Just like Manchester United, Dean Henderson will not look back on the 2021/22 season with much fondness.
Hoping to become United’s first choice goalkeeper at the start of the campaign, his hopes were dashed before the first ball had even been kicked. The former Sheffield United loanee caught Covid-19 in mid-July and took several weeks to get back to full strength, so much so that he did not return to full training at Carrington until late-August.
Henderson struggled to overcome his symptoms and missed almost all of United’s pre-season training, their warm-up matches with QPR and Brentford and, of course, their first six Premier League matches. It meant, therefore, that he faced an immediate uphill struggle to displace David de Gea as United’s No.1.
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But, in Henderson’s defence, any goalkeeper would have found it difficult to have replaced De Gea this season. The Spaniard has been in excellent form throughout the campaign and will be one of just a handful of United players to escape this season with any credit.
But whilst he has enjoyed the limelight and being an ever-present figure, Henderson has become used to watching United from the comforts of an Old Trafford dugout seat. For a goalkeeper, the challenge of taking up a watching brief, knowing only one spot is up for grabs, must be incredibly challenging, especially when your nearest rival has been in such terrific form.
Although Henderson, who has only played three times this season in all competitions, has been restricted to playing second fiddle to De Gea because of the latter’s form and not individual mistakes on his part, it does not get any easier. The former Shrewsbury Town man’s continuous omissions the starting line-up are heavily impacting his career—not least his England chances.
Following confirmation of Southampton goalkeeper Fraser Forster’s call-up to the squad to replace the ill Sam Johnstone, who originally replaced the injured Aaron Ramsdale, it highlights how far down the pecking order Henderson has fallen for a place in the Three Lions’ squad. Gareth Southgate has, during this international break alone, picked five different goalkeepers to be part of his squad for the upcoming friendlies with Switzerland and the Ivory Coast, and the United shot-stopper has not been considered once.
On current form and principality, you cannot argue with Southgate’s decision. Forster, who turned 34 last month, has started Southampton’s last 12 Premier League matches and started 13 times in 2022, meaning he has played more times in March than Henderson has all season.
But the fact that, with the utmost respect, a 34-year-old, who has next to no chance of becoming England’s first-choice goalkeeper, has been selected ahead of 25-year-old with several more gears to go up through speaks volumes. His career from him has ground to a halt at Old Trafford and he needs to seal an exit in search of regular first-team football this summer, regardless of what changes are introduced at United once they install their next permanent manager.
Newcastle United and Watford both tried to sign Henderson, who has just one England cap to his name, in the latter stages of the January transfer window on loan, in an attempt to offer him regular first-team football. However, the Hornets saw their deadline day efforts to sign the Whitehaven-born shot-stopper dashed, with United not keen on letting him go.
As revealed by the Manchester Evening News prior to the January window opening, interim boss Ralf Rangnick, who has handed the goalkeeper just two appearances since landing the job, made it clear to Henderson that he would not be allowed to leave on loan. On reflection, you could see Rangnick’s argument, pointing to the possibility of Henderson being needed in the event of De Gea getting injured, but United had further options available to them.
It is a long-running, never-ending football cliché, but Henderson is now at an age where he deserves first-team football and will not be content with playing second fiddle. He is no longer a youngster; he is 25 and needs to be laying down his roots as a first choice shot-stopper.
With the World Cup now just under eight months away, Henderson is running out of time to audition for a spot in Southgate’s final squad. An Old Trafford exit may be the only solution to keep his dream alive.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.