It was a pretty bold statement given Scott Carson and Sam Johnstone were also competing for the award.
But Chris Wilder is convinced, after signing Dean Henderson on loan, that Sheffield United have secured the services of the English Football League’s most dependable goalkeeper.
“For me, Dean was the best in the competition’s three divisions last season,” Wilder, explaining the 21-year-old’s presence at Bramall Lane, said. “We’re delighted he sees his immediate future here with us. We know a lot about him because we’ve tracked his progress for quite a while now. We’ve watched him develop and come through.”
Forty-eight hours after confirming a deal had been brokered, Wilder was still brimming with delight when he outlined why United had targeted the 21-year-old during yesterday’s media briefing at the Steelphalt Academy. Henderson, who joined Manchester United as a teenager after leaving for Carlisle, had attracted interest from a host of Championship clubs following an impressive spell with League One play-off finalists Shrewsbury Town. It is a measure of Wilder’s confidence in the youngster’s ability that he chose to pursue this option rather than the plethora of alternatives which presented themselves.
Jamal Blackman, who spent last term with United on loan from Chelsea, was interested in a return. But, after careful consideration, both the manager and his coaching staff plumped for Henderson instead. Despite, he acknowledged at the club’s training complex, knowing the division’s unequal finances meant they were taking a risk.
“He, Dean, has made this decision,” Wilder continued. “It wasn’t financial. We’ve done a deal a lot of other clubs, and possibly quite a few more, could easily have done as well. When we spoke to him on the phone, Darren and I, we felt we’d done our bit and that hopefully he would come. Fortunately for us, he did.”
The ‘Darren’ Wilder was referring to is goalkeeping coach Darren Ward; the man tasked with ensuring Henderson, Simon Moore and Jake Eastwood are equipped to compete for a starting role next term. Moore, who played second fiddle to Blackman for much of the previous campaign, has been reassured Old Trafford did not issue any caveats before sanctioning Henderson’s transfer.
“It’s got to be a fair fight,” Wilder said. “It has to be a fair fight for the goalkeepers and for all the rest of the lads in the team as well. Dean comes here knowing that he’s got to do better than Simon and Jake if he wants to get in. The same goes for Simon and Jake as well.”
“We’ve got the best goalkeeping coach in the EFL divisions too,” Wilder added. “Most importantly, we are getting a really good goalkeeper who wants to put himself in scenarios like Sheffield derbies. We’ve got three really good goalkeepers now. He wants to be in a situation where he’s playing for something, hopefully, at the right end of the Championship.”