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Hendo's Relish

6 November 2019

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For each Premier League issue, UTB, United's official matchday programme, catches up with a member of the playing staff for an in-depth, exclusive interview.

Phil Jagielka, Luke Freeman and Oli McBurnie, Jack O'Connell, Enda Stevens had already featured prior to Saturday's clash with Burnley, where Manchester United loanee Dean Henderson, not for the first time, stepped into the limelight.

The piece which was in excess of 2,500 words was the 'big interview' in the Clarets issue and amongst other things 'Hendo' spoke openly about his ambitions for both club and country in the coming weeks and months.

At just £3.50, following a first price rise in 15 years, UTB will now be a 100-page publication for every Premier League fixture this season and it packed full of other intriguing content from the players and management, in addition to former favourites of previous eras.

United are currently selling subscriptions to UTB which will ensure a copy delivered to your door on the morning of every game and all can be ordered through our design partners Ignition Sports Media - click here.

The Big Interview with... Dean Henderson

He holds the record for the most appearances by a loan player for the club, and also recently become the first Blade to receive an England call up since Brian Deane in 1992.

He's achieved plenty in his short stay at Bramall Lane, but as Dean Henderson explains to UTB, he's targeting more success for both club and country in the months ahead.

Four days after helping the Blades to another vital Premier League point, Dean Henderson is waiting in an airport for a career-defining phone call.

The Manchester United loanee has never shied away from his long-term motivation of being England's number one goalkeeper, and after enjoying a well-earned break following his display against Watford, the Blades stopper is about to take one step closer to his lifelong ambition.

After being watched by England boss Gareth Southgate several times during his debut season in the Premier League, 'Hendo' is aware a call-up is getting closer.

When news of a possible injury to Aston Villa's Tom Heaton filters through, the 22-year-old knows he's only a phone call away from taking the next step in his journey to the top.

On his way back from Portugal, the phone buzzes with Dean admitting the moment is another boyhood dream accomplished.

He told UTB: "I was in Porto having a break, and then I was given a shout to say that Tom Heaton was carrying a knock, so be ready if needed. I didn't get told to join up straight away, so I was sat at the airport waiting. Then I received the call, and obviously I was delighted. It has been something I've been working towards since I was a young boy, and it is a dream of mine to be called up. I knew I wasn't a million miles away, so to eventually get the nod was a really special moment."

Dean watched from the bench as England quickly recovered from the setback of being beaten by the Czech Republic to demolish Bulgaria - taking a firm grip of their Euro 2020 qualification group.

It is the next step in a career which has experienced a largely upward trajectory.

Dean has been part of the England setup from under 16 through to under 21 level, and now being an ever-present in the Premier League has helped him take the leap into the England senior ranks.

For Dean though, this is only the start of the international journey, with the Whitehaven-born custodian determined to make the most of his opportunity ahead of the European Championships next year.

"I've got a taste of it now so going forward I want to make the most of it," explains the 'keeper, who joined Manchester United's Academy aged 14.

"I thought by the start of the season I might have got the call, it didn't happen, but it kept me hungry to keep working hard.

"You usually have to be playing at the top level to get the recognition, so being in the Premier League has helped my cause. I see it a process. No matter how well you are doing in League One or The Championship, it is very rare to get that senior call up until you have proven you can play in the Premier League. Coming into the top flight was a big step, and now I've started well, I know I am going in the right direction.
"Fighting for the number one shirt for the Euros is a target. I'll keep doing what I am doing, and we'll see what happens."

Under Gareth Southgate, the senior setup has seen a surge of younger faces in recent years, many of which have graduated through the age groups.

The current England boss has often preferred to lean on players who have been in the system from a young age, further strengthening Dean's case for a regular position in the senior ranks.

Dean firmly believes being around the national setup for the past six years has been an advantage, revealing he needed very little adjustment as he stepped into the senior setup for the first time.

"It is very similar," said the stopper, who made his debut for the under 21s in March 2018.

"I know most of the boys from playing with them through the age groups. The others, I've played against them throughout my career, so I was comfortable going into that environment. I see myself there long-term, so I didn't feel intimidated in any way.

"I found it quite similar to the under 21s in the way it is set up, so that made it easy for me to jump straight in. The philosophy is similar, and you notice that as you work through the age groups. For me it was about going in there, enjoying the experience and showing them what I can do.

"For this generation, the manager is always looking at young players. He wants to build a team for the next 10 years and I think it is great for all the young English lads out there to see that's happening. There are opportunities out there, the manager has shown that with his selections. If you are good enough, then you are old enough, and that's been laid down by the boss. He's done really well with England, and going forward I am sure we'll have a lot of success."

Today's Premier League showdown with Burnley sees Dean come face-to-face with England team-mate Nick Pope, with both no doubt keen to show their credentials in what is now a fiercely competitive department.

Dean says he is full of respect for his opposite number today, but he's only focused on himself as he looks to maintain the standards which has seen him rise through the leagues in recent years.

"I only look at myself if I am honest," he explains.

"I believe it is the man in the mirror that you have to compete with to get the best out of yourself. Nick is a good guy, and it'll be good to share the same pitch with him, but at the end of the day I've got to look after myself and work on what I can do to make myself the best goalkeeper possible."

There has been a lot of success in a short space of time for United's number one.

After being signed by Manchester United, he has taken the loan route to broaden his experience with a long-term vision of eventually becoming the regular custodian at Old Trafford.

At the start though, taking the gloves wasn't an ambition at all, with Dean confirming he felt in his formative years he was better suited to playing outfield before trying his hand between the sticks.

"I'll be honest, I thought I was better outfield," he confirmed.

"I was outfielder for years, and I was really good at what I did to be honest. I tested myself against some good teams. I went to Carlisle, and one day the 'keeper was sick, so I went in goal. From there it snowballed. It has been a fast journey. I only moved to Manchester when I was 14, so it has been really weird how quick the last six years have gone. It has been exciting, with ups and downs. It has taken a lot of hard work to get to the Premier League, but I want to keep going."

His progress didn't go unnoticed. Bigger clubs had started to take an interest, but one club stood out from the pack as Dean was about to make the life-changing decision to leave the north east to sign for arguably the biggest club in the world.

Dean adds: "I knew there was interest from Manchester United for a couple of months. It was my dream to go and play for them, so when we got the phone call to say a bid was accepted, it is the first time I have ever seen tears in my dad's eyes. It was a great feeling, because it had been my dream since I was a little boy. Hopefully I can fulfil the ambition of playing for them one day, and why not if I keep going the way I am going. I still don't believe I am a Man Utd player yet, I still have a lot of work to do to get to that level."

Sitting comfortably inside the Old Trafford walls was never an option for Dean. Once ready, he craved the opportunity of playing senior football, firstly taking the option of a loan move to Stockport County, then in the National League North.

It would be the start of several stints which have helped build his knowledge of the game, but even though he has since worked his way up the football pyramid, Dean looks back on his time at Edgeley Park as the toughest test of his career to date.

"For me it was all about getting out on loan and trying something different," he said.

"I always wanted to get out there and prove myself, rather than sit in my comfort zone. There are players who are just happy to sit there and say they are Manchester United players, but realistically you aren't for me until you are in the first team.

"I would like to see some more goalkeepers go out into the lower leagues, because it'll be a big test for them. I have proven I can play in every division. The lower down the pyramid, the harder it was to be honest. Stockport to this day was my hardest loan. I can still remember making mistakes, and it was so difficult. I wanted the ground to swallow me up, but I was only a young kid and I have learnt so much since those early days."

Working his way through the leagues, he would take in a stint at Grimsby before an eye-catching stay with Shrewsbury Town.
Under the stewardship of Paul Hurst, the Shrews were League One relegation favourites at the start of the 2017-18 season, but Dean was one of a host of relatively unknown talents who would help propel the Shropshire club towards the summit of the division.

Dean was a regular as Hurst's side maintained their place in the higher echelons of the league, but the season would end in disappointment after play-off final and EFL Trophy final defeats at Wembley.

"The success was no accident; we had a great team spirit," Dean commented.

"We were favourites to go down, but we did well. I knew I would be busy, but I wasn't sure with the manager at first because he didn't play me at Grimsby. I felt it was a make or break season for me, I didn't want to sit on the bench again, but I backed myself and it was a good season overall.

"The finals were hard to take. A lot of our lads played the occasions rather than the game. I'm sure they'll look back with a lot of regrets, it was just one of those things. It was tough. It wasn't the manager's fault, he set us up right and he was fantastic for all the boys throughout that season. All the togetherness he fostered was brilliant, but too many froze on the day and it didn't work out for us. It was a shame, but for me, it was another season where I learnt a great deal."

The next logical step was the Championship. Enter Chris Wilder and the Blades which would start a relationship which is still going from strength-to-strength to this day.

It was a partnership which very nearly didn't get going at all, as Dean reveals he looked set to sign for Yorkshire rivals Leeds, until he heard of Wilder's interest.

"Every club in The Championship were after me at the time," confirms Dean.

"I'd been down to Leeds, and it looked as though I was signing there. Bristol City were very keen as well, and then my agent rang me and said that Sheffield United had been on the back burner. I said to him 'Why haven't you told me?', because I really wanted to go there. The gaffer rang me, we spoke on the phone for an hour, and to be honest I was walking there before I even put the phone down. I was just buzzing to come to Bramall Lane. It has been the best decision of my career so far. I've made some friends for life; the fans have been brilliant with me and hopefully we can make many more great memories."

Dean was ever-present last season, becoming a favourite with the supporters, as the Blades upset the odds to earn automatic promotion to the Premier League.

The stopper has been in great form again this term, and whilst his mistake against Liverpool was a talking point outside of the club, he believes his strong mental attitude has helped him grow even stronger for the experience after a string of consistent displays.

"Mistakes happen, but the stats don't lie," Dean states.

"Even last season people will pull out the Leeds and Villa games but for me it was irrelevant as we were promoted with the most clean sheets in the division. I'll take one mistake for every 15-20 good saves that I make. I'm not going to worry about it. I'll keep working hard every day to keep the mistakes to a minimum. At the end of the day, these things happen. It is not because you are a bad 'keeper, it just happens sometimes.

"I believe the mental side is 80% of the game now, and it is probably why some don't get to the top level. All the best goalkeepers have made mistakes. These balls come at you fast, they aren't always easy to keep out. You have to dust yourself down, go again and stay hungry. Sometimes it is good to get a kick up the backside and since the Liverpool game my concentration has been on point and I've really upped my game again."

Dean says he owes the club a great debt of gratitude for handing him the opportunity of playing in the Premier League, and he aims to continue to repay the faith with performances on the field.

Whatever the long-term future holds for the talented Cumbrian, he will forever be grateful for the experiences garnered during his time in the Steel City.

"I always say to my mum and dad; born in Whitehaven but made in Sheffield," he explains.

"I've learnt so much here on and off the field. The experience has been fantastic. I can't thank the club enough, and the manager. Everyone has been outstanding with me. Every day I go out there and I try my hardest to make sure I do everything I possibly can for the club.

"I don't just want us to stay up this year, we want to fight to get as far up the table as possible. I'm sure the manager won't let us take our foot off the gas. We're all still hungry for more success, and I will give it my all to help fulfil our potential."

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