After impressing during two seasons on loan at Thursday’s opponents Sheffield United, the 23-year-old is yet to earn a run of starts at Old Trafford
When it comes to squad rotation, the goalkeeping position is rarely one managers feel they need to alter in a bid to ensure premium sharpness, so comparatively small are the physical demands.
And yet, as Manchester United begin a run of six matches in the space of 15 days with a trip to Bramall Lane to take on Sheffield United, there has been a suggestion from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer that he could be willing to switch things up between the sticks.
“Do you know how many games we’ve got?” was Solskjaer’s response when asked whether November’s second meeting with Istanbul Basaksehir was likely to be Dean Henderson’s last of 2020.
“I disagree completely if (you are suggesting) tomorrow is a make-or-break (moment) for Dean.”
As it turned out, David de Gea kept his place for the visit of the Turkish champions, and though Henderson has since made his league debut for the Red Devils, he is still waiting for a first run of games for his boyhood club outside of cup competitions.
The 23-year-old will return to South Yorkshire on Thursday hoping to face the side with whom he enjoyed two stellar seasons on loan, and that Solskjaer will finally give him an opportunity to show what he can do at a crucial juncture in the season.
If he remains on the bench for the foreseeable future, though, then Solskjaer faces having an unwanted problem on his hands, and one that could well divide the club’s supporters.
Henderson took the decision to stay at United this season and sign a new five-year contract with the understanding that he would be given a fair opportunity to challenge De Gea – who had fumbled his way through the past couple of campaigns – for a starting berth.
And despite having impressed in the Carabao Cup against Luton Town and Brighton before acting as a vocal and commanding presence when replacing the stricken De Gea against Southampton in November, a run of starts is still to materialise.
“The performances will always be the deciding factor if you play or not,” Solskjaer said last month, and yet were it not for De Gea hurting his knee, Henderson would likely not have even made a league appearance for United.
As a player who still harbours hope of being Gareth Southgate’s No.1 with England at this summer’s European Championships, Henderson must be questioning whether he made the right call to stay at Old Trafford this term.
Had he known how few opportunities would be on offer, would he have stayed? If things remain as they are, will he want to stay past the end of this season? The answer to both may well be ‘no’.To his credit, De Gea has rediscovered some consistency, and even when he was called out by Paul Scholes for having “bottled it” for Justin Kluivert’s winning goal for RB Leipzig as United crashed out of the Champions League, many felt the ex-midfielder was being a little over the top.
There has been little suggestion that the former Real Madrid target could be leaving the club anytime soon, even if his sale would potentially help boost the finances available to Solskjaer in the transfer market.
The Norwegian has continually backed De Gea even when it felt like he was making costly errors on an almost weekly basis, and if that belief remains, it seems unlikely that Henderson will get the same run of games that allowed him to thrive under Chris Wilder across the Pennines.
“It just shows how beneficial some loan deals are,” Solskjaer said ahead of Thursday’s clash. “Dean has worked his way up through the ranks and the two years at Sheffield United has made him really come back as a mature quality keeper.
“He has had some experiences with a great promotion and his year in the Premier League last season was very valuable for us and for him.”He’s learning more and more the Man United style. Our play is a bit different and we have a couple of different demands of him, but we are very grateful to Sheffield United and Chris that they gave him a chance to develop as they did.”
Wilder would have loved to have had Henderson back this season, and with the Blades marooned at the bottom of the table with just a solitary point from 12 games, he is likely rueing not having the youngster to call upon this time around.
What will hurt more, though, is seeing Henderson among the substitutes once again. The feeling of this slowly becoming a wasted season for the shot-stopper grows by the week.
Quite whether he has the patience to wait it out remains to be seen.
Leave a Reply