Harry Kane missed a decisive penalty in England’s World Cup loss against France last weekend, and he missed the presence of Jordan Henderson at the time.
After 84 minutes of football against France on Saturday night, England were presented with an invaluable safety net. Gareth Southgate’s men trailed Didier Deschamps’ outfit by two goals to one, before Mason Mount was judged to have been fouled by Theo Hernández in the penalty box.
Harry Kane stepped up to take the penalty but in the moment, he was alone. None of his England teammates surrounded him, with those representing France deliberately standing around the penalty spot as a means of disturbing the Tottenham Hotspur talisman.
The 29-year-old stepped up and uncharacteristically fired the ball over the bar, with England forced to exit the tournament shortly after. It was a travesty, but one that could have gone differently if Jordan Henderson was still on the pitch.
Earlier in the bout, Kane stepped up to take another penalty but this one ended up finding the back of the net. In the build up to the kick, the Spurs striker was somewhat guarded by Henderson, who appeared conscious of the mischievous conduct of France.
Renowned for being the ultimate leader, the Liverpool skipper protected his teammate before allowing him to step up and finish but by the time the second penalty was awarded, he’d been substituted.
It will never be known what would have happened with him on the pitch — the pressure of a penalty to effectively stay in the World Cup would still have been enough to put anyone off. But football psychologist Geir Jordet has speculated that Henderson’s absence played a potentially crucial role.
Over the past few years, Henderson has been exposed to the fine details of the game, with Jürgen Klopp proving to be as meticulous as they come. The Reds took part in three dramatic penalty shootouts last season and won all of them, with Liverpool securing the Carabao Cup and FA Cup in the process.
Klopp’s men seemed to adopt specific ploys to deliver in those pressure moments. His players were instructed to decide where exactly they would shoot their penalty kicks in the days leading up to the games, for example, simply as a means of removing any uncertainty.
The goalkeepers at Liverpool, Alisson Becker and Caoimhin Kelleher, were instructed to instantly gather the ball after attempting to make any penalty saves, in order to protect it from their opponents before safely handing it to the next kicker on their team.
Indeed, the Reds have been all about marginal benefits under Klopp. The German boss received plenty of criticism for appointing a throw-in coach by the name of Thomas Grønnemark in 2018, but his work has paid dividends on Merseyside.
Not long after his arrival, Klopp also sanctioned the involvement of neuro11, a German neuroscience firm who have since helped his players in a different way than usual, specifically around dead-ball situations.
The neuro11 team has developed a highly innovative and fact-based mental strength training method that can be seamlessly integrated into our existing training program,” Klopp told their official website. “We are now able to specifically train the mental and shot-precision abilities of our players directly on the pitch, in a way that wasn’t possible for us until now.”
Extra work is done around set-pieces, specialist experts in recovery and osteopathy have been appointed in the past 18 months, and data has been filtered throughout the fabric of the club since Fenway Sports Group took ownership in 2010. Then there’s club psychologist Lee Richardson, who spoke to Liverpool.com about how last season’s League Cup shootout with Chelsea unfolded, and how Liverpool were able to avoid getting into a ‘threatened state’.
Liverpool are all about the smallest of details, which have become their greatest strength. Taking care of the minutiae has certainly helped the Reds climb to the pinnacle of the sport in recent times. Henderson knows as much, but when England really needed his silent impact, he was sat on the bench.