Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team selection for Manchester United’s Premier League clash with Brighton last weekend provoked quite a reaction.
David de Gea’s return from paternity leave left the Norwegian with a decision to make between the sticks: he could either revert back to the Spaniard, or continue with Dean Henderson.
In the end, the coach went with the latter and, while Solskjaer played down the selection after the game and insisted he has two number ones at the club, it was a clear indication of where his plans lie.
De Gea returned to the side for United’s 2-0 Europa League quarter-final first-leg win over Granada on Thursday, but it remains to be seen what his future at Old Trafford holds.
If Henderson succeeds in becoming Solskjaer’s first-choice keeper then De Gea could try and push for an exit in the summer transfer window in search of regular football.
The choice is undoubtedly one of the biggest that Solskjaer has made during his time leading United so far. His call against Brighton was a bold one and something that will certainly lead to scrutiny in the coming matches and beyond if there is a scenario where Henderson comes under pressure.
Solskjaer’s choice has been in the works for a while though. The MEN understands that there were two previous occasions this season where the club’s former striker wanted to make a change but relented due to De Gea’s response.
It is not a decision that will have been completed on his own though, as Solskjaer, like every other top manager, has a trusted backroom team. That team includes goalkeeping coach Richard Hartis.
The 53-year-old’s relationship with United first began 2001, initially joining as head academy goalkeeping coach and working his way through the backroom in the coming years – including the 2007-08 season, where he was acting first-team goalkeeping coach.
It was in this season where he worked with the likes of Edwin van der Sar, Ben Foster, Tomasz Kuszczak and Tom Heaton. It was a campaign in which United won the double, but his first stint at the club would end in 2011, a decade after his arrival.
Hartis’ relationship working with Solskjaer would then begin though, as he was appointed first-team goalkeeper coach with Norwegian outfit Molde. After a three-year stint, he followed Solskjaer to Cardiff City but, like the United boss, his spell at the club would be brief.
In 2015, Hartis returned to Leeds United, where he had spent one year previously before his first year at United, and, a year later, he joined the Football Association as a national goalkeeping coach for the professional development phase, which covers the under-18s to under-20s.
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His spell with England coincided with a certain Dean Henderson establishing himself in the national side’s youth ranks by making six appearances for England’s Under-20 side from 2016 to 2017.
Hartis was also a member of the coaching staff that lifted the 2017 U20 World Cup, with whom Henderson was part of the squad.
In June 2019, a return to Manchester United followed, earning a reunion with Solskjaer and then with Henderson, who re-joined the club last year after his second stint on loan with Sheffield United came to a close.
With a long working history with Solskjaer, as well as plenty of experience with Henderson, there’s no doubt Hartis had an influence on the decision for United’s number one.