At 21, Liam Henderson has already achieved more than many footballers will in their entire career. He’s won the Scottish Cup, League Cup and Scottish Premiership, with a Norwegian league title and cup thrown in for good measure.
And yet despite the medals and the trophies, Henderson has played just 23 minutes of first-team football so far this season, coming on as a substitute in a league match against Dundee.
He needs more game time and has this week been linked with a move to Serie B side Bari. The only surprise is that there are not more clubs in this country showing an interest.
Had John McGinn left Hibernian for Nottingham Forest during the summer, Neil Lennon said he would have attempted to bring Henderson back to the club were he impressed on loan during the 2015-16 Scottish Cup-winning season.
Henderson has repeatedly spoken of his desire to play for Hibs again, describing his relationship with the club as being “like I’ve split up with my girlfriend but am still in love with her”.
Despite the break-up analogy, there’s no disputing his commitment. He has done extra training to keep himself fit during the summer and would travel to training with the club captain in order to get advice and guidance.
He has also been happy to leave familiar surroundings to widen his experience, as he did with his loan move to Rosenborg and this potential move to southern Italy. Celtic have many midfielders who are ahead of Henderson in the pecking order. Nevertheless, Henderson would have hoped to build on his Hibs loan spell and his ten appearances last season but seems to have fallen so far out of favour that when a Henderson was named on the bench for Celtic’s 2-2 draw with Hibs in September, it was younger brother Ewan who got the nod.
His desire to do extra in the hopes of making the grade at Celtic was rewarded by Rodgers giving him a handful of games last season, including European experience away to Borussia Monchengladbach.
Rodgers said after one game, where Henderson had completed the full 90 minutes, that he had “the personality that you need to play for a club like Celtic”.
But the midfielder only featured once more that season – a 12-minute run-out as a sub. It’s hard to see him getting much more of a chance this season, with six or seven midfielders ahead of him. Fifteen-minute cameos every couple of months are of little use to a 21-year-old who needs to play every week.
Bari are keen to bring him in as they push for promotion to Serie A. There was rumoured interest from English Championship clubs in the summer and many Hibs supporters would take him back in a heartbeat. He impressed at Easter Road and wrote himself into folklore with his contribution in the cup final.
But there must be a worry that, were Henderson to return to Hibs, the pressure on him to perform could be a big ask for someone who’s barely kicked a ball in the last six months. He’d also be up against a higher calibre of opponent every week, now that Hibs are back in the top flight.
Henderson said last season that he had “no doubt in my mind that Celtic is the best place for me”. He has spoken highly of working under Rodgers, and earlier this year said that he needs to keep working away to get his chance. But as a succession of youngsters are named ahead of him, it’s hard not to feel that, for Scottish football’s sake as well as his own, Henderson may need to consider whether Celtic really is the best place for him at this point in his career.