Jordan Henderson has undergone the glow up to end all glow ups. It's proper Hollywood, teenage girl with braces to prom queen level stuff.
Henderson has transformed from the slightly gangly Mackem midfielder who was mocked for everything from his price tag to his running style, to an irreplaceable member of one of the finest teams in Premier League history.
Liverpool's 2019/20 side were utterly unstoppable, leaving everyone trailing in their wake as they strode to their first top flight title in 30 years. The Reds broke or equalled no fewer than eight Premier League records en route to being crowned champions of England, and the beating heart of this side was the man who, eight years previously, had nearly been sold to Fulham.
Henderson is a product of the Sunderland academy, joining his boyhood club aged eight before making his senior debut a decade later. Following a short loan spell at Coventry (Henderson is the only one of our Welcome to World Class contenders to have had a loan spell with the Sky Blues), he broke into the Black Cats first team at the start of the 2009/10 campaign.
After just two full seasons of Premier League football, Liverpool were persuaded to dip into their pockets to bring Henderson to Merseyside.
The Reds spent £16m on the then 21-year-old - the most the club had ever spent on a player his age. However, it was underwhelming first season at Anfield for the new arrival, and he soon became a scapegoat for the club's stagnation. His debut season ended with Kenny Dalglish being replaced by Brendan Rodgers.
That summer, Rodgers informed Henderson that he could depart Liverpool for Fulham, with Clint Dempsey moving in the opposite direction.
"Brendan called me in and said: 'Listen, this is the offer' and he asked me what I thought. It implied to me that he would let me leave and it was up to me. I went back to my room. I shed a few tears. I ended up crying a little bit because it hurt so much."- Jordan Henderson
The former Sunderland man opted to stay, fight for his place and prove doubters wrong. He has not stopped fighting, grafting and proving doubters wrong since.
Henderson was an integral part of Rodgers' Liverpool side that embarked on an unlikely title challenge during the 2013/14 campaign, but he missed the final three games through suspension. His dynamic energy was a huge miss in the Reds midfield, and Rodgers' side went on to infamously choke and miss out on the title.
The club captaincy came the following summer, as did the inevitable comparisons to his predecessor Steven Gerrard and more doubters to prove wrong.
Jurgen Klopp arrived at Anfield in 2015, and Henderson eventually established himself as the German's first choice holding midfielder. But Klopp was masterminding a ruthless rebuilding project at Anfield in an attempt to transform Liverpool into a world class outfit. Fabinho was signed in the summer of 2018, and Henderson could have been phased out.
"Is Hendo the perfect football player? No. Do I know anybody who is? No. But is he unbelievably important to us? Yes."- Jurgen Klopp
During the 2018/19 season, he was still fighting for his place and having to prove his worth.
Liverpool began the 2019/20 season at quite a pace, not tasting defeat until their 28th Premier League game of the season. The Reds suffered a 3-0 defeat to Watford, looking unorganised, vulnerable and sluggish. It was just the third league game Henderson had missed all season, emphasising the importance of his leadership skills; Liverpool had looked chaotic in his absence.
Henderson's dynamic, energetic style of play means he is perfectly suited to Klopp's high intensity Liverpool side. His graft, work rate and willingness to put in a shift for the team are vital.
Even during Liverpool's 7-0 win over Crystal Palace in December 2020 - where the Reds forward line should have stolen all the plaudits after they ran riot and turned in a display of relentless ruthlessness - it was Henderson who was singled out for praise due to his intelligence and willingness to sacrifice himself for the good of the team.
He has the nous to sit back and cover for Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold, giving the fullbacks the freedom to maraud forward, which is so crucial to the way in which Liverpool play.
"He’s not bothered about being in the spotlight, he’s happy to go under the radar and just go about his job. And he does everything for the team rather than himself."- Trent Alexander-Arnold
But for all his work rate and athleticism, there is genuine, exceptional technical ability too. His range of passing is exceptional, and this is coupled with a real footballing intelligence. He knows when to keep it short, sharp and simple, and he knows when to whip out the cross field diagonal and trigger a rapid Reds counter attack. And he can't half strike a ball when he fancies it.
Henderson's success is a story of determination, patience and endurance. He was the man tasked with the seemingly impossible job of replacing the irreplaceable Steven Gerrard. He has gone on to forge out similarly daunting shoes to fill.
Liverpool's 2019/20 title winning team are one of the most complete sides to have ever graced the top flight. Without Henderson, they would have been rendered incomplete.