Ole Gunnar Solskjaer dismisses idea Dean Henderson facing ‘make-or-break’ moment

By Simon Peach, PA Chief Football Writer
·5 min read

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has backed Dean Henderson to become a world-class goalkeeper as the academy graduate continues to push long-standing Manchester United number one David De Gea.

The 23-year-old returned to Old Trafford in the summer following two impressive loan seasons with Sheffield United, having also enjoyed temporary stints at Shrewsbury, Grimsby and Stockport.

Such experiences helped establish Henderson as one of the best young goalkeepers around, leading United to bring him into the first-team squad in the summer and reward him with a new and improved deal until at least 2025.

Solskjaer would not confirm whether the homegrown shot-stopper would make his fourth United appearance in Tuesday’s Champions League clash against Istanbul Basaksehir but said opportunities would be forthcoming.

“Dean wants to stay at Man United and play for Man United,” he said of Henderson, who this month made his senior England debut and is pushing for a place at the rearranged European Championships.

“I can’t see the logic in (suggestions there is) only one potential appearance left before Christmas. Do you know how many games we’ve got?

“I disagree completely if (you are suggesting) tomorrow is a make-or-break (moment) for Dean.

“He’s come back in, he is training really well, he’s maturing. He’s had some games.

Dean Henderson is providing competition for David De Gea at Old Trafford
Dean Henderson is providing competition for David De Gea at Old Trafford (Richard Heathcote/PA)

“He’s training with, for me, one of the best goalkeepers in the world. He’s got potential to be one of the best goalkeepers in the world. It’s a great competition between them.

“I don’t buy that argument that it’s a make or break for him.

“It’s not up to me to keep everyone happy, you know. I’ve said that a few times. The performances will always be the deciding factor if you play or not.

“I think every position that you play for Man United, it is your duty or your responsibility to make me and the coaches happy, so then there’s a bigger chance you can play next time.”

Anthony Martial has yet to find his shooting boots this season
Anthony Martial has yet to find his shooting boots this season (Alex Livesey/PA)

Henderson made his European debut in the reverse fixture against Istanbul Basaksehir at the start of November as United fell to a 2-1 defeat, failing to stage a comeback after Anthony Martial pulled a goal back just before half-time.

The 24-year-old has only managed two goals in eight club appearances across all competitions this season, falling short of the heights scaled during a resurgent 2019/20 campaign.

“Anthony last season showed he made big strides,” Solskjaer said of the France international. “Now it’s time again to make even bigger strides, to develop more.

“He scored 23, I don’t know, 24 goals last season, which was a big return. Every season is a challenge and you cannot rest on your laurels as a left-back, right-back or centre forward at Man Utd. There are demands on every position.

“We want Anthony to kick on. (For France) against Portugal, when he showed his qualities as a centre forward getting into positions then (Rui) Patricio made a few good saves and that might have affected Anthony’s confidence, for me it’s him getting chances, that is the big thing.

“His conversion rate has always been good. Maybe at the moment keepers are making a good few saves against him but that will change.”

Martial is likely to be leaned on again as United look to get qualification for the Champions League knockout phase back on track against the Turkish champions.

“We started well with two wins,” Solskjaer said of the 2-1 success at Paris St Germain and 5-0 home defeat of RB Leipzig. “Disappointed losing the last game in Istanbul.

“We need at least 10 points to go through definitely. But maybe, even likely that you have to have 12 points.

“We’re going to go into this game trying to win it, of course, and try to win it well with a good performance because we’ve got games coming thick and fast.

“Getting to 10 points as quickly as you can was the main point but that defeat was a big blow.”

Solskjaer hopes to be able to call upon Paul Pogba for Tuesday’s Group H encounter after the midfielder missed the win against West Brom with a knock.

“We hope he’s going to be available,” Solskjaer said. “He trained this morning. See if there’s any reaction when we report tomorrow.

“Still Luke Shaw is out, Phil Jones is out. Jesse (Lingard) is still self-isolating after being in contact with a positive (coronavirus) case.

“There’s one or two little things we need to look at in the morning but hopefully everyone else is available.”

Rafael was a popular figure at Manchester United
Rafael was a popular figure at Manchester United (Nick Potts/PA)

Tuesday’s match will see some familiar faces return to Old Trafford, including ex-Liverpool defender Martin Skrtel, the well-travelled Demba Ba and former United full-back Rafael.

The 30-year-old won three Premier League titles during his time with the club and former team-mate Rio Ferdinand said United “never should have sold” the Brazilian following his role in the Turkish side’s 2-1 win.

“I just laughed with him after (that Twitter post),” said Rafael, who left Old Trafford for Lyon in 2015 and this summer joined Istanbul Basaksehir.

“It’s nice to hear from one of the best centre-backs in the world from the past. I was very happy to see that tweet.

“Of course my time here is over.

“I am really happy with everything I did for this club and for the memories I had here.”