Henderson aiming to reach the top
Dean Henderson is a confident young man and, last season, he backed that self-belief up with a remarkable season at Shrewsbury Town.
As loan moves go, this one was a real success story. He helped the unfancied Shrews slug it out towards the top of the League One table all year, played twice at Wembley and was named in the PFA Team of the Year. More than this, he transmitted his passion to the supporters and emerged as a real fans' favourite. Not bad for a 21-year-old in a position usually filled by somebody with far more experience.
And that has been the name of the game for Henderson, who has also had spells with Stockport County and Grimsby Town. Experience. Learning his trade on the job to speed up his development and move him closer to fulfilling his lofty long-term ambitions - keeping goal for Manchester United and England.
It would be easy to dismiss such aspirations but he is making steps in the right direction. The new contract, signed in front of his family at Old Trafford, is proof of the regard in which he is held at the club and reward for his form. United are blessed with a number of top-class keepers, including the very best in the world, but the youngster should be applauded for aiming for the stars.
He's also played at all the age levels with his country, being part of the squad that won the Under-20 World Cup, and made his Under-21 debut against Romania earlier this year. "One more step to go," he tells MUTV. "The senior team. I’m eyeing that up in the next couple of years and that’s what I’m working towards. It’s an honour to represent your country. With the [Under-20] World Cup success we had last year, it makes you hungrier for more, to go on to compete to win the real thing and the Euros. They are great competitions to go on and really do your country proud. I’ll be looking at that in the coming years and see how far I can go."
Proud to have signed a new contract for the biggest club in the world.. my club that I have been a part of from a very young age!!! I just want to say a massive thank you to all my family and @kin_partners for making this happen and the support they have given me❤🔜🔛🔝 @ManUtd pic.twitter.com/zB3bEkOLkB— Dean Henderson (@deanhenderson) June 14, 2018
One former England no.1 has been very supportive of his fellow keeper's career as he has shared experience of representing Shrewsbury. Joe Hart, who spent last term at West Ham United, came up against his former club in the Emirates FA Cup and has kept in touch with Henderson, offering advice and the benefit of his experience.
"It’s weird, actually," admits Dean. "Joe was always my idol growing up, being England’s no.1, and I always admired him. To play against him this year at his hometown club, was really an honour for myself. We had a good few words afterwards and exchanged numbers. He keeps in touch with me now and gives me good advice when I need it. He’s been a real good role model for me over the last six months and really given me some good advice over what to do, where to go and to keep playing games to get there eventually, because he says your talent will shine through.
"It was funny [how the friendship started]. It was the first international break after the summer and he was like: ‘You’re the one who went to Shrewsbury, Deano, aren’t you?’ We got chatting about a few places, where he hangs out in Shrewsbury, and he was telling me places to go to eat and things like that. It was where the connection started and then, obviously, we drew them in the FA Cup. It’s been good to get to know him over the last year and he’s been a really big help for me."
Henderson completely embraced the move to Shrewsbury and has been a firm believer that the loan system is the best route to developing between the posts.
"Look, I stand by that," he asserts. "I love going out on loan and playing games, playing in those pressure moments. We had a couple of trips to Wembley this year with Shrewsbury and, to feel the energy around the place and to get that as a young lad, I feel it’s important to go on to reach the next level. You need to go and play games to be put in those scenarios in order to come out better.
"I’m obviously a passionate lad and that’s well known around this club. So I wear my heart on my sleeve and give it everything I’ve got for everyone. I think that’s how it should be. They’ve given me an opportunity and a platform to go on and show what I can do so it’s only right that you give that back with good performances and a bit of passion.
"It’s no secret we were favourites to go down. We had one of the lowest budgets in the league but for the lads to come together and have the season we did, to take Rotherham to extra-time in the final, we were also victims of our own success. We did well in the FA Cup and obviously the Checkatrade Trophy so we played a lot of games. The lads were really tired on the day. Look, another day, it could have gone our way but I’m sure they will rebuild and go again to hopefully get promoted next season."
The blond keeper strikes an imposing figure; he looks bigger and stronger than the last time we spoke before he headed away from the Aon Training Complex. When pressed on what he learned in League One, he says: "How to grow up and be a man, for a start." It has been an educational process and, of course, challenges along the way but 'Deano' understands that. Senior players at Shrewsbury guided him through the long, hard season and offered some pointers. "I take it on the chin and learn from things," he says. "Obviously, I’m not perfect. I’m always willing to learn and take everything in to go onto the next level."
There aren't too many keepers of his age being afforded so much responsibility and he has thrived on the pressure. Like Hart, he appears a strong character and a tough mentality is probably essential for any goalie. "It’s well known in football that keepers always stick together through thick and thin," he adds. "It can be a lonely place at times but also a good place."
Finally, what about that self-confidence, an attitude that has already taken him a long way since the day he was asked to go in goal in his native Cumbria as a schoolboy and actually began to enjoy the thrill of "diving around in the mud". For Dean, it's an essential tool if he is to reach his ultimate goal, no matter what is agreed for his career plan.
Appreciating the enormity of his surroundings, he says: "Looking at the Stretford End there, it’s 76,000 people in the ground. If you’re not confident, you know what’s going to happen – you’re going to make lots of mistakes. You have to stand on your own two feet and have that confidence, especially to play for a club like this and to go on and win titles, which is my main aim for the future."
Last year, the keeper aced that loan spell in League One. What's next for Dean Henderson?