SPL

Henderson's Impact In Italy Shows Scotland Potential

 • by Ryan Baldi
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There are only six photos on Liam Henderson’s Instagram page. In the modern world of sportsmen and women, an athlete’s social media channels can often represent a routinely updated biography as their careers rise and fall.

Yet, for this 21-year-old talent, just two things of note have happened thus far: the day he left Celtic to move to Bari, and everything that has happened since then.

Sure, the young lad from Livingston might have decided a trip abroad may have warranted a late dip into cataloguing one’s life through photos.

However, what’s perhaps more likely is that Henderson is well aware of how poignant this move really is. For the former Celtic academy player there’s a certain element of make-or-break to this move to the south coast of Italy, and how it could have a dramatic impact on whether he ends up getting his career back on track.

Fortunately, it seems to be a move that is already paying off. Under the stewardship of former World Cup winner Fabio Grosso, Henderson’s time in Serie B began with back-to-back defeats, but has since seen he and Bari go six games without a loss. And in a tricky away trip to Ternana, it was the young Scot that scored and assisted a second in an important 2-1 win.

Indeed, Henderson has parachuted in to an enviable position at Bari. Not only has he slotted directly in to Grosso’s side as a central-midfield playmaker, but is doing so for a team with strong intentions of winning promotion to the Italian top tier. Sitting comfortable in fifth place at the moment, Bari are just ten points off top spot and seven from second place with 12 league games left to play.

If Henderson can continue to offer a notable hand in achieving that goal and then find himself at the heart of a Serie A side next season, his stock is only set to skyrocket. And from there he could undoubtedly chase down the ambition he showed in abundance not too long ago.

First-team football is always the clear goal for any footballer, but in Italy Henderson is hoping to not only get some playing time under his belt, while reminding the powers that be in Glasgow that, once upon a time, he was considered one of the most promising young playmakers in Scottish football.

While on loan at Hibernian in the 2015/16 season, Henderson bagged no less than six goals and 16 assists for a side that would ultimately miss out on promotion by the finest of margins but go on to win the Scottish Cup for the first time in 114 years. And it was Henderson who set up two of the goals in a dramatic 3-2 win over Rangers.

To put that personal achievement into context, Henderson scored more goals and created more assists than the man now considered Scotland’s future midfield general, John McGinn, and played almost twice as many games as another recently-capped Scotland player, Dylan McGeouch. A remarkable feat that does well to underline just far Henderson’s stock has fallen since then.

Upon returning to Celtic alongside the arrival of Brendan Rodgers, Henderson found himself playing a bit-part role in a team that would go on to win the Scottish Premiership without losing a single game. The young midfielder made just ten league appearances over the campaign but naturally struggled to make a case for his inclusion against such excellence.

Henderson may have been a promising young player, but at Celtic he was overshadowed by other darlings of the Scottish game, such as Stuart Armstrong, Callum McGregor and the club captain Scott Brown. And these same names will be the same barriers the newly rejuvenated midfielder will have to overcome if he is to one day prove himself as a Scottish international.

However, there is reason to believe that the 21-year-old is capable of one day matching such stars. When comparing Henderson’s assists per 90 minutes this season to Celtic’s own central midfielders, we find that he’s currently creating 0.16, which is second only to Armstrong’s current tally in Glasgow’s East End.

Similarly, Henderson’s tendency to drift out wide to find space has him making 2.51 crosses per 90 minutes – a figure that’s more than double Celtic’s best value, with Armstrong at 1.2 per game – and an accuracy of 56.25 per cent that far outstrips anyone in Rodgers’ current side.

Where Henderson lags behind his Celtic counterparts is in his ability to create shots and get in to the opposing box. Armstrong and Callum McGregor both hit considerably more shots per game than the 0.79 Henderson is currently averaging. And each tend to take twice as many touches in the opposition box than Henderson currently does at Bari.

Of course, there are always a number of unknown factors when comparing players in different teams across different divisions, but, through Henderson’s time at Hibs and what he is slowly but surely showing at Bari, there’s no doubt that the former Celtic player is a talented young man. And if he can prove that – consistently – then Scotland may have another promising playmaker to add to their ranks.

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