JORDAN Henderson’s first taste of professional football was being photographed on the shoulders of Ryan Giggs as a three-year-old.
Giggs and his then Manchester United team-mate David Beckham were the players that Henderson looked up to as a youngster.
Now 17 years after that holiday snapshot, Giggs is still playing with distinction for United while Henderson could win his first England cap in tomorrow’s friendly with France at Wembley.
The Sunderland midfielder has had a meteoric rise up the footballing ladder but gave another demonstration of his potential in Sunday’s shock 3-0 away win over Chelsea.
Henderson said: “I would say the two people I liked the best when I was young were Giggs and Beckham.
“When I was really young, I met Giggs on holiday, which is a big thing when you are young. I’m not sure where it was. I can just remember my mum has got a picture of me on his shoulders.
“Giggs and Beckham were the two I looked up to and I liked the way United played.
“I have not tried to emulate anyone as a player. I have liked players and watched them – like Beckham and Giggs – but I have never tried to play like someone.
“I also like the fact that you see a lot of people in the headlines for the wrong reasons but, with Ryan Giggs, you don’t see him in the papers.”
Henderson also has his feet firmly on the ground and is adamant he will not get carried away with his quickfire success. He said: “Mum and dad, who used to be a policeman, have been a good influence on me. They have brought me up really well, they have always kept my feet on the ground and not let me get carried away.
“My mates have also been good with me since I left school. They used to go out but they would tell me not to, which is a good thing.
“I didn’t really go out much. In any case I had to be back by a certain time, like a curfew. I’ve never drank or smoked and a good night for me is like last night, watching the highlights of the win over Chelsea.
“The only time I go out is Christmas night when the whole team goes out for team bonding and stuff like that. But I still won’t drink or anything.
“Away from football, I like music and myself and Darren Bent and a few of the lads play table tennis at the academy.
“That’s about it. I go training and go home. I’ll maybe shop a little bit, but that’s about it.”
Henderson admits he was always destined to play for the Black Cats.
He said: “I have played for Sunderland since I was seven. I was born in Sunder-land, always went to the games.
“There was never a chance of going to Newcastle or Middlesbrough. My dad is a Sunderland fan, all my friends are and I am a Sunderland fan. I got asked to go on a trial when I was seven – and I have been with them ever since.”
Henderson’s form has inevitably led to speculation that Sunderland will eventually have to sell him, with Manchester United linked with a move.
He said: “I don’t think it has affected me. I don’t think about it too much. My best friend is a Manchester United fan, so he’s going ‘what’s going on here, then?’
“But he’s the only one who gives me a bit of banter about it. He probably wants me to join them. I don’t know.”
A first cap for Henderson would cap a memorable few days, following Sunderland’s 3-0 triumph against the Premier League leaders at Stamford Bridge.
Now the midfielder is looking to make the senior breakthrough with his country. Henderson said: “I am over the moon. With the result yesterday and getting the England call-up, it’s been a really good week for me.
“I think we played really well at Chelsea. The game plan was to go and have a go. There is no point in sitting back against Chelsea and it worked really well.
“We pressed them high up the pitch and got our just rewards.
“We were devastated after losing the Newcastle game (5-1), every single player, so this just makes it a little bit better, beating Chelsea away 3-0.
“Now for me I’ve got my chance with England. I’ve got to train well and hopefully I will get my first cap. Wembley will be a new experience, a massive experience for me.”
And Henderson (pictured above) added: “I won’t get carried away. I’ve just got to keep doing what I am doing.
“I have got the right people around me, good friends, and good family.
“It has been quite a rapid rise. I just want to keep going and progressing as a player and learning things from people.
“But I will not be intimidated. I will give the players a lot of respect but I will just go out and prove to people what I can do.
“It is an opportunity for me and other young lads to show what we can do. I’ll do all I can in my power to take the England chance.”
Henderson is also quick to praise the influence of Black Cats boss Steve Bruce.
He said: “The gaffer has been brilliant with everyone. Everyone likes him, he is really fair.
“He will give you a kick up the backside when you need it and also put an arm around you when you need it as well.
“He is brilliant with everyone, and we have got a real good togetherness at the club now.”