Dean Henderson is always eager to impress. While still digesting a narrow defeat to the reigning champions, Chris Wilder was asked to comment on his goalkeeper’s performance, specifically his penalty save from Gabriel Jesus. “I imagine he was possibly the only one in the ground delighted a penalty was given, so he had the opportunity of saving it,” he joked.
The infamously self-assured Henderson could not prevent Sheffield United from losing to Manchester City by one well-taken second-half Sergio Aguero goal, made possible by a Kevin De Bruyne pass which Wilder called “world class”, but the goalkeeper’s heroics had made a point or three seem possible for much of the evening.
His denial of Jesus was only one part of a display Wilder praised effusively. It followed two equally impressive stops: the first, one-handed and at close range from Raheem Sterling following a quick City break-away; the second, at close range yet again and from a Nicolas Otamendi bicycle kick which fully tested Henderson’s reactions.
It was no surprise to hear Bramall Lane’s Tannoy system name him as man-of-the-match shortly before full time, and that announcement to the 31,285 in attendance will have done little to dull Henderson’s self-confidence. This is a 22-year-old on-loan goalkeeper who, last summer, declared that he should already be playing ahead of David de Gea for parent club Manchester United.
Henderson knows that it is not always enjoyable being the centre of attention, though. He has learned that the hard way. His high-profile error against Liverpool back in September immediately springs to mind, as does Wilder’s unsympathetic dressing down of his ambitious young 'keeper in post-match interviews. “I am not going to put my arms around him,” he said. “Simply, he needs to do better.”
But there was also his costly late mistake against Leeds back in December 2018, when he passed straight into the feet of Jack Clarke who then squared for Pablo Hernandez to score the winning goal in a meeting between two promotion-chasing teams. A couple of months later, a Henderson error allowed Aston Villa to fight back from 3-0 down to complete a 3-3 comeback in the final eight minutes.
Mistakes happen and to pretend that Henderson will not make more blunders further down the line, after one accomplished performance in defeat, would be foolish. Yet what impressed Wilder and others about Henderson after each of the aforementioned errors was reluctance to blame anyone but himself for his own failings and his determination to learn from them.
“Sometimes you have to go through a bit of pain,” Wilder said. “He’s not been error-free and you wouldn’t expect him to be as a young goalkeeper, but what he does show is an ability to move on and that mental strength.” It is that mental strength which gives Henderson belief of travelling with England to this summer’s European Championship. It is also a large part of why Wilder is eager to secure Henderson’s services for a third consecutive season.
Wilder confirmed on Tuesday night that Sheffield United are talking to Manchester United about extending Henderson’s stay. “If there's a decision for Manchester United, for him to come out to us for another year, we'll gladly take that up,” he said. “We've already started talking with them but obviously he's their player. That decision will be made on behalf of Manchester United and the player.”
And it could be a real head-scratcher for decision-makers at Old Trafford. De Gea remains an excellent goalkeeper and is one of the best-paid players in the country, but his limitations when it comes to rushing out, collecting crosses and commanding his defence have never felt as stark and noticeable. Henderson, meanwhile, is raw and still developing but he is also proving himself to be Premier League standard, if not better than that.
And if Henderson cannot be a Premier League goalkeeper in Manchester, he might choose to be one elsewhere. “He wants to play first-team football,” Wilder revealed. “Maybe I shouldn't be saying this, but I'm not so sure he'll play backup to anybody. Maybe he'll come out and say it.” Knowing Henderson, he probably will. That is still unlikely to be enough to dislodge De Gea, but Manchester United’s decision on the future of their homegrown goalkeeper is becoming more difficult with every excellent display.