Kevin Thomson reckons Liam Henderson can become the fulcrum of Neil Lennon’s Hibs team if the popular midfielder returns to Easter Road for the upcoming campaign.
The duo formed a strong bond off the field during their time together at the Hibees in the second half of last season, and Thomson is delighted to see his former club attempting to bring the Celtic youngster back to Edinburgh.
Hibs have contacted the Parkhead club about the possibility of signing the Scotland Under-21 internationalist, initially on loan with a view to a permanent transfer. With Henderson seemingly having little immediate chance of featuring at his parent club under new manager Brendan Rodgers, Thomson reckons a return to Easter Road makes perfect sense for all concerned.
“As a Hibs supporter, I’d love to see Hendo back at the club this season,” Thomson, now playing with Tranent Juniors, told the Evening News. “He brings something a bit different. He’s got the X-factor in the final third that sets him apart from the other midfielders at Hibs. He’s just a boy, but he’s already achieved a lot. The fact he’s still so young but can play the way he did last season is testament to the ability he’s got. He’s got drive and he wants to get to the top, so hopefully Hibs can reap the benefits of that.”
Thomson knows Henderson wants to become a complete box-to-box midfielder, but he believes, while he still possesses so much youthful zest, he should focus his attention on hurting – rather than stopping - the opposition. “In time, he’ll potentially play a bit further back,” said the 31-year-old. “He’s got the quality and the vision to play deep but I told him he can play back there when he’s 28 or 29. He’s got plenty time before he needs to drop back. When you’ve got the X-factor that he has, you should be playing further forward. While he’s got the assets to score goals and create, he should exploit it as much as he can.
“For me, he’s a pocket player who plays between the lines. He’s great at linking play up. He’s not necessarily a No.10 but I’d certainly have him at the point of a diamond rather than as a sitting midfielder. The way he plays, he can get into double figures and I’m sure that’ll be one of the challenges he sets himself. He’s got all the assets to score and create goals and be a focal point of the team.”
Henderson is already renowned for his ability from dead balls, particularly so after two devilish corner kicks set up Anthony Stokes and David Gray for goals in the Scottish Cup final two months ago. The midfielder’s name is etched into club folklore, with “Henderson to deliver” – the line used by Sky commentator Ian Crocker in the lead-up to Gray’s winner – now the most iconic catchphrase of Hibs’ greatest day. Thomson explained how this trait is due to hours of dedication on the training field.
“He’s got great delivery, as we saw in the cup final,” said Thomson. “His delivery was the story of the last four to six weeks of the season because we scored a few goals from it. At one stage it looked like we were never going to score from a corner or a free-kick, but we were working relentlessly on set-pieces towards the end of the season and he really practised his delivery. There’s nothing better than seeing someone practising hard in training and then all of a sudden it comes off in a match on a Saturday. That was a great example of practice making perfect. He’s got a great way of getting the ball up and down. He can move it fast. John McGinn delivers with more power but they can both put balls in with different trajectory, which is a great asset for Hibs to have.”
Despite being more than a decade apart in age, Thomson and Henderson formed a close bond that remains intact. The veteran describes his young friend as a vital member of the Hibs squad both on and off the pitch. “He was my roomie,” said Thomson. “We were the oldest in the team and the youngest in the team so you probably wouldn’t have put us together, but he’s a terrific lad. We just hit it off straight away. We were in the same group for the warm-ups and I was in his team in training for the first week after I joined so we got pally. He used to watch Hibs as a boy with his grandad and I think I was one of his favourite players.
“He was one of the young boys who called me Uncle Kev. I’ve got a lot of time for him. We still meet up for a coffee. I’ve had him round at my house, playing with my kids in the garden. We went for lunch and he sat and chatted with my two boys. For a 19-year-old, as he was at the time, it might be a bit daunting talking to a four and a six-year-old but he’s the type of boy who just takes everything in his stride.
“Hibs had a great changing room last season with a lot of camaraderie and Hendo was a big part of that. He was a popular boy, so he’ll be a great asset if he goes back. I think anybody who was part of that cup final squad is always going to be highly thought of, but Hendo was terrific throughout the season. Even if, God forbid, the cup final hadn’t gone so well, the fans would still think highly of him, but the 21st of May was the icing on the cake. He had an alliance with the club from going to watch Hibs as a boy and I think you could see his determination and drive to do well whenever he played. They’re the type of players supporters like at their club.”