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Opinion: Dean Henderson – the difficulty in playing second fiddle

A player can rarely go from hero to villain, a potential saviour to martyr, within the constraints of a simple interview. Following his loan move from Manchester United to newly-promoted Nottingham Forrest, Dean Henderson managed just that.

Henderson has always appeared to be an extremely confident individual. From his regular postings on social media to his vibrant displays on the football field, the 25-year-old has generally cut the figure of a player destined for the very top.

The Whitehaven player broke into the United first team in 2020-21 when he had also solidified his name on an England team sheet for the Euros. The largely confident individual appeared to have achieved his goals with consummate ease and had the better part of a decade to hammer his name into the history books. Unfortunately, things did not play out as planned.

First, he was forced to withdraw from the national side with injury. Shortly afterwards, he would test positive for COVID-19 and unfortunately suffer long-term fatigue as a result. At a time when he had seemingly nailed down his place in the United first team, he saw long-serving Spaniard David de Gea rekindle a portion of yesteryears form and reclaim his grip between the sticks.

Swiped from the springboard of superstardom, a frustrated man sat back and waited for his opportunity – one that never presented itself. Instead, he had to settle for a position in the reserve, despite claiming the wages of one of Europe’s elites. This particular role plays significant importance to the club and the harm in fulfilling this position incorrectly can supply more than its share of detriment.

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For example, United’s former number two Sergio Romero was a fan-favourite for his contributions. Sitting patiently in the back for his opportunity, playing throughout the club’s mid-week cup affairs and inevitably being tossed aside for the finale – a prime example of what good things do not come to those who wait.

Fundamentally, it boils down to an expectation of playing second fiddle for the foreseeable. A certain character may be more than happy with that – and credit to him if he is. In this story, the character has aspirations far greater than that of a midweek hero. Sure, the likelihood of leaking confidential dressing-room information is a nail in the contractual coffin, but one’s consideration of his evident pain in the aforementioned interview should not be ignored.

Henderson was sold the idea of finally obtaining the number one shirt. He believed this so much, that he swore by the logic of achieving his dream.

“I turned so many good loans down that summer for that reason and they wouldn’t let me go,” he told talkSPORT.

“It was frustrating. To sit there and waste 12 months is criminal at my age. I was fuming. I tried to join Forrest all before ten Hag joined – I told the hierarchy I need to play football. I don’t want to be here playing second fiddle. I was almost gone before the manager came in and I haven’t spoken to him since.”

Since leaving the club with the aftertaste of his interview, social media has rallied to voice its disdain toward him. Despite dressing-room leaks continuing to supply ample talking time in Manchester, the player is held front and centre concerning this particular misdemeanour.

As well as this, an underwhelming Nottingham Forrest defence is being credited to his lack of ability. A largely positive 90’ performance is all but ignored, but for the grace of a solitary misplaced pass.

This season alone, Henderson has made more saves than De Gea, saved more penalties, supplied more passes and engaged far more in passes forward. He’s had more touches of the ball and supplied more clearances. He’s superior in high-claims, sweeper clearances and throw-outs. Despite this, people would rather focus on the number of goals Forrest has conceded over United – logic, for that of a quintessential dullard.

To summarise, the goal of any team is to have a backup goalkeeper who’s happy to earn his wage, play the role of ‘understudy’ and appear content to just be part of the setup. In Dean Henderson, we have a footballer who may not be good enough as Manchester United’s goalkeeper for the next decade; but he’s certainly good enough at this moment in time.

To feel aggrieved by his public outburst, without fully comprehending his scenario, leaves a little bit to be desired. Admittedly, I would have preferred he air his laundry in an alternative manner. Saying that I do understand the frustration and the uncomfortable figure who delivered his two cents on his opening day in the red of Nottingham.

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