As Sergio Romero waits for his inevitable and acrimonious departure from Manchester United he will be watching Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s selection decision for tomorrow’s Carabao Cup semi-final with interest.
It was 12 months ago that the end game of Romero’s United career began. He had started all three Carabao Cup fixtures up to the two-legged semi-final with Manchester City, but on January 7 he was dropped for David de Gea for the Old Trafford game.
It was the beginning of a pattern. Romero played five successive FA Cup games before being dropped for the semi-final and nine of 11 Europa League ties before being benched again once the semi-final was reached.
Romero had seen enough by then and he wanted out. It was clear he wasn’t a realistic challenger to De Gea and the decision to drop him for all three semi-finals United reached was a step too far.
The 33-year-old with nearly a hundred caps for Argentina is still pocketing more than £100,000 a week from United despite not being seen on a matchday this season. His desire to cut ties with the club may well have played a part in Solskjaer’s decision to keep Dean Henderson this season rather than sanction another loan move.
Now Solskjaer faces another big semi-final decision with his goalkeepers and he has already been forewarned about the damage it can cause.
Henderson has been a more realistic challenger to De Gea than Romero was in his final couple of seasons at the club, but his presence has pushed the Spaniard into his best run of form for two years, at least.
The academy graduate has already missed out on a start he would have been expecting, in the Old Trafford fixture against Istanbul Basaksehir, when Solskjaer’s decision to select De Gea seemed unnecessary. Henderson had started in Turkey and in a season where he needs games to prove himself and to keep him happy, it was a surprise he was benched for the return game.
In total Henderson has started five games for United so far, with one in the Premier League, and he came off the bench against Southampton when De Gea picked up an injury. Like Romero last season, the 23-year-old has played in all three of United’s Carabao Cup wins to this point, keeping successive clean sheets at Luton, Brighton and Everton.
There’s no doubt being thrown into a one-leg semi-final against City will be the biggest day of Henderson’s career so far, but that’s also the only way United are going to find out more about his ability and temperament. Henderson would certainly back himself in that situation.
United play twice in cup competitions this week and Henderson will be a certain starter against Championship side Watford at Old Trafford on Saturday night, when United’s FA Cup journey begins. But Solskjaer can’t use that as an excuse to bring De Gea back against City in a last-four fixture.
Romero might have been happy – for a while – to play second fiddle at United, but Henderson won’t be. He wants to be England No. 1 sooner rather than later and he knows what won’t be achieved with the odd B-list cup appearance.
Drop him against City and, just like it did for Romero, it might well be an indicator for Henderson that he needs to begin thinking about his future. He will be 24 in two months and wants to be a first-choice goalkeeper.
Instead, Solskjaer needs to place his faith in the academy graduate. Henderson might not do enough to displace De Gea this season, but he needs a wide selection of games to show what he can do, and some of them need to be the biggest games. This is an ideal opportunity to put him under more pressure and see what he can produce.