How Sheffield United can build an irresistible case for Dean Henderson's return
Flick through his curriculum vitae, study the chronology of his career since turning professional five years ago and it becomes clear that Dean Henderson is following a carefully crafted development programme.
Every single loan he has completed, after graduating from Manchester United’s youth programme, has seen him take a step up the footballing pyramid.
A spell in National League North with Stockport County led to a stint with League Two outfit Grimsby before he joined Sheffield United, where he won promotion from the Championship last term, via League One play-off finalists Shrewsbury Town.
This is a footballer who knows where he wants to go and how he plans to get there.
Henderson’s final destination, according to Chris Wilder, is Old Trafford.
“His future is there,” the United manager has acknowledged. Even though, with David de Gea still retaining Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s backing, Henderson might be forced to wait another year or so before completing his journey.
Before warning he would no longer be providing updates on their progress, a move born out of respect for Solskjaer and the player himself, Wilder confirmed United have made an approach to try and renew their agreement with Henderson for a third straight season.
It is a proposition which would certainly suit the Norwegian - allowing him to park the problem of how to keep the 23-year-old happy without offending de Gea’s sensibilities - and would clearly also benefit United. Henderson, widely regarded as one of the most promising young players in England, had kept 10 clean sheets in Premier League competition before the fixture calendar was suspended due to the coronavirus crisis.
It will also not have escaped Solskjaer’s attention that, on countless occasions, Henderson has stated he is not prepared to kick his heels on the substitutes bench.
Although the situation has been complicated by reports that Chelsea are interested in Henderson should Kepa Arrizabalaga leave Stamford Bridge, sources close to Henderson’s advisors suggest they are not exploring the possibility of leaving Manchester United permanently.
Indeed, unless de Gea suffers a complete collapse in form or Solskjaer is prepared to risk leaving him on the bench next term, it would appear to make sense for them to recommend Henderson returns to South Yorkshire for at least another 12 months. Particularly if, with Wilder’s side seventh in the table and in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup, United qualify for Europe. Champions League or Europa League experience is now, at least at club level, the only thing missing from Henderson’s CV.
Despite pledging not to provide a running commentary on his negotiations with Solskjaer, Wilder will be aware that gaining entry to one of those tournaments would strengthen United’s hand.
Five points behind fourth-placed Chelsea, unbeaten in six and having played a game less than Frank Lampard’s side, United are confident of achieving that target. If they do, it could make it impossible for Solskjaer not to grant their request.