Football works in mysterious ways. Just as more and more stories were emerging about Dean Henderson taking another loan move away from Old Trafford in January, he could get the chance he’s been waiting for.
Of course, it all depends on the severity of the knock David de Gea suffered just above his knee when he crashed into the post desperately trying to keep out a James Ward-Prowse free-kick on Sunday.
Dean Henderson celebrates as Manchester United came back from two goals down to win 3-2 at Southampton on Sunday
Henderson, who replaced the injured David de Gea at half-time, was United’s most vocal
The Spaniard is set for a scan on Monday and both he and Henderson will face an anxious wait for the outcome.
But if De Gea is ruled out of Wednesday night’s game at Old Trafford, then Henderson will get his long-awaited opportunity to impress and show he is United’s rightful No 1.
No doubt Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Co will keep him busier than Southampton did in the second-half on Sunday, after Henderson replaced De Gea at half-time for his United Premier League debut.
A couple of early saves apart, Henderson was little more than a thrilled spectator as United launched into one of those never-say-die comebacks that used to be their hallmark.
When Edinson Cavani made it 2-2 and then headed their 92nd-minute winner, Henderson was seen leaping in celebration down the other end. Afterwards, he took to Twitter and described the fightback as ‘the United way’.
De Gea is set for a scan on Monday but could miss United’s crunch meeting with PSG
But it could be an opportunity at last for Henderson, who has found his game time limited
But what observers both inside the stadium and those watching on TV at home noticed was how vocal Henderson was during that second-half.
The loudest player in United colours, it was Henderson urging his team-mates to push forward in pursuit of the winner while organising things to ensure they couldn’t be stung on the counter.
It didn’t go unnoticed that it was his voice, rather than that of captain Harry Maguire or Bruno Fernandes, that echoed loudest around the empty St Mary’s Stadium.
In a season when United have been accused of lacking leadership on the pitch, it was certainly refreshing.
‘He’s a keeper who has been used to being vocal. He wants to organise the team,’ manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said.
Henderson had a couple of saves to make but was largely a spectator in United’s comeback
It was Henderson’s first outing since United’s disastrous defeat away by Istanbul Basaksehir
Henderson’s competition seems to have raised de Gea’s game so far this season
MAN UNITED FIXTURES
Wednesday Paris Saint-Germain (H) CL
December 5 West Ham (A) PL
December 8 RB Leipzig (A) CL
December 12 Manchester City (H) PL
December 17 Sheffield United (A) PL
Those qualities will prove essential if Henderson plays against PSG on Wednesday night. With the Parisians far from assured of their last-16 place, United’s backline, which continues to look jittery, can expect to be put under severe pressure.
Henderson will have saves to make, there’s no question of that, and if he can prove he can cut it in such a big game, the outlook may change.
When Henderson decided against a sixth loan away from United back in August, signing a new contract through until 2025, he no doubt expected a bit more game time than has materialised.
Two starts in the early rounds of the Carabao Cup, against Luton Town and Brighton, offering scant consolation for warming the bench in every Premier League game.
Henderson started the disastrous Champions League defeat by Istanbul Basaksehir, though it was his defence to blame for the embarrassment.
United are top of Champions League Group H and need a point to advance to the last-16
The 23-year-old England international signed a new deal at United through until 2025
But appearances have been limited – Henderson played in the Carabao Cup against Luton
A mere 270 minutes of action prior to his substitute outing on Sunday wasn’t quite what the England international expected at the start of the season.
Worse still, his presence seemed to have some kind of galvanising effect on De Gea, who responded to the competition by largely cutting out the errors that had infected his game.
Solskjaer kept faith with the Spaniard, who has been United’s first choice keeper for nine seasons, in what was the honourable thing to do.
As former United captain Roy Keane said in the Sky Sports studio on Sunday: ‘I think it helped [De Gea] that Henderson came back to the club.
‘I think he’s got proper competition there now. Every day, they can look each other in the eye.
Henderson celebrated Sunday’s win on Twitter, calling the comeback ‘the United way’
‘If he makes too many mistakes – as many as he’s made over the last few years – he knows Henderson will be in.’
Henderson was certainly outspoken back in the summer about how he had returned to United with the intention of dislodging De Gea from his position.
It hasn’t worked out that way. But now an opportunity may arise, not because De Gea made a mistake but through the misfortune of injury.
And he can’t be under any illusions. Even a solid performance against PSG doesn’t make him an automatic starter for Saturday’s trip to West Ham if De Gea is fit again.
But it may head off suggestions Henderson will look for a loan move in January. Understandably, his concern is about his place in the England squad for next summer’s European Championship.
His fellow keepers Jordan Pickford and Nick Pope are first choice for Everton and Burnley respectively but there really isn’t anyone else in the wider England squad pool to push Henderson out.
Henderson made his senior England debut earlier this month in the 3-0 win over Ireland
Henderson and Nick Pope (right) are likely to be back-up to Jordan Pickford at Euro 2020
The fact Henderson made his senior debut off the bench in England’s 3-0 friendly win over the Republic of Ireland – a moment that netted his uncle £12,500 after he placed a 500/1 bet when Dean was 14 – shows he is very much in Gareth Southgate’s thinking for Euro 2020.
And even if Henderson does remain second choice to De Gea, there will be plenty of chances before the end of the season.
United will fancy their chances of winning the Carabao Cup and Henderson should also play their FA Cup games. If United get the point they require to make it through to the Champions League last-16, he may also play against RB Leipzig next week.
In the meantime, if De Gea’s knee injury does rule him out for Wednesday, all Henderson can do is be his usual vocal self and give a good account of himself against last season’s Champions League runners-up.
The rest will, sooner or later, fall nicely into place.