Manchester

Erik ten Hag and Manchester United have perfect window to solve their biggest conundrum – Liam Wood

Had things turned out differently for the Academy graduate, he would have been the undisputed number one now and for a short while he was. However, an untimely and prolonged battle with Covid – not to mention what he calls 'unkept promises' – means Henderson is having to prove himself to United all over again.

Being sidelined was the latest in a string of unfortunate events for the Whitehaven-born stopper. Having nurtured his skills during loan spells at Grimsby, Shrewsbury and Sheffield United (twice), he finally usurped David de Gea the season before last only to see the goalkeeping tables re-turn.

Pardon the phrasing, but De Gea took his unplanned opportunity with both hands and, while former manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer dithered over the decision, Erik ten Hag was left with no other choice but to retain De Gea when stepping into the hot seat and look for an alternative plan for Henderson. His frustrations were clear with that man De Gea, perhaps, the only blameless party in this long-standing conundrum.

Henderson did not hold back in his assessment and parting comments he made about United when signing on the dotted line for Premier League new-boys Nottingham Forest suggested there may be no way back for him – while supporters were split, at best, about what he had to say. Fortunately for Henderson, though, there is a huge caveat which seemingly works in his favour.

De Gea was back to something like his best last season. However, when moving forward with his blueprint, there is every chance that Ten Hag wants an upgrade between the posts and certainly one who is more prominent with his feet – allowing United to embrace the philosophy favoured by Ten Hag and his contemporaries.

Whichever way you side in the De Gea vs Henderson debate, the latter is more comfortable in playing out from the back and Ten Hag attempted to lure the goalkeeper to Ajax in January only for that swoop to be rebuffed – much to Henderson's dismay along with those other failed pursuits.

In his own words, such decisions from United meant Henderson 'wasted' a year of his career. Having been forced to withdraw from the Euro 2020 squad, due to a hip injury, the 25-year-old was in no mood to be benched for another campaign and Forest were the main benefactors there upon their return to the big time.

While opting to spend their way to safety, Henderson represents a snip and coup for Steve Cooper, and his proven Premier League quality has already saved them this season – even though his return to Manchester was not a happy one when Erling Haaland flexed his goalscoring muscle during a Wednesday night demolition.

Fixtures have, meanwhile, been a hot topic at Old Trafford over the last few days and with their latest cancellation is an opportunity to note the progress made by Henderson. Discounting the international break, Forest and United do not clash in terms of dates for their next five games in the top flight.

Although modern-day managers have all the insight and video analysis they desire on any fancy devices they might have in their office, there is nothing like scouting a player first-hand and Ten Hag will have plenty of opportunity for that if he fancies a trip to the Midlands. And then, perhaps, comes some deserved fortune for Henderson in his eyes.