When the opportunity of a loan move to Hibs arose last week, Liam Henderson didn’t have to look far for reassurance that a season at Easter Road was the right step to continue his development.
At parent club Celtic, the 19-year-old was able to pick the brains of captain Scott Brown and assistant manager John Collins, two men who learned their trade at Easter Road and then went on to play for Scotland. As well as speaking to those two luminaries, Henderson was inspired by the good things he had heard from fellow Celtic academy product Dylan McGeouch, who spent last season at Easter Road and could yet return on a permanent basis. Having already had time to warm to the idea of joining Hibs after Alan Stubbs initially came in for him in January, it was an easy decision for the West Lothian youngster when the Easter Road head coach contacted him again last week with a view to signing him on a season-long loan.
“I spoke to Broonie about Hibs and he told me it was a great club with great training facilities and a good manager,” Henderson told the Evening News. “Broonie’s always been good with me – he speaks to me a lot and he was happy to give me advice. I remember vaguely him playing at Hibs. He learned his trade here and he’s gone on to be Celtic and Scotland captain. He’s a tremendous guy and he’s always helping the young boys. I spoke to [Celtic player] Charlie Mulgrew about it as well. Although he didn’t play here, he’s one of the more experienced boys who helps the young boys out a lot and he told me it was a great opportunity and I should go and grab it with both hands.
“The manager [Ronny Deila], John Collins and [Celtic youth coach] John Kennedy all gave me advice and told me to go out and get the experience. John [Collins] was obviously manager here before and he just said it’s a lovely club to play for, and that they play passing football from the back, so that suits me.
“Dylan had a great time here as well. I spoke to him last season when he was back getting treatment on an injury and he said he thoroughly enjoyed it. He was in a similar boat to me when he came here last year and he did fantastically well. He said it was great and the manager and the boys were excellent. Everybody I’ve spoken to has been nothing but positive about Hibs. It wasn’t exactly a hard decision. As soon as it was mentioned, I was all for coming.”
Viewed as one of the most promising prospects in Scottish football, Henderson’s decision to go out on loan was eased further by the knowledge that his long-term future at Celtic is secure after he was handed a new three-year contract last week. “It’s good for my confidence that they rate me that highly and want to keep me,” he said. “Ronny Deila told me to go out and get the year’s experience and be ready to go back and play for them at the end of it. My full focus this year is on doing well for Hibs though.”
Despite being only 19, going out on loan is nothing new for Henderson. After his proposed move to Hibs failed to materialise in the last transfer window, he instead found himself farmed out to Rosenborg for three months from March onwards. He made nine substitute appearances for the Norwegian giants and scored three goals. “I really enjoyed Norway,” said Henderson. “It was a great experience for me, living away from home, in a foreign country, at such a young age. It was definitely the right idea for my development.
“The gaffer at Celtic was good friends with the manager at Rosenborg and he told him he was looking for a midfielder. The manager put me forward and said it would be great for my long-term development. As soon as I heard they were interested, there was no hesitation from me. I went over there and enjoyed my three months. I went out on my own, but my mum, dad, little brothers and grandparents came out to visit me. I stayed in an apartment just five minutes from Trondheim city centre and five minutes from the training ground, so it was brilliant.
“I feel it’s brought me on leaps and bounds maturity-wise and as a footballer. The standard was very good but I felt I did well. I made a lot of good friends and I still keep in contact with quite a few boys there and keep an eye on their scores. Hopefully, if they win the league I can get myself back over for a weekend to see them again.”
As a result of playing into late June with Rosenborg - the Norwegian league runs through the summer - Henderson has not had much of a summer break. “I’ve not really had a proper pre-season,” he said. “It’s just been a case of working right through, apart from a week’s holiday when I first finished at Rosenborg. It’s been tough but I’m young so I can handle it. I’m probably even fitter right now than most boys who have just had a normal pre-season, so I’m more than ready to start as soon as the manager decides to put me in.”
In moving to Easter Road, Henderson was welcomed by a batch of familiar faces from coming through the youth ranks in Scotland. “I knew a few of the boys before I came,” he explained. “I know Jason Cummings, Danny Handling, John McGinn and Keatsy [James Keatings]. He’s a few years older than me but I trained with him a few times at Celtic. It makes it a lot easier to settle in when you know a few boys but even the boys I didn’t know have been excellent with me. I’ve settled in well and I’m enjoying it.”