AN integral part of one of the most enthralling and stand-out EFL stories from last season, Dean Henderson sees no reason why he cannot be involved in another in 2018-19.
The reputation of Sheffield United’s new loan signing is a strong one. The peerless form of the young Manchester United goalkeeper during his season-long loan at Shrewsbury Town in 2017-18 was such that it resonated far beyond Shropshire, regarded as something of a footballing backwater.
I am one who will step out of my comfort zone and back myself to go and play. I want to improve and will back my ability.Goalkeeper Dean Henderson
Henderson was one of the easiest picks for the ‘League One Team of the Year’ after starring for the Shrews in their unexpected run to the play-off final and keeping an eye-catching 19 clean sheets along the way.
The Cumbrian’s feats were recently handsomely rewarded by way a new deal at Old Trafford until at least June 2020, with the option of a further year.
Not that Henderson was without admirers elsewhere, with interest coming from Chelsea and Arsenal, not to mention the continental triumvirate of Benfica, Roma and Olympiacos, who all scouted him. He was also on the radar of a good few Championship sides.
But it is with the Blades where the next chapter of the England Under-21s goalkeeper’s development will be played out.
His innate confidence that it will one day lead to the very top is something to be admired and not to be seen as mere bravado.
Despite only just beginning his adventure in the Steel City, the winning culture and desire for success among the club’s driven group of players has already been quickly detected by Henderson. He retains confidence that the Blades can be among the Championship movers and shakers after knocking on the play-off door for most of last season.
He said: “The group of players is excellent and the quality in training is really high. Hopefully, we can build on that, do really well this season and go under the radar a little bit. Who knows, you saw it at Shrewsbury last season where we defied the odds. The opportunity is there for us to do really well this season.
“It is about building blocks for me. Even though I got called back from League Two (on loan at Grimsby in 2016-17), I would have played 35 games and then I obviously went into League One with Shrewsbury and proved myself there and dealt with that standard really well.
“Obviously, the next step is the Championship and I am delighted that the manager is going to give me that opportunity.
“I am one who will step out of my comfort zone and back myself to go and play. I want to improve and will back my ability.
“It is not a case of going to Manchester United and saying: ‘I am better than him and him’. 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.”
The Blades’ interest may have arrived late in the day for Henderson, but once he did his due diligence, his switch to South Yorkshire and rejection of the overtures of a number of the club’s second-tier rivals was swift.
A chat with one-time Bramall Lane loanee Danny Coyne, his goalkeeping coach last season at Shrewsbury, crystalised his decision to move to the Blades – a club consistently spoken well of by countless former players over the years – and Henderson is confident he has made the right move for several reasons.
He said: “To be fair, Sheffield came around pretty late on. It was not really an (early) option of mine because all the permanent (moves) I was looking to go to were wanting loans as well, so I was looking at them first. But I found out about Sheffield; apparently my agent’s agent knew about it for quite a long time.
“I looked at it and it is an hour- and-a-half down the road and a big club. The gaffer is also known for his desire to do well and go in the right directions and also the goalkeeper coach (Darren Ward) is known as a top one.
“I was told that he would really develop me over the season and enable me to go from strength to strength and get better and better.
“Being a young lad, you need to keep getting better to reach your maximum potential.
“I talked to Danny (Coyne), who was a great friend of mine in the end at Shrewsbury. I spoke to him the other day about pre-season and we have a great working relationship.
“It is important to have that with your goalkeeping coach and have a really good working environment. You need to have each other’s best interests at heart, work together and back each other.
“To be fair, Danny came on the phone straightaway and said: ‘What a club, go there. Wardy is outstanding and will look after and develop you.’ To be honest, a lot of my decision was based on what Danny told me.”
Working on a daily basis with his new ‘gaffer’ in Chris Wilder, whose straightforward nature, honesty and passion is wholly respected by players and supporters alike. was an additional attraction to Henderson.
Hailing from the working-class coastal town of Whitehaven in West Cumbria, whose inhabitants possess similar forthright characteristics, Henderson believes he shares some common ground with the Blades chief.
Henderson, seeking to follow in the footsteps of a fellow son of Whitehaven in Scott Carson in representing England at senior level, added: “He is so passionate in where he wants to go and take the club.
“Being a fan, he wants it all. I am a passionate lad, too, with a hunger and desire to go to the next level and always want to improve and get good things on my CV.
“If I could get a promotion with Sheffield United on my CV, then I would be absolutely delighted. It would make for a perfect year.”