MANAGER Gareth Southgate hailed “underappreciated” Jordan Henderson’s England career as the midfielder prepares to make his 50th appearance for the Three Lions tonight.
England take on Montenegro in Podgorica looking to continue their winning start to the Euro 2020 qualification campaign.
Henderson reached 49 caps in Friday’s 5-0 thrashing of Czech Republic and the Liverpool man will achieve the half-century landmark at the Gradski Stadion if selected.
While the player himself played down the achievement, Southgate was keen to praise a man who he believes has gone under the radar at times.
“Firstly, only 59 players have achieved it, so it’s a relatively small club and a great honour,” said Southgate, who is part of that number having amassed 57 caps.
“That requires huge commitment to playing for England, first and foremost, and then, on a personal level, Jordan’s qualities as a player – which I think have been underappreciated at times – he’s such an important player for us and has been for the last couple of managers.
“Everybody values the fact that he has a winning mentality. Good players make other players play well.
“It’s not just about your own performance, but the impact and effect you have on others. When you’re a leader like he is, that is among his top qualities.”
Henderson made his senior England debut in 2010 and has gone on to become the most experienced international in Southgate’s largely inexperienced squad.
Only Manchester City pair Kyle Walker and Raheem Sterling are in the forties when it comes to caps, but it is 28-year-old Henderson who leads the way.
However, the honour of winning 50 caps is something the former Sunderland man plans to look back on once his playing days have come to an end.
“Hopefully, if I play, then I’ll obviously be very proud to have played for my country that many times,” he said.
“But I won’t think about it too much. Maybe I will when I finish my career and can look back.
“But at the moment I want to concentrate on doing my best for the team, giving everything for my country.
“When I finish my career, I’ll look back and decide whether I’m satisfied or not.”
Meanwhile, Southgate says he will have no hesitation about throwing his young stars into the potentially-intimidating environment of tonight’s Euro 2020 qualifier in Montenegro.
Steven Gerrard and Ashley Cole were verbally abused and targeted with missiles when England travelled to Podgorica for a World Cup qualifier in 2013 and a similarly tough atmosphere is expected.
But Southgate said: “This is part of their education and to be a top team we’ve got to adapt to every environment we go into.
“Friday at Wembley is always a different experience to going away from home in a qualifier, which is always difficult. But the only way the team can learn and improve is by going through these experiences.”
Southgate’s counterpart Ljubisa Tumbakovic has been searching for a weakness in the England team, but says he cannot find one.
Montenegro have played England four times in the past and have lost once, drawing the other three – including both previous meetings at the Gradski Stadion.
Leicester defender Harry Maguire was singled out by Czech Republic forward Matej Vydra as a “weak link” in the England ranks ahead of Friday’s game at Wembley.
But Tumbakovic, who said his side cannot look at previous results as inspiration this time out, disagreed.
Asked if he sees any weaknesses in the England squad he replied: “I’m really trying, but I can’t.
“We in the coaching team who deal with the players are realistic.
“Things that happen in the past are just nice results for Montenegro.
“(Tonight) we will play a match with totally different players, new coaches, with different capabilities and different ideas from both teams.”
While Sterling was scoring a hat-trick as England saw off Czech Republic on Friday night, Montenegro started their Group A campaign with a draw in Bulgaria.