Jordan Henderson is currently standing on top of English football.
Champions League hero, Premier League title-winner elect, an England international in his prime, playing for one of the world’s most prestigious clubs.
But little would anyone realise that but for a decision taken when he was on the cusp of his first professional contract that all of this might never happened.
No multi-millionaire status, no medals, no glory… there’s a fine line between success and failure.
Ricky Sbragia was Sunderland’s first-team coach when Henderson was breaking through at the Stadium of Light. But it nearly never happened for the Wearsider.
Sbragia said: “There was one professional contract still to be handed out, and it was a straight choice between three of the academy lads.
“The night before the decision had to be made, it still hadn’t been decided. As I left for home, I didn’t have a clue which one would get the nod.
“When I came back in the following day, Jordan had been chosen. What swung it for him? The attitudes that you see today – the ones that have made him such a success. It just goes to show how thin the dividing line is.”
Sbragia, 63, who managed in Scotland’s youth ranks as well as Manchester United, was part of the Black Cats’ backroom team under then boss Roy Keane.
But it was decided that Henderson, now in the professional ranks, should be sent to Coventry – for the right reasons.
The Scot added: “Roy could see his potential.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt about that. Roy brought him in, and Jordan would have picked up plenty from him.
“Yes, Roy was great for him.
“The years and the experience he had in that position, it was an undoubted help. As everyone knows, Roy was one of the best – if not the best – midfielder in the world at one time.
“However, towards the end, it wasn’t quite happening when Roy was in charge at Sunderland, but I remember when Jordan played one of his first matches.
“We were at Chelsea – and 3-0 down at half-time. Frank Lampard, Deco and Jon-Obi Mikel were playing in their midfield.
“We were getting a bit of a chasing, and Roy must have thought that it was a good time to see what he was made of as he threw Jordan on at half-time. Jordan couldn’t have been much more than 18.
“When we reviewed the match afterwards – it made for painful viewing because we ended up conceding five – but Jordan had given a pretty good account of himself. He certainly wasn’t afraid of the situation that he found himself in, or the players he was up against.
“It wasn’t long after that the decision was taken to allow him out on loan at Coventry. That can tell you plenty about a young player. You do get ups and downs whenever you loan out a player. Are they going to play? Are they going to sink or swim? Do they think they’re better than the club they’re going to?
“He viewed it as he should have been as a continuation of his education. He wanted to go.”
While Sbragia says that if he’d been told that Henderson would go on to achieve what he has at Anfield, his reaction would have been: ‘Steady on.’
However, he says that the Anfield icon is an example of what can be achieved if any young player has their priorities in order.
He added: “As a coach, you’d look at some of the youngsters and you’d think: ‘It’s going to be hard getting something out of him today…’
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