Alan Biggs' Sheffield United column: Credit Chris Wilder for his management of 'exuberant' goalkeeper Dean Henderson

Like the howler itself, the hysterical reaction to Chris Wilder’s criticism of Dean Henderson - and his positive reaction to it - is the gift that keeps on giving after the goalkeeper’s England call-up.

Thursday, 10th October 2019, 08:00 am
Dean Henderson of Sheffield Utd accepts the blame for the winning goal during the Premier League match at Bramall Lane, Sheffield. Picture date: 28th September 2019. Picture credit should read: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

Talking England, I take you back to the mid-1980s, the press room at Hillsborough and a 1966 World Cup winner who was berating us media types.

“Why is it,” he said “that you guys will always criticise managers but not players?

"Why do players escape criticism these days?”

Sheffield United Manager Chris Wilder thanks the fans at the end of the Premier League match at Vicarage Road, Watford. Picture date: 5th October 2019. Picture credit should read: Robin Parker/Sportimage

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Those “these days” is a long way off and this column would rather not be referred to as a relic, or even “a dinosaur”, thank you very much.

But my memory of that outburst does strike a chord, not least its relevance to how the media might question Sheffield United’s manager if one of his players fouls up against Arsenal at Bramall Lane after the international break.

The ‘80s voice was high pitched. It belonged to the late Alan Ball, then manager of Portsmouth, and not Jack Charlton, who had bossed Sheffield Wednesday a few years earlier.

But it might as well have been plain-speaking Jack.

And Ball is as right now as he was then. We do tend to put a coating of comforting words around a player committing a bad mistake - before giving another sort of coating to the record of his manager if it extends a bad run.

Of course, it was Henderson’s gaffe in a match-losing moment against Liverpool that brings this into focus.

A stampede of pundit opinions has galloped off to other topics, but the reaction is worth re-addressing.

Yes, football is a team game and teams close ranks, or should do, in bad times as well as good. But an acceptance of individual responsibility makes the whole stronger.

Chris Wilder didn’t castigate Henderson.

He just outlined what everyone could see for themselves. And he simply amplified what Henderson has often boldly said for himself - the keeper’s Manchester United and England ambitions - in challenging him to buck up.

Which he did in the next match at Watford, as England manager Gareth Southgate obviously noticed.

Would Wilder have been so pointed towards another player? No, but then that’s the skill of man-management, to which this one is brilliantly adept.

Henderson puts himself up to be shot at with his exuberantly extrovert nature, not entirely uncommon in keepers, and Wilder’s volley will have been no more or less than he probably expected.

You’ve only got an issue if it creates resentment. Henderson, a brilliant young keeper, clearly accepted it in the spirit of “I’ll show you”; maybe even took it as a compliment.

Why? Because managers only tend to have a go publicly at players with strong characters, those they know can take it.

And those they know have the ability to keep on improving, respond in the right way.

As Henderson then did with crucial saves in the draw at Vicarage Road.

It’s a mixture of stick and carrot depending on the personality involved. Wilder is unlikely to change his approach, publicly or privately, and nor should he after such an outstanding record of success.

Besides, it’s so refreshing in the era of the sterile sound bite to hear a manager challenge perceived political correctness with honesty and candour.

Maybe it’ll spread. Last Saturday came this from Luton boss Graeme Jones after a brace of blunders from his 'keeper Simon Sluga cost a 2-0 defeat at Derby.

Jones lamented “two goalkeeping errors which are basics of the game” and said: “I’ve given him my opinion.”

So there.