Jack Hendry accolades say more about Belgian football than Celtic

By Euan Davidson

April 21, 2021

Celtic might feel like they missed out not having Jack Hendry in 20-21.

Because, as it turns out, he’s been the best player in the Belgian top-flight this season. Ranked above the likes of Junya Ito and Stef Peeters, it’s been a solid year for the Scotland defender.

Highly-rated Belgian football outlet Sport Voetbal awarded Hendry the honour today, in a watershed moment for the Scot’s career.

But would Jack Hendry actually make this Celtic side any better? Objectively, you could point at Belgium’s status on the UEFA league coefficient rankings and say “maybe”. The nation are, as it goes, two places above us in terms of European qualification and status.

Really, though, you could just as easily say “maybe it says more about Belgian football than it does about us”, and I think that’s the sensible take here. With no disrespect intended, it’s hard to argue that this is evidence of a seismic change in Hendry’s ability, but instead, that he’s been solid in a league that’s overrated.

Celtic have been stung more than once by the “lure” of the Jupiler Pro League this season. Filip Benkovic was snatched away from us by OH Leuven, while US talent Mark McKenzie was nabbed by Genk. McKenzie, it turns out, hasn’t exactly been a barnstorming success, making 5 starts to minimal acclaim. WhoScored? has rated him an underwhelming 6.44 for his efforts.

So far, so what?

Well, for all the Belgian top-flight is talked up as a factory for world-class talents, it actually flatters to deceive in that regard. And it’s for that reason that I worry we’re over-hyping a player we’d previously written off.

Jack Hendry in Belgium / (Photo by KURT DESPLENTER/BELGA MAG/AFP via Getty Images)

Jack Hendry does deserve praise, but Celtic needn’t build around him

For sure, it would be interesting to see with our own eyes, at Paradise, how much Jack Hendry has improved since his stint with KV Oostende.

A massively unheralded side, KVO have smashed every expectation they and anyone else would’ve had for them this season. They deserve massive praise, and Hendry’s role in their steadfast defence is, indeed, worthy of accoladates.

But doesn’t that in itself tell a story? Nobody expected much from Hendry’s side, and it’s the ‘surprise package’ nature of his team’s success that has probably influenced judges here, and rightly so, in fairness.

Are we, then, to believe that because Hendry starred during a fairytale season for KVO, he’s suddenly good enough for Celtic again? It’s hard to argue that being the case. And while the romance of football is what makes it special, it doesn’t say much for the league that a relegation candidate are looking to finish in the top 5. It just doesn’t.

That isn’t to go full “My Nan could score 60 goals in that league”, or to call them “farmers”. That kind of banal, reductive chat is a genuine issue in modern football, primarily because it’s annoying. However, I would argue some perspective is needed, nonetheless.

On the big stage for Scotland, problems persisted. Against Austria, he was caught ball-watching and there are still concerns over his concentration. From what we can see, he’s improved on the ball, and his range of passing remains tidy, but those weren’t the problems with Hendry.

At set-pieces, Scotland looked frail, and the communication between the back 3 against Austria left much to be desired. We were probably lucky to come out of that match relatively unscathed.

So, without being a party pooper, Hendry deserves acclaim for his success. He’s earned it, in a fantastic spell with a Belgian outfit few had projected much for.

But is he the answer to Celtic’s defensive woes? For my money, no.

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