Dean Henderson.

The details behind Deano's drive and determination

Dean Henderson was a proud man on Thursday night when representing England at senior level for the first time.

It had always been one of his stated ambitions since an early age and perhaps provides evidence that holding such lofty aspirations, allied with such a strong self-belief, can result in an extremely positive outlook.

We revisit a feature from a recent Inside United on Deano - and his drive and determination to reach the very top...

Five years ago, I chatted with Dean Henderson for one of his first interviews and found him utterly engaging, confident and articulate.

Although only moving up from Under-18s football and into the Reserves, at the time, he had already made an impression on the field and had a clear vision of how his future would map out. “When the time comes, hopefully it will be perfect timing,” he commented. However, his journey would take in four other clubs before he returned to United this summer and signed a new long-term contract.

Academy player performance manager Les Parry, who looks after the loan deals, has emphasised: “If you could put a loan strategy up for a player that worked, this would be it.” Moving up the ladder with each move, Henderson has proved his capabilities to the extent that he is now in the England squad.

He has come a long way since playing up front for Carlisle United’s Under-9s, after joining from local team Whitehaven Minors. When the regular goalkeeper was taken ill for a game at Blackpool, Dean took on the gloves. “I saved a couple of penalties and they wanted me in the sticks,” he told me back in 2015. “Personally, I liked diving around in the mud. Obviously, it’s colder up north and, in the wet, it was brilliant sliding across the ground. I just enjoyed it more.”

The big move to his boyhood idols came when he was 14 and he admitted to being nervous initially, in his trial games and when attending Ashton-on-Mersey school as part of the MANUSS programme. “Coming into a big city on your own is difficult,” he said. “But I had good people around to help support me along the way.” One of those he singled out for taking him under their wing was current first-team colleague Scott McTominay.

After becoming no.1 in the Under-18s, he adapted well to the step up to the Reserves but the first of his loan transfers came in the following January, when he joined Stockport County in the National League North. The spell was broken up by a swift recall to sit on the bench for United’s FA Cup tie at Shrewsbury Town. Will Keane pulled his hamstring in the game, which meant Marcus Rashford was promoted ahead of him for the next fixture – the Europa League home clash with Midtjylland. When Anthony Martial was injured in the warm-up, Rashford stepped in and memorably celebrated one of his goals by embracing Henderson, who was in the crowd.

The pair had combined to great effect in the UEFA Youth League by that point when a quick throw-out had led to Rashford earning a penalty. “I’ve seen lots of clips of Peter Schmeichel on YouTube and it’s a really good skill to have in the bag,” said Henderson. “Quick, sharp. You get rid of it and you’re on the break, especially with someone like Marcus with his pace to get on the end of it, it makes the job much easier.”

Shrewsbury would go on to play a bigger part in Dean’s life as they were the club he joined after a stint with Grimsby Town in League Two, where he had worked hard to become first choice. The spell at Shrewsbury was another that Dean fully embraced from the outset and he was an instant hit. Not only did he get in the PFA Team of the Year for the division but he also made two appearances at Wembley (in the EFL Trophy and Play-Off final) and saved a penalty in the second game.

With his reputation growing, a host of clubs tried to sign him in 2018. I remember sitting in the press lounge at Old Trafford awaiting his arrival for another interview, to mark a new contract and an upcoming loan, as the opening match of the World Cup finals started on the TV.

Dean arrived and was physically much bigger and broader than the teenager I’d first spoken to at the Aon Training Complex. He cut an imposing figure and was even more articulate and confident, spelling out his ambitions for club and country.

Such single-minded determination, for some reason, can be frowned upon, maybe in Britain more than other countries. Yet maybe it is an ingredient needed in the psyche to reach the very top. Without a stated ambition, and the self-confidence to fulfil it, so many will inevitably fall short. In the Amazon Prime documentary on Coldplay, Chris Martin boldly states as they struggle to make their way in the industry that they will become the biggest band in the world. Is it just coincidence that they were able to lay claim to this or did it owe something to holding such lofty aspirations from the outset?

Video
Dean Henderson's save at Luton.
Watch some of Dean Henderson's saves this season.
When I broached the subject of Henderson’s mentality, his answer struck a real chord. He glanced behind him to the empty Old Trafford pitch and said with such a serious look in his eyes: “Look at the Stretford End there and, look, it’s 76,000 people. 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.”

It made so much sense. We conducted the second part of the interview about Sheffield United being the club he was joining because it was still being kept under wraps for a few more days. It seemed a perfect move, to an ambitious Championship side steeped in history and tradition, and working under an up-and-coming manager in Chris Wilder.

The Blades boss loved the way his new keeper instantly stood up for himself among senior hardened professionals and helped Henderson develop into one of the top goalies in the country during his two seasons at Bramall Lane. Once again, he endeared himself to the club’s support with his performances and personality and United know we are getting somebody hell bent on achieving his dream of keeping goal for the Reds.

The loans have helped shape the 23-year-old, on and off the pitch. Before he joined Sheffield United, he talked about what he had learned. “How to grow up and be a man, for a start. Make mistakes and learn from them to come out the other end better.”

Dean Henderson and Marcus Rashford.
Dean and Marcus Rashford are now first-team and England colleagues.
On his return to Manchester during the close season, he echoed those sentiments, with a year in the Premier League under his belt. “When I left, I was sort of growing into a young man but now I’ve come back a lot more experienced. I learned a lot about myself and about my character. I’m coming back into the building as a man who understands the game and how it works now.”

Henderson’s strong character continues to help fuel his ambition. Before that first chat with him, Academy goalkeeping coach Alan Fettis told me the youngster was so competitive, he would race you down a flight of stairs. Now he faces the toughest of competitions, to earn the gloves at Manchester United. Yet it won’t faze him. It is one he has been battling to achieve ever since falling in love with diving around in the mud as a kid.

This feature first appeared in Inside United, the official Manchester United magazine.

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