WHATEVER fate holds in store for Sheffield United one member of the team will almost certainly be in the top flight next season.
Goalkeeper Dean Henderson’s loan from Manchester United has been possibly manager Chris Wilder’s best signing at Bramall Lane. He’s certainly up there with the likes of John Fleck, Mark Duffy Jack O’Connell and George Baldock, the difference being that Henderson has undoubtedly a long-term future at the top of the game.
The England Under-21 goalkeeper, who spent the previous season on loan at League One Shrewsbury, quickly established himself as a fans’ favourite after joining the Blades last summer.
And not only for regularly demonstrating his shot-stopping agility. The Cumbrian’s chest-thumping and whole-hearted goal celebrations endears him to the Lane faithful, ensuring that wherever his career takes him ‘Hendo’ will always occupy a special place in S2.
Clearly there is no future for him at old Trafford. David de Gea is widely regarded as the best goalkeeper in the world and Manchester United are reportedly about to offer him a five-year contract worth a basic £90million plus bonuses. Making the Spaniard the highest ever paid player in the history of British football.
An eye-watering deal, obscenely so, clearly aimed at seeing off European predators, including Paris St Germain and Real Madrid who have made overtures. But even if De Gea were to move, a proven big-name top class replacement would be sought as his Old Trafford replacement.
Henderson, meanwhile, is not prepared to spend time playing second fiddle to anyone, even De Gea even if he were offered the opportunity. Thirty-three Championship appearnces for the Blades has ensured that. "All I'm focused on is getting Sheffield United to the Premier League, nothing else,” he said earlier in the season. “That's my aim this year, the bigger picture looks after itself. If they [Manchester United] don't see what I'm doing, that's their problem at the end of the day. Cream rises to the top."
Some may interpret the latter half of that sentence as arrogant. Others an illustration of self-belief running through his veins, a character trait absolutely vital for the specialist role of keeping goal.
Henderson, 22 next month, is not faultless by any means. His gaffe against Leeds United at the Lane gifted the visitors’ three points. More recently at Villa Park, two errors contributed to the Blades inexplicable implosion, letting a 3-0 lead with eight minutes of normal time remaining result in a 3-3 draw.
Some would suffer a loss of confidence in a position where confidence is key. But there is no danger of that where Henderson is concerned as he demonstrated after the defeat to Leeds.
Instead of shying away, head bowed, he took upon himself to stride purposefully around three sides of the ground, thumping his chest and applauding as way of an apology and a statement of future intent. It takes a big man to do that, let alone one whom not so long ago was a teenager.
It speaks volumes that Wilder stuck by his man on both occasions. There was never a suggestion of resting him in favour of No2 Simon Moore, another goalkeeper who may review his future at the end of the season despite having signed a new three-year contract last July. A move to next opponents and admirers West Bromwich Albion was most likely before Moore opted to stay at the Lane.
So where will Henderson go at the end of the season? If United are promoted to the Premier League there is every chance that Wilder would wish to make the loan deal permanent. Every chance, too, that Henderson, given his obvious affection for the club, would see it as a great platform to further his career.
"I've bought into it here, completely bought into it.” said the keeper who is a big fan of Wilder’s plain speaking, no nonesense managerial approach. “This is the first really big club for me, with a really big fan base, and the atmosphere at our place gives me goosebumps every time. They are memories that will live with you for the rest of your career."
Should the Blades miss out, however, would Hendo, no matter how at home he feels, be willing to spend another season in the Championship with top flight clubs already showing interest? And would Manchester United be willing to do so when there is a lucrative transfer deal to be done to help fund their team-building ambitions in a bid to restore dented pride at Old Trafford.
The answer is probably no.