Not only have his goalkeeping heroics endeared himself to the City Ground faithful already, but Dean Henderson’s character and leadership have shone through in severing ties with Manchester United to seek first-team football. It is this that potentially places the shot-stopper tantalisingly close to a place in the World Cup squad.
It’s been a rocky road for Henderson, who’s stock rose significantly as his excellent form at Sheffield United coincided with a difficult season for David De Gea. Arguably, if it wasn’t for his bout of COVID-19, he might well be the number one choice for Erik ten Hag’s United side today. This would surely have increased his chances of establishing himself in Gareth Southgate’s squad, but football is an unpredictable and often ruthless business.
But Forest fans certainly aren’t complaining. The newly promoted side have capitalised on Henderson’s tribulations and given the outspoken goalkeeper a place to call home. This shrewd piece of business from the ambitious Forest hierarchy works for all parties.
Forest receive the services of a top-class talent capable of season-defining saves. Meanwhile, Henderson is guaranteed the minutes necessary to secure a place in Southgate’s World Cup plans and challenge the likes of Jordan Pickford, Aaron Ramsdale and Nick Pope.
Whilst he is a goalkeeper of great pedigree, Henderson had some big boots to fill following the departure of Brice Samba to Lens. Although the charismatic Congolese keeper walked the line between genius and lunacy, he wrote himself into Forest folklore.
At his best, he solidified himself as a Forest legend through his playoff penalty-saving antics but perhaps talked himself out of a Premier League starting place through some regretfully negative contract negotiations.
Nonetheless, Samba was adored by the Garibaldi faithful and finding an adequate replacement seemed an unlikely task following his surprising departure. But after only three games, Samba is a mere happy memory in the minds of Forest supporters, such has been the quality of Henderson’s performances.
Head over heart; it is difficult to deny Henderson’s ability and is now widely acknowledged that despite the sadness of seeing Samba’s rapid departure after Forest’s playoff triumph, Henderson is a class above and Forest have lucked out in signing him for the season.
Already, Henderson appears to be loving his time at Forest’s home by the river. To receive adoration from the long-suffering but recently revitalised fanbase might just be instrumental in reigniting his England career.
His performances, albeit only a handful, have been enough to attract the attention of Gareth Southgate who was in attendance for both his match-winning penalty save against West Ham and his impressive display at Goodison.
Despite this ever-growing goodwill at Forest though, there is still very much a bitter taste of rejection for Henderson towards his parent club. But in his strong and public criticism of the Manchester United hierarchy, he might well have found the right motivation to challenge Pickford’s long-established position as England’s number 1.
They say the most precious diamonds are forged under intense pressure. Perhaps Henderson is orchestrating this narrative precisely in order to prove himself to be the hero that both Forest and England fans need him to be.
So far it’s safe to say that ‘Deano’ has put his money where his mouth is, and with Forest fans already chanting “England’s number 1”, momentum is gathering in Henderson’s campaign to establish himself as the best goalkeeper in the land.
‘Start as you mean to go on’ or ‘You never get a second chance at a first impression’ comes to mind. Whichever cliche takes your fancy, Henderson’s pursuit of the England number 1 jersey has started strongly. Time will tell, but could he be the shake-up Southgate needs to end his era of ‘close but no cigar’ tournament finishes?
By: Max Battiscombe-Scott / @thered1865
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Getty Images