In our weekly Scout feature, Daniel Roberts takes a detailed look at a new emerging talent from world football. The latest edition focuses on Walsall and England Under-19 defender, Rico Henry.
Dubbed the next Ashley Cole, Rico Henry’s performances this season have drawn the attention of a number of Premier League sides.
The Birmingham-born left-back first joined Walsall at the age of 11, and just five years later made his first senior appearance for the club during a pre-season friendly against Leeds United.
A year later, Henry signed his first professional contract at the age of 17. Heading into the 2014/15 season high on confidence with his first contract, he waited until December to make his club debut in the St Johnstone’s Paint Trophy semi-final tie against Tranmere Rovers. Four days later, Henry made his league debut, starting in the Saddlers’ 3-1 victory against Barnsley.
The following season, the full-back became a regular in the side, stringing together a number of impressive and consistent performances. He was quickly applauded for his exciting start to the campaign, earning the Football League One’s Young Player of the Month award for September.
Lauded for his defensive abilities, Henry compliments those with an impressive attacking input for his side, with his former manager Dean Smith declaring: “He’s got a good engine and pace, he can get up and down the pitch and he’s got two goals already this season which is very good for a left-back.”
Not only does the youngster offer width down the left flank, he certainly has an eye for goal, and started the 2015/16 season in impressive scoring form.
In August’s League Cup tie against then-Championship table-toppers Brighton and Hove Albion, Henry scored his first career goal, before doubling his goal tally a month later, scoring his first league goal against Scunthorpe, securing his side the three points in a 1-0 victory.
At just the tender age of 18, the prospect is rightly receiving a number of plaudits for his fine distribution, bursting runs and calmness on the pitch.
Internationally, the Englishman has so far only represented the Under-19s – but expect him to progress through the ranks to play for both the Under-21s and full national side.
What the experts say
Walsall midfielder Adam Chambers: “He is good defensively but he is also very good going forward – he is the whole package.”
Former Walsall manager Dean Smith: “If I were to liken him to anyone it would be a young Ashley Cole. I’ve recommended him a couple of times to the England Under-19s because, if there’s a better left-sided player in the country at 18 years of age, I’d like to see them.”
Where does his future lie?
Premier League big boys Manchester City, Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham have all been reported to have an interest in the England Under-19 international, with Spurs said to be in pole position for his signature.
Although the London side have yet to make an offer for the youngster, it is expected that Mauricio Pochettino and Spurs will test Walsall’s resolve during this month’s transfer window.
Walsall manager Dean Smith has indicated that the Midlands club could be persuaded to sell the young talent if the price was right.
“Every player has a price don’t they? We all know that,” he said. “But it would take a very big offer and I’m not sure he’d want to go, at the moment, as well.
“Despite all the clubs linked, nobody has approached the football club. He wants to keep developing and playing in first-team football games.
“He has got to keep progressing and developing and doing what he’s doing.”
By Daniel Roberts, @djroberts22