Celtic kid Henderson wants to be fitter, faster & stronger

LIAM HENDERSON is a subscriber to the adage:

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The heads-up style of Liam Henderson is one of the midfielder's best assets
The heads-up style of Liam Henderson is one of the midfielder's best assets

If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

But that won't stop the Bhoy wonder from trying to do it better.

The Celtic rising star - who celebrated turning 18 a few weeks ago by helping the Hoops defend their Under-20s league title and climbing on to the podium to collect his SPFL Premiership title-winner's medal - acknowledges it will be tough to top this season when it all begins again in July.

He is, however, prepared to give it his very best shot.

Neil Lennon has thrown down the challenge to the kids at the club not just to make the breakthrough to his top team, but to become permanent fixtures.

Henderson is ready to take up this gauntlet.

"I definitely want to try to do that," he said in a brief, quiet moment as the dust settled on his debut season.

"I will probably just take a week off, then come back to batter pre-season and get fitter, faster and stronger. That's all I can do.

"I will do roughly the same as I did last summer, but maybe up it a little to try and get myself to the next level."

Having muscled his way into Lennon's first team to fight it out with the big boys in the top division, despite the obvious handicap of a physique which underlines his age, he is already aiming to add some more meat to his pencil-like frame.

His close season, which will begin when his involvement with Scotland's Under-19s ends, is already mapped out

"The sports science guys at the club will write me up a programme for when I'm away, and I will follow that," he explained with genuine enthusiasm.

"They have been brilliant in the way they have helped me so far, with the gym work and getting my speed up.

"I'll try to repay them by following their programme and, hopefully, become fitter and stronger."

He has more than punched his weight since stepping to the ring with the SPFL's bruisers.

Now the challenge is to bulk up without taking away from what has made him successful so far, in terms of movement, nimbleness, control and pace.

Henderson's feet are very much on the ground, but he reckons his head might still have a few more inches to rise from it.

He said: "I've maybe still got a couple more bits of growing to do. Hopefully, that will come.

"But it is all about my touch, and things like that, as well.

"I can't let that go. I need to keep working on my football skills and try to perfect them."

It's a refreshing outlook from someone who populates a world smitten with kids who, as soon as they have been given a chance of top-team football, fall into the trap of believing they are the finished article and that their journey is over.

For many, it is - because they hit a wall of complacency.

Henderson's upbringing - his dad Nicky, played for Partick Thistle, Falkirk, and a clutch of other clubs - plus the development structure at Celtic ensures he will not follow this route.

Even his plans for his summer break confirm he has not been dazzled by the bright lights of fame.

"I am going on holiday with my family, including my two little brothers, so that should be good," he explained.

The family unit is very important to him, and his parents have watched him realise a potential which was apparent from a very young age.

One of Henderson's best attributes is the fact he plays the game with his head up, not "seeing too much grass" as Bertie Auld describes the debilitating trait of looking down at feet and ball.

This allows the youngster to see the game properly, spot opportunities and find team-mates.

"I think that's always been there," he replied when asked if he had to be taught this style, or if it comes naturally.

"I've never really changed the way I play. I've played the same way since I was three years old.

"So, I don't think that is ever going to change."

Not that anyone would suggest it should. It is one of the qualities which has carried him a long way in a short time.

It has also got him into the first-team plans of Lennon, progress which he has taken in his elegant stride.

Of course, it's not just about ability. Temperament is equally as important.

Young boys can feel overawed entering the dressing room of such a successful club, but Henderson revealed Scott Brown and Co made the transition seamless.

"The first time I ever went away with the first- team squad, I really felt I was part of that group," he recalled.

"They are really welcoming and involve you in everything.

"They never leave you out of things. That helps you feel at ease.

"Jamesie [Forrest] knows what it is like to be a young player coming into that situation.

"He was one of the first to come over and put his arm round me to welcome me."

It is an unofficial mentoring role which Henderson hopes to be able to fulfil himself one day soon.

He said: "When you are that young player, it's great to have guys like Jamesie to help you.

"It would be great if I could do that for other young players stepping up.

"I'd like to think I can learn from what the older boys have done for me and use that experience to help others.

"I have been fortunate to make the breakthrough this season, and I am very grateful for that.

"But we have a whole squad of talented players at Under-20s level who could make the breakthrough."

Football

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