Why Sheffield United were attracted to Dean Henderson

Like the overwhelming majority of those who have followed Sheffield United’s progress this season, Neil Warnock has been impressed by Dean Henderson’s form.

Friday, 28th February 2020, 5:00 pm
Updated Friday, 28th February 2020, 5:31 pm

“Faultless”, was how Chris Wilder’s predecessor described the goalkeeper’s performances. Which might be stretching the point a little bit. But the 22-year-old has certainly won United more points than he has lost.

Henderson’s contribution during their climb to seventh in the table, having only been promoted last term, has also prompted calls for England manager Gareth Southgate to declare him the Three Lions’ new number one.

Warnock appears to think he should at least be handed an audition. Preferably, with the European Championships looming large on the horizon, when Italy and Denmark visit Wembley next month.

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Although Warnock’s assessment of Henderson’s recent displays ignores the fact he was responsible for the error which handed Liverpool victory when they visited Bramall Lane five months ago, one can understand his argument.

Mistakes are inevitable. Every footballer makes them. So, given that Henderson plays in a position where they are usually costly, his response reveals plenty about the youngster’s concentration levels and self-belief. Likewise Wilder’s refusal to treat him with kid gloves - he prides himself on knowing the individual character of his players - when the inevitable happens.

When Henderson allowed Georginio Wijnaldum’s shot to squirm over the line towards the end of September’s contest, he vowed to “hold his head up high” and “bounce back stronger” in a social media post.

He did, keeping clean sheets in his next two outings and conceding only twice in the three fixtures which followed before being forced to sit out the draw with his parent club Manchester United.

England manager Gareth Southgate (right) in the stands during the Premier League match between Sheffield United and Brighton at Bramall Lane, Sheffield Tim Goode/PA Wire.

Talks about renewing the temporary agreement which brought the former under-21 international to South Yorkshire for a second time started before Christmas, although Wilder has downplayed suggestions he might try to sign Henderson on a permanent basis.

But he was the first to notice the strength of character and traits which have helped Henderson emerge, not only as one of the country’s most exciting talents, but also as a potential replacement for Jordan Pickford at Euro 2020.

It was towards the end of the 2017/18 League One campaign when Wilder resolved to try and recruit Henderson. He was representing Shrewsbury Town at the time, helping them reach the play-off final, and had proven himself to be adept at both making saves and organising a defence.

But it was Henderson’s personality which intrigued and attracted Wilder. A lifelong United supporter himself, he had watched a series of gifted goalkeepers struggle to fulfil their potential in the club’s colours during the years building up to his appointment.

Sheffield United goalkeeper Dean Henderson makes a save during a Premier League match at Bramall Lane, Sheffield: Mike Egerton/PA Wire.

Someone larger than life, he decided, was required between the posts. A player who would not crumble when they were guilty of a slip or faced criticism.

Henderson ticked every single box and has continued to do so.

Given Pickford’s tendency to react angrily whenever he comes under scrutiny, the qualities which piqued Wilder’s interest will have been noted by Southgate too.

He was watching from the stands when United, with Henderson making his seventh successive start after sitting out the FA Cup win over AFC Fylde, drew 1-1 with Brighton and Hove Albion last weekend.

“He’s been instrumental,” Wilder said. “A major part of our form.”