance to score, after being picked out superbly by Bellingham, but shot wastefully over and, later on, Rice could be seen shaking his head and pointing to him to show him where he should be.

There must have been moments during this encounter when Henderson will have reflected why he has put his chances of being involved in this England team in jeopardy. He will be 34 during next summer’s European Championships and was already facing a fight which he has made infinitely more difficult by moving to Al-Ettifaq.

The conundrum for Southgate, even if he will grow exasperated by the continued questions about Henderson and the compatibility of selecting him, is that he still values the former Liverpool captain.

Despite Southgate's loyalty, Henderson is facing a fight for his England place

Despite Southgate’s loyalty, Henderson is facing a fight for his England place – Action Images/Matthew Childs

So that third wheel in midfield is an issue. Southgate could have tried James Maddison in there but, instead, squeezed him in on the left-wing, which is a role he clearly did not enjoy and was booked in his frustration. Too often Maddison was way infield, failing to stretch the play.

Mason Mount is injured and lacking confidence, Kalvin Phillips is out of the picture at Manchester City and there seems to be a reluctance from Southgate to go for a more attack-minded player.

You had to feel sorry for Maddison and he did not last in a double substitution that meant Phil Foden took one of the midfield positions, as a No.10. Bizarrely, though, it was Bellingham – who plays there for Real Madrid – and not Henderson who was replaced.

It seemed unfathomable unless it was a precaution and it was the kind of change that adds to the pressure and scrutiny on Southgate and whether he can get the best out of the prodigious pool of talent available to him.

The substitutions meant Henderson dropped deeper alongside Rice. Maybe Southgate reasoned this gave his team more balance but it appeared a defensive move in a tie that was there for the taking and it fuelled that fire that he can be too cautious.

Maybe he reasoned that Henderson, given the standard of league he performs in, needed the minutes. But there would be more logic in him playing the full 90 in Tuesday’s friendly against Scotland. Either way, Southgate patted Henderson on the back at the final whistle. At least he seemed happy.

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