Jordan Henderson faces a daunting challenge at Ajax. As an England midfielder and former captain of Liverpool, he is expected to step up as the leader and motivator of a predominantly young and unbalanced team that has faced significant criticism.
A team that was eliminated from the Dutch Cup just a few weeks ago by USV Hercules, a lower-level amateur club, is now struggling in the league. Ajax, the richest club in the Netherlands and previously victorious in the Champions League from 2018 to 2022, has fallen to fifth place in the standings and is currently nine points behind the top three teams that qualify for European competition next season.
Supporters, media, and ex-athletes like Rafael van der Vaart, Wesley Sneijder, and Marco van Basten have been harsh in their evaluations. They find the current style of play by Ajax to be confusing, especially when it comes to the midfield and defense. Additionally, they are surprised that the team will have to compete in a playoff against Bodø/Glimt from Norway next month in order to continue in the Europa Conference League. Out of the 10 relatively unknown players who joined last summer, only one is seen as a good fit: goalkeeper Diant Ramaj.
There are also internal sources of criticism. According to Remko Pasveer, an experienced reserve goalkeeper for Ajax, the main causes for the team’s decline are lack of vision and leadership. In an explosive interview with Het Parool, a newspaper in Amsterdam, Pasveer stated, “Many new players do not meet the level of the Champions League that Ajax strives for, and they do not understand the club.”
Can Henderson comprehend the intricacies of this intricate club, which has seen the return of former coach Louis van Gaal as an advisor, former captain Danny Blind as a member of the supervisory board, and former player John van ‘t Schip as the temporary coach, but also desires a complete executive board? Is the 33-year-old still capable of playing at a Champions League level?
This may not even be the most crucial aspect. The adaptable midfielder brings a wealth of knowledge and has received acclaim for his dedication and ability to lead. This is exactly what Ajax requires following the departure of key players Daley Blind (one year ago) and Dusan Tadic (last summer).
“I have noticed a decrease in dedication among the current generation of players in the gym compared to two years ago,” Pasveer reflects. “In the past, even after training, players like Dusan Tadic, Davy Klaassen, Lisandro Martínez, Daley Blind, Antony, and Sébastien Haller were always determined to improve and become stronger, even in their free time. This concerns me.”
Henderson’s arrival has brought renewed hope among fans, bolstered by the positive words of Pepijn Lijnders, the assistant coach for Liverpool. Lijnders, who was consulted by Henderson about Ajax, spoke highly of him in an interview with the Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant. According to Lijnders, Henderson is a well-rounded midfielder with strong character. He takes on a leadership role, constantly guiding and motivating his teammates and coaches. As the captain for many years, he has proven his worth and is seen as a key figure within the team, even potentially becoming a right-hand man for the coach.
It is exciting to see that the deal has been finalized, and there is a feeling of disbelief. It is not common for Dutch clubs to successfully recruit highly paid foreign players with a strong track record. The addition of German World Cup champion Mario Götze to PSV Eindhoven in 2020 is a rare occurrence in modern times.
Henderson-branded shirts are selling rapidly at the store located in the Johan Cruyff Arena. Fans of Ajax have affectionately nicknamed him “Henny” and one playful resident of Amsterdam altered a sign in the Jordaan neighborhood to read “Jordan.”
“According to Van ‘t Schip, the arrival of Henderson will greatly enhance the quality of our team. However, he will not be eligible to play against RKC Waalwijk on Sunday until he obtains a work permit. This skilled football player is also valuable for the development of our younger players, both on and off the pitch.”
Henderson’s age of 33 and recent stint in the average Saudi league have caused some concerns in the Netherlands regarding his potential success in the upcoming match. However, there has been little discussion about the moral aspect of Henderson’s decision to play in a nation where homosexuality is banned, despite his previous vocal support for the LGBTQ+ community in England.
Thijs Smeenk, a sports journalist and member of the John Blankenstein Foundation, which advocates for LGBTQ+ rights, expresses satisfaction with Henderson joining the team. He notes that in the Netherlands, acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community is regressing, especially in football settings. Smeenk is pleased to have a player who is openly supportive of LGBTQ+ acceptance, as it is lacking in the football industry. He believes that Henderson will continue to stand for this cause.