Why Euro 2020 delay could HELP on-loan Man United goakeeper Dean Henderson's bid to be England No1
He should, assuming Gareth Southgate was preparing to follow the selection protocols international managers usually adhere to during a friendly double-header, have been preparing to win his first senior cap.
Instead, with England’s games against Italy and Denmark falling victim to the coronavirus crisis, Dean Henderson will spend tomorrow evening lounging on the couch at home rather than attempting to realise his ambition of becoming the country’s undisputed number one ahead of the next European Championships.
After embellishing his already excellent reputation with a series of assured displays in the Premier League this term, Henderson appeared to be a shoe-in for the squad Southgate was preparing to select for Friday’s meeting with the Azzurri and Tuesday’s scheduled visit of Age Hareide’s side.
Although Jordan Pickford or Nick Pope, the Everton goalkeeper’s usual deputy, were expected to start the first of those two fixtures, senior figures at Manchester United and Sheffield United, where Henderson has spent the past two seasons on loan, suspected the 23-year-old would be given an opportunity to feature when the Danes arrived at Wembley for a match which, until Covid-19 intervened, formed a crucial part of the Three Lions’ build-up for UEFA’s now postponed tournament.
“Is he ready? I don’t know, that’s for others to decide,” Chris Wilder, the United manager, said after watching Henderson produce a superb double save during his team’s win over Norwich City earlier this month.
“What I do know, though, is that he’s moving in the right direction and doing everything, the absolute utmost, to be the best he can.”
By his own reckoning, Henderson already represents Southgate’s best option between the posts as he looks to continue the progress his squad have made since reaching the World Cup semi-finals 20 months ago. After making his final appearance for the under-21’s last year, having helped United reach the Premier League earlier that summer, Henderson was called-up by Southgate for the first time in October after impressing at top-flight level.
Despite errors against Chelsea and Liverpool, the clean sheet he kept when Norwich travelled north on March 7 was his 10th of the campaign. Four better than Pickford and with only Pope of Burnley keeping more, Henderson’s powers of recovery, organisational skills and unshakeable self-belief have convinced some of the leading figures within the sport that his time has come.
“I can imagine I have upset Liverpool supporters by failing to select Alisson Becker,” Jamie Carragher, their former defender, recently admitted when naming his PL fantasy eleven.
“He is the best in the world and in normal circumstances would be straight in.
“But I am basing my judgement on a season in which he has only played just over half of Liverpool’s games in all competitions due to injury.
“In the Premier League, Henderson has as many clean sheets at Alisson, and his save rate is an impressive 76 per cent; just behind Liverpool’s number one.
“So on balance, given Sheffield United were tipped to be in a relegation rather than a top four battle, I think Henderson deserves recognition.”
As Carragher highlighted, Henderson’s individual statistics are nearly as impressive as those spawned by Wilder’s squad as a whole during their climb to seventh in the table - only five points behind fourth placed Chelsea - before the mass postponements.
Producing more reflect saves than Pickford, whose chequered form at Goodison Park is a concern for both Southgate and Carlo Ancelotti alike, he is also projected to concede fewer goals than Pope over the course of the 38 match programme.
However, given that Henderson faces less shots per game than his counterpart at Turf Moor, much of the credit for this must go to a United defence which has been one of the stories of the season so far.
At first glance, given the growing clamour for him to replace Pickford as England’s first choice goalkeeper, UEFA’s decision to roll Euro 2020 back until 2021 could not have come at a worse time for Henderson.
“He wants to play every week and he wants to play for England,” Tony Cascarino, the former Republic of Ireland international turned media analyst, has said. “I admire him greatly.
“Gareth Southgate may be tempted to give him a chance on his form. In any case, I can’t see him going back to the reserves in Manchester again.”
But given Henderson’s meticulous approach towards his profession, the delay could actually work in his favour.
A study of the facts and figures surrounding Henderson’s game reveals he is getting better at organising a rearguard, positioning himself inside the penalty area and crucially, given Southgate’s preference for playing the out from the back, ball distribution.
If those graphs continue along the same trajectory - and Henderson continues to feature on a regular basis - he should be an even better player by the time the championships come around.
Wilder, who earlier this year approached Ole Gunnar Solskjaer about the possibility of extending Henderson’s stay in South Yorkshire for a second time, accepts every eye-catching save he makes lessens United’s chances of ever signing him on a permanent basis.
But Wilder will have been encouraged to hear Paul Ince, the one-time Manchester United midfielder, tell the Norwegian that it makes sense for Henderson to remain in situ until David de Gea, who reportedly earns around £350,000 a week, leaves Old Trafford.
“He should be happy, he (Henderson) is playing football week in, week out,” Ince said. “If he goes to Manchester United and sits on the bench like (Sergio) Romero has done for years, then it isn’t good. If he plays week in week out then his time will come.”
United hope words like that will resonate with Solskjaer, who insists de Gea is still one of the best, if not the best, goalkeeper in the world despite coming under the same kind of scrutiny as Pickford of late. Henderson’s advisors are known to be delighted with their client’s development under Wilder and United’s goalkeeping coach Darren Ward. So, unless de Gea is dropped or a Champions League club comes in for him, there is a feeling it would make sense for Henderson to prolong his stay at United who are themselves challenging for a place in Europe next term.
“He is enjoying life in the Premier League and he is unbelievably well thought of here by fellow players, staff and supporters,” Wilder said, following his last outing for the club. “He has a huge desire to take his game to the very top.
“But you have to realise still that he is a young goalkeeper with an enormous amount of learning and getting better in front of him. But he’s doing alright at the moment.”