How Liverpool's Jordan Henderson and Everton's Jordan Pickford went from Sunderland prospects to England internationals
Sunderland legend Kevin Ball trusts Gareth Southgate’s decision to include Jordan Henderson in England’s Euro 2020 squad – despite concerns over the Liverpool midfielder’s fitness.
Henderson, 30, has been injured with a groin issue and has played just 45 minutes since February - in England’s 1-0 friendly win over Romania this month.
Some have questioned why Henderson is in the squad due to his lack of match fitness, and while Ball admits he doesn’t know all the details, he’s well aware of the player’s influence and leadership qualities.
“My thoughts have got nothing to do with it and I would never give an opinion on something I don’t know enough about,” said Ball when asked about Henderson’s inclusion.
“The decision has got to be made between Gareth and Jordan, whatever their reasons are for him to be involved in the squad is between them two. Obviously everyone can have an opinion. Do we know the full facts? Possibly not.
“Having seen the way Gareth manages his players over the years I think any aspiring manager can take a leaf out of his book in the way he deals with things.
“If he feels in this situation the right thing is to have Jordan in the squad then so be it.”
He would try and be number one
Ball was a youth coach at Sunderland when Henderson came through the ranks on Wearside and says the player’s attitude set him apart.
"Obviously he had ability but for me to be a professional footballer your attitude has to be spot on, because that is going to drive your ability up,” adds Ball.
"The one thing Jordan has alongside ability is a fantastic attitude and when he came with us full-time it was pleasant how he went about things and adapted.
"Did we have fallouts? I wouldn’t have said fallouts but I think there was always a debate on, the one thing I really did like about Jordan was that if he didn’t agree with you he would challenge you on it.
“I think as a coach and a manager, there is a time for that as well and I think when the player does it with respect, good managers will sit and listen to them.
Henderson’s ability to lead by example was also evident to see from an early age, as well as his desire to be the best.
“The leadership was there from the day he walked into the academy, in the sense that he even tried to lead everything in training,” recalls Ball.
“What I mean by that is he wanted to be at the front and if he wasn’t at the front he would do his best to get to the front.
“If it was a sprint test or something like that he wanted to be number one and if he wasn’t number one the next time he would try and be number one.
“That’s leadership because that’s saying to people if I can you can, and I’m trying to be the best I can. He did that.”
The best goalkeepers are the ones that get stronger
Another Wearsider who has become a key member of England’s squad is goalkeeper Jordan Pickford.
The 27-year-old had a memorable 2018 World Cup with the Three Lions but has come under scrutiny for his club form with Everton in recent seasons.
“I think whenever you play as a goalkeeper you are the last line of defence and any mistake made, either major or minor, is picked up on straight away,” replies Ball when asked about the stopper – another player he worked with during his Sunderland days.
“People unfortunately in modern life take great delight in trying to expose, not just Jordan, but any player at an elite level to belittle them and I find that quite frustrating at times.
“He’s England’s number one and the crux of that is you have to make sure you are as good as you can possibly be.
“Over the course of his career will he have highs and lows?. Absolutely. But the best goalkeepers are the ones that get stronger and stronger and I think in this situation with Jordan it’s a testament to him, he’s done that.”
Pickford’s passing ability has helped him establish himself as England’s first-choice keeper, a trait he has always possessed.
“He was confident in his ability and he knew that he would go on to great things and you could see that,” says Ball.
“At times we had debates about things he may or may not have done, I enjoyed the challenges because it was a different challenge to Jordan Henderson and I enjoyed talking to him.
“We had a game where the lads were split to play out and Jordan would ping the ball past them all and out to somebody on the wing for us to score a goal.
"I’d go Jordan, ‘can you pass the ball to the defenders please?’ and he’d go ‘Kevin, I’m better than them.’ People would assume that’s arrogance but that’s confidence and I couldn’t disagree with him because his level of passing was outstanding.”
The North East should feel proud
After watching the pair excel at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, Ball now hopes the duo can impress at this summer’s European Championships
“I think over the course of their international careers, I think anybody from the North East should feel proud of what they have gone on to achieve,” says Ball.
“I still go back into coach mode when I watch them, I still have that attachment where I still want them to be as good as they can possibly be. If something doesn’t work out, do I see it as much as them? Absolutely. If something goes really well for them, do I feel elation for them? Absolutely.
“I will be looking forward to watching the pair of them play this time around, as should we all in the North East.”