Henderson proves loan system is working
If you had sat and mapped out a path for Dean Henderson's career progression - from joining Manchester United at 14 to where he is now, awaiting his debut in the senior England squad - it could not have been more perfect.
United's use of the loan system has been ideal for the development of the talented goalkeeper, who has embraced each challenge with enthusiasm and professionalism and become a shining example to the club's other youngsters about to make their way in senior football.
Most recently of course, he was playing in the Premier League for Sheffield United and the Reds' goalkeeping coach Richard Hartis was among the staff who monitored him there.
"Yeah I have been to see Dean play a few times," Hartis told us, in an interview midway through last season.
"I am really, really pleased with how Dean is progressing. It is a big jump to go from the Championship to the Premier League, but he has shown at Sheffield United that he can cope with that level of football. He is an exciting prospect for us, moving forward as a club, so we are delighted to have him in our goalkeeping pool.”
A number of our Under-23 players are embarking on temporary transfers in 2020/21 in order to further their education, including another stopper in Matej Kovar, who has linked up with Swindon Town.
Academy player performance manager Les Parry looks after those who head out and he spoke glowingly about Henderson last season, telling us: “As I’ve said when we’ve spoken before, the good thing about Deano is this was planned. If you could put a loan strategy up for a player that worked, this would be it because he wanted non-league experience [at Stockport] and then a year in League Two with Grimsby. He wanted a year in League One with Shrewsbury and then a year in the Championship with Sheffield United.
"Now he’s been playing in the Premier League and it’s all gone like clockwork.
“The reason for that is he is single minded. He knows what he wants. We all know him and we all love him. He is very, very single minded. He thinks, one day, he will be the Manchester United no.1 goalkeeper and let’s not doubt him."
Henderson, who has signed a new long-term contract, has always had a confident, positive mindset ever since joining the Academy as a 14-year-old. He had some words of advice to those looking to make similar impacts when getting their loan moves sorted.
"I just think you've got to go out and embrace it," he told us. "Get out of your comfort zone and go and play men's football in a men's environment. It's a big test, at first, but, if you're good enough, you'll be able to do it. If you're strong enough.
“I'm a strong believer that every player will find their level. If you go out and do well, you will get back up to where you want to be. If you're not quite so good, you'll find your level pretty quickly.
"So there is no point beating around the bush," he emphasised. "You have got to go out and embrace it with confidence, with the Manchester United badge on your chest. Embrace every moment, have a great time and I'm sure you'll learn so much. I have been fortunate as I've had really good loan spells but it comes from yourself. You've got to believe in yourself and want to work hard.
“I'm sure it's something a lot of boys will go out and do this season. You just learn to adapt to everything. For example, playing at Sheffield United is different to Stockport County and different to Grimsby. Different managers want different things and you've got to be open minded and willing to do what the manager wants to do. If you do that, you give yourself a great opportunity.
“I think [other players] are always excited to see what you can do on the pitch. The day you walk in, there is an aura around you as you've got that Manchester United badge on your chest. They are wondering: 'How good is this boy? We've heard a lot about him.'
“So it comes with that pressure and you've got to be top drawer straight away. I used to love going in as a Manchester United player, it makes you feel great about yourself and I performed and earned respect very quickly, which was good.”
Henderson's loan at Sheffield United ended up spanning two seasons as he was a key part of their promotion campaign before proving to be one of the leading keepers in the top flight in 2019/20.
The Blades, tipped for instant relegation by many pundits, made a big impression in the Premier League and he is grateful to the club, staff and supporters for giving him the platform to impress.
"I just think, when I left [Old Trafford], I felt I was sort of growing into a young man," he said. "Now I've come back a lot more experienced as I learned a lot about myself, about my character - on and off the field.
“I'm coming back into the building as a man who understands the game, how it works, and now I'm an England international. It's been a great learning curve, going over to Yorkshire, and one I really enjoyed. I learned a lot and I can't thank them enough.
“Promotion last year was good, that experience of playing and fighting for something with the pressure on in all the games. Going to Elland Road and places like that, must-win games in the run-in. For me, it made me who I am today. It made me understand the pressure of things and how to get over the line and win things. That was an amazing feeling, that first season at Sheffield United.
"To go back and have the season we had in the Premier League, when everyone had written us off and said we'd be relegated and were going into the unknown, but to finish ninth in the way we did, I felt was outstanding.
“But for lockdown, we could have pushed on into the Europa League places, no doubt about it, but, unfortunately, it didn't work out in the end. However, it was a season the club can be proud of and I am hopeful they will kick on next season."
Kicking on is exactly what Henderson will be aiming to do under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Parry is in no doubt his character and mentality will enable him to do this.
“One of the things about him, which some would see as a negative, is he doesn’t see sometimes that he’s made a mistake," explained Parry. "For instance, he doesn’t see it, so it doesn’t play on his mind. He is able to put that to the back of his mind.
“Against Chelsea [last season], he took a little bit of stick for spilling one but then pulls out a world-class save. He’ll concentrate on the save. When you phone him, he’ll talk for 20 minutes about one save. That’s the way he is and that is what has got him where he is now. Without that mentality, he would go into his shell.”
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