“He’s got an innocence about him that’s rare these days,” said Keane about an 18-year-old Sunderland prospect back in 2008. “I just like the kid. He can play; he’s got a real chance.”
That kid has grown into a man. Jordan Henderson is now an established England international and is expected to succeed Steven Gerrard as Liverpool captain this summer.
Henderson has taken his chance, but he is well aware how much he owes to Keane.
The Republic of Ireland assistant manager brought Henderson through the Sunderland Academy and gave him his senior debut.
Keane left before Henderson fully flourished — eventually departing for Anfield in a €21.82m deal in 2011 — but the England man remembers his debt.
After tomorrow’s friendly at the Aviva he will look to find Keane and exchange a few words of thanks.
“Roy has been a huge part of me getting my chance as a footballer,” Henderson said.
“He gave me my debut at Sunderland and had a huge impact on my career. I have got a lot to thank him for and I can never really repay him.
“I learnt a lot from him while I was at Sunderland, and also from how good he was as a player. He taught me alot. I was a young lad coming into the first-team and I think from how hard I was working on the training field he could see I really wanted to be a footballer. Obviously, I hope he saw a bit of quality in there.
“To work under him was amazing and hopefully I will be able to have a few words with him after the game.” Henderson’s development as both a player and leader should be a source of some pride to Keane. The 24-year-old is now a senior man for both club and country, full of opinions on whether Brendan Rodgers and Raheem Sterling should remain at Liverpool and what the club can consider success next season after a disappointing 2014/15 campaign.
In short, the captain-elect wants silverware — while he also launched an impassioned defence of Sterling’s behaviour during his contract stand-off.
“Of course I want Brendan to stay,” said Henderson. “He has been fantastic for me personally and fantastic for Liverpool.
“This next season is a big season for everyone involved. We know that. We want to be finishing as high as possible in the league and winning trophies.
“We have a great group of lads with great potential but it’s time we started showing that potential in the Premier League and cup competitions. We need to be getting to finals and winning trophies.
“You have to keep your best players and for me Raheem is an outstanding player. Not only that but everyone loves him off the pitch.
“He is getting a lot of criticism but I couldn’t fault him. His work ethic, the way he goes about his business, he hasn’t any ego. He is a huge player for us, so for me personally we need to keep him.
“I am a good friend of his. We speak in private and obviously everyone knows what I think but at the end of the day it’s up to Raheem and the path he wants to choose. I hope the decision comes that he stays at Liverpool.”
One man who decided not to stay at Liverpool was Luis Suarez. The Uruguayan will tonight play in the Champions League final for Barcelona, and Henderson will be watching with interest.
He remains in touch with Suarez and absence has made the heart grow fonder.
“I have spoken to him a few times over the season and he is improving all the time,” adds Henderson.
“I learnt a lot from him at Liverpool. He is a joy to watch. His work rate was unbelievable. I could not believe how hard he worked with his talent. We see a lot of players with the talent but not the mentality. Luis has both of those things. He would never miss a training session, he would never miss a game. He is a footballer everyone should aspire to. He gets a bit of criticism but that is because he is a winner.”
Keane was undoubtedly a winner; Henderson wants to be, too, particularly tomorrow afternoon in Dublin.
“I don’t think it will be a friendly,” he smiles. “Republic of Ireland are a good team with good players so we have to approach it like our group games [in the Euro 2016 qualifiers]. It is important we do well.”
And then Henderson will be able to have his chat with Keane and say a quiet ‘thank-you.’