This time last year Jack Hendry was in the middle of a six-month spell where he couldn’t get game time for hell or high water... in England’s third tier. The centre-back’s move from Partick Thistle to Wigan the previous season had turned well and truly sour.
Having spent the previous six months on loan with MK Dons – following on from a temporary stint with Shrewsbury Town at the end of his first season at the DW Stadium – his return to Wigan left him in the shadows.
Now, the 22-year-old is being bathed in a gleaming light. A mighty impressive Scotland debut alongside the even more vaunted new arrival on the international scene, Scott McKenna, in Tuesday’s 1-0 win in Hungary, and suddenly these two fresh faces are being talked about as the potential bedrocks in Alex McLeish’s team.
The fact this transformation comes on the back of only three starts and two substitute appearances for Celtic doesn’t mean the more optimistic Scotland observers are giving in to presumption, as far as Brendan Rodgers is concerned.
Hendry’s failure to make the grade at Wigan was followed by consistent excellence at Dundee as he reignited his career at the Dens Park club. His showings on Tayside demonstrated the characteristics that convinced Rodgers he could cut it at the highest level and led to his £1.5 million purchase in the January transfer window. “It’s just timing, isn’t it?” said the Celtic manager. “Lots of things in life come down to timing, and it might not have been the right time [to go to Wigan] or he may not have settled that well, so there’s lots of reasons why sometimes it isn’t quite right.”
In contrast everything seemed right for Hendry in Budapest to produce what Rodgers considers was “a fabulous” debut.
“He has all the attributes to be an international footballer,” the Irishman said. “If you’re going to play in a high-tempo style you’ve got to have good technique, have an idea of the game tactically, physically be able to run, have speed, be dynamic and mentally have the composure to play and defend.
“My reason for bringing him here was I believe he can develop into a top-class player. He made one tackle in the game that I’m not sure many Scottish centre-halves could make because he was quick, the speed to get across the ground and cover was absolutely brilliant.
“He needs coaching, he needs developing but, of course, he needs opportunity. He has all the attributes, he’s 6ft 3in, he’s quick and can play. He did very, very well, as did McKenna. I thought he was excellent too, so there’s promise there for Scotland.
“He played [for Dundee] in the game that we won 1-0 [in October] on the outside of a back three, and he was exceptional. Then going back and watching the game again, he was very good.
“From that first time seeing him close up, I said right after the game to the scouts and the board that he’s a player. He’s perfect for us. All you can do as a management team is look at other players. Sometimes they might not always complement your style of play but, with Jack, it’s a good fit and there’s a great platform for him here to improve.
“I think that Jack isn’t the norm for a Scottish centre-half. If you are looking at international qualities and top- level qualities, then he has all of those, but sometimes players like that don’t get an opportunity.
“I didn’t know of him at all until he played that game against us at Parkhead. I’d seen videos of him leading up to us playing them, and I obviously knew he wasn’t at Dundee the year before. You very quickly see that he has speed and technique, and these are the attributes that I like in my team. And of course, if they have a personality and a profile to go with that, then it’s just about opportunity. Since we were able to do the deal with Dundee, he’s come in and settled in really well here. There are areas that he will improve in and he will understand the game better, but at 22, he’s at a great age to learn. And he is a learner.
“He’s very hungry to be the best that he can possibly be, and he’s in the perfect environment to do that. Let’s see where that takes him.”