Liam Henderson aiming high for Celtic double

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CELTIC’S teenage midfielder Liam Henderson is looking to help his club to a second title win this afternoon. But it is in another league where the 18-year-old hopes to make an impression next season.

Henderson will turn out for the under-20s against Dundee United at Tannadice today as they seek the victory which would take them over the line in that championship.

Liam Henderson publicises the Celtic Foundation charity collection against Dundee United. Picture: SNS

Liam Henderson publicises the Celtic Foundation charity collection against Dundee United. Picture: SNS

Now a regular member of Neil Lennon’s squad after making the step up during the current campaign, Henderson scored his first senior goal in March’s 5-1 win away to Partick Thistle that brought up a third straight top-flight title success, and memories of the San Siro in September will drive on Henderson to eclipse his achievements this season.

The player travelled to all Celtic’s group Champions League encounters because of the Uefa Youth League that runs in tandem with its big brother, and, before the group opener in Italy, he was given a taste of the pre-match build-up to 
European football’s premier club tournament.

“I got told the day before I would be training at night [with the first team] because they needed a few numbers. It was an unbelievable experience. Just the feeling among the squad about how big a game it was. Obviously it is such a big stage. You have the World Cup and the Champions League and they are the two biggest stages of football. That night I just got the feel for the buzz you get, even though I was playing in the youth league. Just going to the San Siro, seeing what it was like. It’s just a different kettle of fish.”

Youth football is certainly a whole different piscean barrel but the switched-on and sensible Henderson has had no difficulties switching between his two worlds. Not that he would want to be doing so over the next year, following seven senior outings since he made his debut as a substitute in a 5-0 win over Motherwell last December.

“It’s a great opportunity I’ve been given and I’m very grateful for it,” said the Livingston-born youngster, once in the Hearts system. “Sometimes you do have to pinch yourself. But things have not really changed that much, I’m still training and playing under-20s games, and the sole focus is the United game.

“It would be really good to win two championship medals. I managed to time my run quite good into the first team. It’s been a busy last couple of months but it’s been good and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it and hopefully it can keep happening for me.

“I don’t really set myself any targets but going away on pre-season [with the first team] I thought I could catch the eye because that was a great opportunity the manager gave me.

“He’s bedded me in with the training and then he’s put me in and I’ve very grateful for the opportunity he’s given me. Next season I’m going to try to push even harder. The easy bit was breaking in and making my first start, the hard part is to stay there like Jamesie [James Forest] has done. Hopefully I will follow in his footsteps.”

Celtic’s summer transfer activity could make that objective a whole heap more difficult. Lennon has already been linked with a number of midfielders, an area where there is already intense competition.

Henderson does not appear fazed by the possibility that the scrap for places in that department could be ratcheted up a notch in the coming months. “That happens in every walk of life, they are always looking for better people to do a better job not matter what job you do,” he said. “You can react to it one way or another and obviously I have to get my head down and work even harder.

“It’ll be a good challenge. Celtic is a massive club and it wants to improve every year, so they are always going to bring 
in players.”

In Lennon the youngster trusts. It might help that the Irishman waxed that the club had “a good player” on their books after Henderson made a “superb” first start in a 3-0 success at Kilmarnock in March. Whatever, the teenager is convinced his career is in safe hands.

“The manager makes the decisions, he’s made every decision for me and he’s been right so far, so I trust him 100 per cent. I have every confidence in the manager and whatever he decides to do with me, I’m happy and will back him 100 per cent.”

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