Sir Alex Ferguson didn’t get much wrong during his 27-year reign in charge of Man United.
Sure, there was the time he sold Jaap Stam to Lazio and replaced him with a 35-year-old Laurent Blanc. There was also the time Bebe turned up at Old Trafford off the back of a YouTube compilation.
But neither of those mistakes were as damning as Fergie’s character assassination of Jordan Henderson triggered, seemingly, by the midfielder’s straight back.
In 2013, Ferguson used his official autobiography to explain United’s reasoning for passing on Henderson, saying: “We noticed that Henderson runs from his knees, with a straight back, while the modern footballer runs from his hips.”
Fast forward seven years and the boy who couldn’t run has blossomed into the captain set to end 30 years of hurt at Anfield by lifting a Premier League trophy, ensuring Liverpool clamber back onto the perch that Fergie famously promised to knock them off of.
Far from being held back by his gait, Henderson is part of one of the most high-octane pressing units in world football. The 29-year-old, along with Georginio Wijnaldum and Fabinho, regularly reduces world-class midfielders into lumbering London cabs.
That drive resulted in a prolific 2019 for Henderson, both domestically and internationally. As well as lifting the Champions League, UEFA Super Cup and FIFA Club World Cup, the midfielder was named England’s Player of the Year.
Of course, this isn’t the first time Ferguson has been involved in a situation in which relations either side of the M62 motorway have seen words immortalised in footballing folklore.
Not a day goes by in which someone doesn’t roll down their window to bellow ‘you can’t win anything with kids’ in Alan Hansen’s direction.
Having witnessed United crumble to a 3-1 defeat at the hands of Aston Villa on the opening day of the 1995/96 Premier League season, Hansen presumed he was safe to roll off a cutting assessment of Ferguson’s new era.
Unfortunately for the former Liverpool defender, not only did United go on to win the Premier League and FA Cup that season, the ‘kids’ developed into the greatest core of academy graduates ever produced at a single club.
United stuffed Hansen’s words so far down his throat that he now has them tattooed on his large intestine. But, 25 years after that infamous Match of the Day take, the time has now come for Fergie to feast on humble pie.
Just as Hansen’s words follow him wherever he strolls, Ferguson’s evaluation of Henderson could define the modern-day contest between Liverpool and United. Henderson could become the embodiment of the change in power between the two clubs, much to the displeasure of Ferguson.
Henderson is 30 in June, so it’s unlikely he’ll reach the heights of David Beckham, Paul Scholes and co in terms of Premier League titles.
But with a Champions League trophy already swinging from his neck, and several domestic titles potentially to follow, Henderson has done enough to prove Ferguson wrong. Not too many players can boast that.
You can win things with kids. You can also be a world-class midfielder if you run with a straight back.
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