DOHA – Fernando Hierro, the Real Madrid icon, came first this century in 2002. It would be seven years before Carles Puyol, an emblem of Barcelona, joined his exclusive group.
Paolo Maldini, AC Milan’s Gran Capitano, attempted to join in 2007 but failed. Javier Zanetti, Inter Milan’s totem, came up short in 2010. But in recent seasons, the troupe has expanded to welcome Philipp Lahm (Bayern Munich), Andres Iniesta (Barcelona), Iker Casillas and Sergio Ramos (both Real Madrid).
This is the Grand Slam club, reserved for the captains who lifted the Champions League, European Super Cup and Club World Cup (or Intercontinental Cup, in Hierro’s case) in the same calendar year. They welcomed a new member on Saturday.
Becoming the first English skipper to complete this clean sweep barely registered with Jordan Henderson, whose first thoughts after leading Liverpool to victory here involved Leicester on Boxing Day.
Jurgen Klopp’s squad could be heard singing ‘Campione!’ loudly through the walls as Jorge Jesus, Flamengo’s manager, faced the media, but after the hullabaloo in the dressing room subsided Henderson was busy reminding his team-mates about the next task.
When you think of those who have led Liverpool in the past — from Ron Yeats to Emlyn Hughes, Phil Thompson, Alan Hansen and Steven Gerrard — it is remarkable that Henderson finds himself in unchartered territory.
‘Listen, we have got big names in our squad but Hendo, I think, shows what Liverpool is about,’ said left back Andrew Robertson. ‘He was magnificent against Flamengo, best player on the park.’
Robertson, who was cradling the trophy, was about to break into a eulogy when, suddenly, the man he was discussing trotted up, rubbed the Scot’s head and asked him, with a wink, ‘Are you hogging this, or what?’ The silverware was handed over and Henderson, in a flash, was gone.
‘I’m not going to talk too nicely about him as you can see he’s just given me a bit!’ said Robertson, smiling. ‘Anyway, Hendo is underappreciated to some but, in the dressing room, we appreciate everything he does.’
Mo Salah, generously, was named Player of the Tournament but if you look at what Henderson did, first as a centre back against Monterrey in the semi-final, then as the metronome against Flamengo, the argument to say FIFA got it wrong carries weight.
Aside from the defence-splitting pass that created space for Roberto Firmino to score the winner, Henderson barked and bellowed and ran miles to see Liverpool over the line against Flamengo.
Never was it more evident from the 116th minute. First Robertson was told to get in position; when Virgil van Dijk thought about going up for a corner, Henderson screamed at him to stay put. Salah and substitute Xherdan Shaqiri were also implored to remember their duties.
‘He’s our captain — that’s what we all respect,’ said Van Dijk. ‘He’s having a fantastic season. When other people say negative things, it doesn’t really matter. We’re so proud of him.’
All through his career, Henderson has had to battle to change perceptions. He is a player who his critics believe can be upgraded. Now, though, he has carved a niche for himself in history.
Henderson is a leader but also an inspiration. After Liverpool won the Champions League, a friend showed him a video of how schoolchildren had started to copy the little jig of celebration he did before lifting the trophy and he couldn’t believe how it had caught on.
He won’t believe, also, that he is rubbing shoulders with Hierro and Puyol, Lahm, Iniesta, Casillas and Ramos but his place alongside them, after a year from his dreams, is fully warranted. Champions League, Super Cup and Club World Cup: Liverpool’s captain has made himself a legend.