The Liverpool Echo got a bit ahead of themselves back in May, lamenting Gareth Southgate’s decision to name Harry Kane as his new England captain ahead of the World Cup and taking the honour away from Liverpool skipper Jordan Henderson.
In terms of rooting for their local star that certainly expected, but there was a second part of it. The Echo was disappointed because Kane’s captaincy denied Henderson something very special indeed.
Only one captain in football history has ever lifted the European Cup/Champions League and the World Cup in the same year…and Henderson could have become the second.
That incredibly rare double has only been completed by Franz Beckenbauer, a man considered to be one of the greatest of all time, when he skippered Bayern Munich to European Cup glory in 1974, just a few weeks before lifting the World Cup for West Germany on home soil.
Of course, Henderson was never likely to get close to that feat. Firstly, Liverpool had to beat Real Madrid in the Champions League final, which they didn’t. Then, England would have had to break a 52-year international drought and surprise everyone to win the World Cup.
While Liverpool winning the Champions League was plausible, it was never likely. England winning the World Cup is far less plausible, and even less likely.
The headline ‘Jordan Henderson denied possible special place in history after Harry Kane named England captain instead of Liverpool skipper’ was local bias taken too far.
Henderson’s ‘dream’ is over, but that ambition is still very much alive for another individual, one whose place alongside an all-time great like Beckenbauer in such an exclusive club would be much more appropriate, expected and…not a fluke.
Sergio Ramos, the most hated man in Liverpool, lifted the Champions League trophy for the third season in a row for Real Madrid last month. And, unlike Henderson, the Spain captain also has a genuine chance of adding a World Cup trophy a few weeks down the line.
Spain boast a plethora of elite players in their ranks and still retain a core of experience – Ramos, Andres Iniesta, Gerard Pique, Sergio Busquets and David Silva survive from the squad that conquered this stage eight years ago in South Africa.
Even after the drama that unfolded around now former coach Julen Lopetegui this week, Spain’s chances still look good. The world has twice previously seen Italy emerge from dire circumstances pre-tournament (1982, 2006) to win it all against the odds, so it is certainly not impossible for Spain to do the same even if the situation is obviously less than ideal.
In new boss Fernando Hierro, Spain have a coach who will command the utmost respect after what he achieved during his own career. As a player, the 50-year-old won five La Liga titles, three Champions Leagues, played at four World Cups and was formerly the national team’s all-time top scorer, despite primarily being a defender.
Ironically, Hierro wasn’t far away from matching Beckenbauer’s record himself once upon a time.
Having lifted the Champions League trophy in 2002, he captained Spain at that summer’s World Cup. A strong run from La Roja saw them take nine points in the group stage and navigate a tough Last 16 draw against the Republic of Ireland, before only an extremely contentious quarter final exit at the hands of South Korea sent them home.
Iker Casillas was in the same boat in 2014 after lifting Real Madrid’s 10th European Cup as captain, only for Spain, who were World Cup holders at the time, crash out at the group stage in South Africa – Casillas himself had a poor tournament.
This time around, Ramos has every chance of going all the way, joining Beckenbauer, and doubling the size of that very elite club from one to two.