Ever since his breakthrough into the first team during the 2011/12 season, Derby’s Jeff Hendrick has always threatened to reach the heights first predicted for him by those who witnessed his rise through the club’s academy. However, at 24 years old, it may only be now that he is beginning to show the quality he’s always had, having endured seasons of inconsistency and mediocrity. His performances for Ireland at the Euros have shown his quality on an international stage and it has now alerted other clubs to his ability, with those clubs now circling like vultures around the young Irishman.
Prior to the last few months, Hendrick was having another inconsistent season with the Rams, floating in and out of the team only impressing here and there without really finding his feet in Derby’s midfield. With unprecedented competition in midfield in the form of Craig Bryson, Will Hughes, Jamie Hanson and George Thorne – all already at Derby – along with newcomers Bradley Johnson and Jacob Butterfield, Hendrick should really have flourished and stepped up to the mark to hold a spot in the team. However, he once again found consistency lacking, being unstoppable in some matches to completely vanishing during others.
Towards the end of the season, he did find some form, putting in a spectacularly good performance in the 2-0 victory away at Hull City in the play-off semi-finals, particularly given that he was playing in defensive midfield – a position new to him. He carried this form on into the Euro tournament, commanding the Irish midfield in the 1-1 draw with Sweden and the impressive 1-0 victory over Italy. It therefore comes as no surprise that Derby have now received the first of possibly many bids for Hendrick, in the form of a £3.5m offer from Burnley, which was swiftly rejected by the East Midlands club.
As can be expected, the bid was seen as completely insulting by many Rams fans, who reacted in an unusually united approach, essentially telling Burnley to ‘go away’, in less than polite terms. Though this has now raised the question, how much is Hendrick really worth to Derby?
Given the plethora of options in Derby’s midfield, would losing Hendrick be such a disaster to the Rams? It seems unlikely that manager Nigel Pearson will be able to accommodate all of his midfielders whilst keeping the balance in the team and keeping those players happy, so it could be seen as an opportunity to cash in on a player who has found consistency hard to come by in recent seasons.
In today’s market, £3.5 million is certainly far to small an amount for Derby to accept for Hendrick – particularly when Burnley themselves want £15m-£20m for defender Michael Keane. It is too early to tell whether Derby’s rejection of the bid is an attempt to hold out for a higher sum or a flat ‘no sale’ response, but what is certain is that the Rams no longer need to sell players to balance their books as they may well have done five years ago. It has become an almost yearly occurrence to have Chief Executive Sam Rush trot out the words “we are not in a position where we need to sell” – comforting words indeed to Rams fans that are still angry about the sale of a young Tom Huddlestone to Tottenham for a measly £2 million in 2005.
Despite his inconsistency, this summer could be the turning point in Hendrick’s career, Derby may heavily regret letting go a player that could go on and become a real talent in the Premiership in the coming years. He is coming into his prime as a midfielder and has massively impressed on the international stage, to offload such a player now would be suicide if the former St Kevin’s Boys youth goes on to achieve everything he could do.
Surely Hendrick deserves a chance to improve himself under Pearson and solidify his place in the Derby team, unless a ridiculous bid comes in – which most fans would agree is anything over £15 million. He could become even more important to the Rams if they fail to hold on to Will Hughes who is being courted by Jose Mourinho and Manchester United.
Losing two quality academy products in one summer would be a hard one to justify to fans, unless the money was unbelievably stupid for them. Derby cannot afford to lose both of them, but it maybe easier to keep hold of Hendrick, given how much press Hughes has received regarding transfers over the last few years.
From an off the field point of view, however, Derby may want to accept the highest bid they can get if a team is prepared to take on the burden of Hendrick facing criminal charges for assault in Dublin – news which came as a surprise to anybody who has seen the Irishman on the pitch, given he is usually relatively calm and sensible. If this is one example of what Hendrick may do, is it worth Derby hanging onto him if he receives serious sentencing? If faced with jail time, his career will be halted in its tracks and he may never regain the form he has just started to show. It would be a huge risk to sell based on that alone, but its equally dangerous to have to deal with such an eventuality.
Ignoring the off-field issues, Hendrick may really become a key player in Derby’s next promotion push under Nigel Pearson. Having learnt much from his international experiences, playing with and against some of Europe’s most experienced and talented players, Hendrick may be about to unleash his true potential onto the world and finally prove himself to those who doubted him. It seems it would be wise for Derby to let the 24-year-old shine and give him his chance to succeed at the iPro, something which seems like it could well happen in the coming months.
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