Jack Hendry opens up on Oostende, Euro 2020 dream and gives Celtic return verdict

(Image: BELGA MAG/AFP via Getty Images)

There were some who expected him to fade quietly into obscurity, but Jack Hendry is confident he’s in with a shout of forcing his way into Steve Clarke’s plans for Euro 2020 as he continues make a noise in Belgium.

The centre-back’s dream move to Celtic didn’t go as planned, and after being sent out on loan to Australia he suffered a potentially career-ending knee injury. 

When he sealed another loan move to a destination most back home couldn’t spell never mind find on a map, Hendry could have been forgiven for thinking his international career was over after just three caps. 

Instead, he’s revived his career in Belgium, making an incredible impact on loan at Oostende after a difficult start to life at Parkhead. 

The 25-year-old rattled off three clean sheets and a 90th minute winner in his first four games, which led to manager Alexander Blessin calling him one of the best defenders in the Belgian topflight. 

And Hendry hopes his domestic form can translate onto the international stage next summer with Scotland as he reckons his game is tailor-made for Clarke’s favoured set-up with three at the back. 

Credit: Kenny Ramsay – The Sun Glasgow

He said:

“One of my ambitions for this season is to get back involved within the Scotland set-up and a dream of mine is to play at a major championship with Scotland. Hopefully, that can happen one day whether that be at this one or the next one. 

“It’s definitely something I’ll be pushing for as I’m playing in a similar formation here to what Scotland are playing at the moment. 

“I believe in my ability and believe I can play at that level. It’s out with my control who gets selected, but I’ll be trying my best to make it a hard decision when selection time comes.” 

Hendry understands why some players are hesitant to make a move abroad, but would thoroughly recommend any Scottish player to give it a go. 

He added:

“It’s a big step, especially for any younger lads who’re going to have to move away from their family and I suppose it’s a big risk compared to staying in your usual environment. 

“If you move abroad, you need to move out of your comfort zone and it may work or may not work, but I would certainly recommend to young Scottish players to come out and do it. I think you can improve your game. 

“My game’s improved since coming out here as I’m playing against some top opposition. If you look at the teams like Club Brugge, Standard Liege, Antwerp, and Genk, these are all brilliant clubs and you’re playing against multi-million-pound strikers every week.”

Belgium isn’t exactly the first destination that springs to mind for Scottish youngsters, but Hendry reckons the Premiership is a perfect testing ground.

He said:

“I thought it was an opportunity where I could come and play games. I went to Melbourne City and unfortunately got an injury, so when the transfer window came around, I wanted to be out playing games again as I hadn’t had a lot of game time beforehand. This is a fantastic opportunity to come and experience something, test myself again top European opposition and hopefully get myself back out there again. 

“The style out here is quite similar to Scotland as its very physical but at the same time you’re playing against better players as the attackers are very quick and skilful. The Belgian league is a lot more technical than the Premiership and the teams like to play a bit more football, so that certainly suits my style of defending a bit more.”

“I feel as if there are more quality teams here in Belgium. In Scotland you’ve got Celtic and Rangers in that bracket and then a couple of teams underneath that but I feel as if there is no poor team in the Belgian league and they’ve all got quality individuals who’re worth a lot of money. There are a lot of top players in Scotland, so it’s not the case of the SPL is poor, I just feel maybe that there are more quality teams in this league. 

“In my first day of training here in Belgium I picked up an injury and ever since I picked up the knee injury in Melbourne, I’ve had a few niggly ones, and have even played through a few. I’ve been working hard off the pitch in the gym to try get up to speed with the other lads as I didn’t really get a pre-season. It is very tough mentally when you’re away from home and these things happen but I’ve remained mentally strong and believe you will get the rewards for it.” 

Oostende have an option to make the move permanent for £1.75m at the end of the season, and based on Hendry’s form so far, you’d imagine that’s a shoo-in. But the centre-back isn’t closing the door on his parent club.

The Parkhead club currently find themselves in the middle of a defensive crisis, conceding 17 goals in their first five Europa League group stage games and Hendry could still theoretically be a Celtic player next season with a year left on his current deal. 

Asked if he has a future under Lennon, he said:

“I don’t know, I’m here for a year so there is still a bit of time before I would go back, if I did go back. It’s something you’d had to ask the gaffer. 

“Those things out with my control but all I need to do is continue to play well and at a good level and if I do then those things will take care of themselves. I need to perform on the pitch for those things to be talked about anyway.” 

Celtic find themselves 11 points behind title rivals Rangers with people questioning if Lennon is the right man for the job. 

But Hendry has backed his parent club to turn things around this season.

He added:   

“It’s unfortunate Celtic have picked up a few defeats recently, but I’m sure the boys in that set up will turn it around. I believe in them; they are all good players and from when I’ve been at the club, I couldn’t speak highly enough of them. They are all top European players and they’re just going through a bad moment just now. 

“They’ve won nine titles in a row, so they’ve deserved that, and they’ve broken some unbelievable records which haven’t been done in world football before. They’ve still got the main core of players there so I think if there was anyone to turn it around it would be that group of boys, so fingers crossed they can do it.”

Image: SNS Group

Hendry has received his fair share of criticism from Celtic fans and pundits as he struggled to settle at the club.

The 25-year-old admits it was a shock to the system, but he’s been able to learn how to handle it and doesn’t hold any ill feelings towards people voicing their opinions. 

He said:

“I suppose criticism is just part and parcel of football and when you play for such a big club like Celtic, you’re under the microscopes constantly. It’s just about learning to deal with it and becoming a better person at the end of it. 

“Obviously, there is a worldwide fan base at Celtic and they’ve got such high expectations and sometimes if you drop below that bar then you will come under the firing line. 

“It’s just something you’ve got to deal with when you play for a club like Celtic and everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but from a personal point of view I’ve got no harsh feelings towards anyone and they’re allowed to voice their opinion.”  

This article was first published on Glasgow Live and Sunday Mail.

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