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      Henderson feature: Adversity, confidence and developing on and off the pitch


      In his first feature interview since joining the club over summer, Dean Henderson sat down to discuss overcoming adversity, harnessing confidence and the key to development on and off the pitch…

      When Dean Henderson headed out on loan from Manchester United to Sheffield United, he sat down with manager-to-be Chris Wilder for the very first time. He had a simple message: "We’ll be playing as a Premier League club next season,” Henderson told him, “and that means you will be a Premier League manager.”

      Some confidence – but backed up by ability. The young goalkeeper was crucial in a promotion-winning campaign, winning the Championship Golden Glove award, before starting all-but two Premier League games as the Blades defied predictions of relegation to secure ninth-place finish. No wonder Wilder recently admitted: “I loved him from the moment we met.”

      But confidence doesn’t mean invulnerability, and Henderson, like any other player, is buffeted by the winds of cruel fate. He had just broken into the first-team at Man Utd when he contracted COVID; he was impressing on loan at Nottingham Forest before he was injured. In his first game at Crystal Palace, misfortune struck again.

      “It was difficult – I knew straight away that I had done something similar,” Henderson remembers of his injury on debut at Old Trafford. “When we were drawn against Man Utd, it was probably too soon for me, but obviously I wanted to play the game and wanted to give a good account of myself.” There’s that confidence again.

      “Unfortunately it was cut short, so maybe it was a couple of weeks too soon for me. It gave me an opportunity to go back to square one and really work to get to know behind the scenes some of the strength and conditioning coaches, the physios, and really work on that physical and mental aspect of some bits you can improve on. So it wasn’t a bad thing in the end.”

      It’s a positive outlook, but nonetheless it took hard work to come back – and where better to make your return that at the home of the reigning champions, Manchester City. “To be honest, it’s so mad because I remember I played three or four seasons back-to-back from when I first went out on loan to when I went back to Man Utd.

      “Then I was in and out in that first season at United, probably playing 50 percent of the games. It was difficult, because once I got COVID and stopped, it was just hard getting going again. Then I got the big injury at Forest, which wasn’t ideal – just as things were starting to pick up for me and as I was starting to find my form, because as a goalkeeper it’s important that you get that amount of games in you.

      “To come in after 11 months out and to do it at the Etihad as well, after training maybe two times, and then to have a result like that and a performance like that was something I was really proud of, on my mental side more than anything.”

      ‘Mentality’ – anyone who speaks to Dean Henderson will know how important that word is to him. It’s too simple to define it simply as confidence, because it ignores that willingness to keep improving, that self-analysis. “I know myself – I've been around the block enough to know,” he explains.

      “You can’t be too hard on yourself, and after 11 months out performances aren’t going to be perfect for me, I'm not going to be at my top level. I understand that. But game by game I've just got to keep getting better and keep improving, because I've got aspirations of where I want to get to and where I've been in the past and where I want to go again.

      “[Mentality] is massive. There are certain players here that I'm so impressed with, and I think they can go on to real heights and go on to the next level. I'm really excited to see what the next couple of years bring.”

      There are plenty of young players around the first-team squad, but the next generation are attracting attention at the Academy, and following Henderson’s path may be their way to success in the Premier League. When he was just 18-years-old the ‘keeper moved on loan to Grimsby Town, and looks back on it as one of the most important decisions he made for his progress on the field and off it.

      “I was 18 getting chucked into men’s dressing rooms and seeing all sorts going on,” he remembers. “I really enjoyed it. I thought it made me into a man early. It helped me find my feet, find my confidence and progress my game from a game management point of view.

      “I was really delighted to go out on loan early. It was something I fought for when I was a young kid and I think it set me in good stead. When you’re a young kid, you constantly want to build a name for yourself and prove yourself.

      “For me, if they’ve got the opportunity, they’ve got to go. I think it’s a no-brainer. It will be great for their development on and off the pitch and it’ll set them in good stead for when they come back. They will come back a better person, more of a man and ready to have a bigger impact.”

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      I was 18 getting chucked into men’s dressing rooms and seeing all sorts going on...

      Dean Henderson

      At 18-years-old, moving across the country – especially only for a year – is an exciting, responsibility-free adventure. Moving clubs as a more experienced player, with family ties to consider, is a different prospect entirely.

      “You’ve got to find your own feet and there is so much stuff that doesn’t get spoken about,” Henderson explains of moving south to London for the very first time. “Off the pitch it’s finding somewhere to live, settling the family down, getting everything in place. It’s a big move. Coming so far away from family, it’s difficult at times.

      “When you’re going out on loan as a kid, it doesn’t really matter because you’ve got no one else to think about. You just go off on your own and have a great time for a year and then come back. When you’ve got a family, you’ve got priorities more than yourself.

      “We’ve just had a little boy who is only five months now, so it was a bit carnage at the start because he was only two or three weeks old! You can be quite isolated if you don’t have a support network around you, but we’re really enjoying it and we’re excited to see what the future holds.”

      For a die-hard Northerner, there is one real concern: his son’s accent. Is he worried? “Absolutely,” he laughs. “Because we’re so Northern and he’s probably going to sound south London. We’re wondering what his first words will be.”

      Despite adversity, Henderson has ticked off milestone after milestone: loan success, Premier League promotion, breaking into the first-team at Manchester United, and now a move to a new home. There is just one left: England. Henderson made his debut before suffering injuries that have kept him out the squad since, and he has eyes on a return.

      “Whenever I’ve been fit and I have been playing, I have been in the squad,” he says. That’s something on the radar. I want to get back in there now. I have just got to keep performing and keep playing well. There are going to be ups and downs, as everyone knows. At the end of the day, I believe I should be there.”

      The interview concludes as it starts: with a statement borne of confidence, backed up ability. There is no use talking the talk if you cannot walk the walk, but Henderson has done both at every club he has represented and he has no plans to stop now.