Like all good team-mates, esteemed former Sheffield United goalkeeper Dean Henderson cast aside his personal disappointment at not featuring in Wednesday night’s Europa League final to console David de Gea, who got the nod and played the fateful hand – or boot – in a penalty shoot-out that was as gripping as the 120 minutes of regulation time and extra-time were pretty ghastly.
What can be a vicious landscape on Twitter was benevolent to Henderson after De Gea’s miss settled the epic spot-kick marathon in Villarreal’s favour in an 11-10 success for the La Liga outfit.
He was maybe the only ‘winner’, perhaps also with Bradford-born Mason Greenwood and indefatigable midfielder Scott McTominay, the two on-pitch United players to show up in an unconvincing team performance.
After failing to save a penalty – and really even get close – De Gea’s lamentable record from spot-kick situations was widely cited after.
Incredibly, he has now conceded the last 40 he has faced in regulation time and shootouts for club and country – a period of time spanning five years with his last save coming in the 2016 FA Cup final against Everton.
Compare and contrast with Henderson, who has saved eight out of the 19 penalties he has faced in his career, including a save in the 2018 League One play-off final against Rotherham United, while in the colours of Shrewsbury Town.
The shrills after the shoot-out were that Henderson should have been brought on before the shoot-out to replace De Gea.
Of course, hindsight can be a wonderful thing as well but it should be noted that several seasoned United observers made the suggestion during extra-time when a turgid game looked destined for penalties.
Changing goalkeepers in that regard has been done before, mostly notably when ex-Old Trafford chief Louis van Gaal made a huge and successful call during his time as Holland manager in the 2014 World Cup to bring on Tim Krul in the last minute of extra-time for Jasper Cillessen ahead of their quarter-final shoot-out win over Costa Rica.
United manager Ole Gunnar Solksjaer admitted to toying with that prospect himself.
He said: “You go through every scenario, of course, and it (De Gea’s penalty record) had crossed my mind in the build-up to the game but we were confident in David and prepared.”
After the talk of De Gea’s poor record in contrast to Henderson dies down, the narrative will naturally move onto the latter now being given the floor over time to prove himself to be capable of becoming United’s undisputed number one, which is something that the Cumbrian has always craved and many feel that he now deserves.
Henderson has never hidden his light under a bushel in that regard.
When he first signed on loan for the Blades – who beat off fierce competition to sign him in the summer of 2018 – Henderson went even further than declaring that he wanted to be walking out with the gloves in front of the Stretford End on a regular basis.
Speaking at the time, he said: “It is about proving I am better. I want to go out and show people that I can become the best goalkeeper in the world one day.”
Many will see events in Poland as drawing a line in the sand. Revealingly, the emotions towards Da Gea afterwards were more sympathetic than scolding.
When a former giant such as the Spaniard is pitied rather than pilloried, it speaks volumes.
For his part, at the age of 24 and with plenty of experience in the bank, bench splinters is not something that appeals to Henderson, who excelled in his two seasons on loan at Bramall Lane.
A plethora of stories have appeared in the press about Henderson’s desire to be first-choice over a length of time in Manchester – and willingness to leave if he is not.
Their frequency in number means that they have to be coming from somewhere and the England international will not be short of suitors at home and abroad if he does move elsewhere.
The United hierarchy face a big decision. There is fair chance that one of De Gea or Henderson is likely to depart this summer – with another international custodian out of the picture in Sergio Romero to also go shortly.
A goalkeeper with England experience in Tom Heaton, 35, has been brought in as cover.
Events on Poland’s Baltic coast surely mean that it is Henderson’s time at last. Now or never maybe.
They will also take some time to get over for De Gea.
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