BY RICHARD CAWLEY
Aaron Henry has set his sights on producing a statement season for Charlton Athletic after committing his future earlier this week.
The former England U16 international, who turns 20 in August, has signed a new two-year contract.
Henry’s previous terms were due to expire this summer although if he had chosen to move on then the Addicks would have been entitled to compensation.
But the midfielder, who was on Arsenal’s books before being released at the age of eight, is confident that the SE7 outfit can help him realise his potential.
Henry made 21 appearances in all competitions last season – including a stunning strike in the EFL Cup win over QPR in August.
He had more first-team involvement after Dean Holden replaced Ben Garner as Charlton boss in December.
“If I look at the season as a whole I had some really good moments,” Henry told the South London Press. “I got the goals against QPR and Gillingham (in the EFL Trophy). I had moments off the bench, I came on against Barnsley and did well. I got an assist against Shrewsbury.
“There is still so much more to come from me.
“This season I really need to kick on and stake my claim – show what I really can do. The fans have only really seen a snippet of what I can do.
“Dean coming in has been really, really good for me. I was almost out of the picture a little bit before that and trying to look at getting a loan again for games. He got me involved straight away. It was a big positive.
“The plan he has got for me over the next two years is really exciting. I really trust him and feel I can take my game to another level with him as my manager. That was probably the biggest thing (that persuaded him to re-sign).
“He told me about two months before the end of the season that they were going to offer me a new contract.
“I featured a lot but didn’t play as much as I’d have liked to, and the gaffer knows that. We’ve had really good conversations about that – he’s really easy to go and talk to. He’s probably the best man-manager I have worked with.
“It was a big relief to be told the club want to keep me when you’ve been in and out of the team. I’m at an age where I need to play games.
“You look at other players who weren’t offered anything and they are great players too, so it’s a proud moment when you consider that scenario.”
Holden has talked about an ‘open-door policy’ in terms of any members of his squad being able to come and speak to him, at any time.
“He’s been brilliant with that – Ben was easy to talk to as well,” said Henry. “When you’re not around it as much (the first-team side) then to have those conversations, you don’t sometimes feel comfortable, as a young player, to have them.
“But since this manager has come in and I’ve been around the first-team all the time – he really involved me with the group – it becomes easier to have those conversations.
“He’s been brilliant with those, not just on the football side but things in personal lives, not just me but all players. He uses great examples from the life he has had. I know it’s something me and all the lads appreciate.”
Henry spent the second half of the 2021-22 campaign on loan at Wealdstone, featuring 20 times.
He started two of the final three League One matches for Charlton with club captain George Dobson not risked on the final day at Cheltenham Town as he would have been hit with a three-game ban if he had collected a 15th booking.
“It is tough because George plays a very similar position to me, that sort of sitting role, and he’s been brilliant for Charlton for the last couple of years,” said Henry.
“He’s probably been our most consistent performer since he’s been at the club.
“It’s good to learn from him. His biggest strengths are things I can add to my game. We play the same position but we’re also two very different players.
“I’ve got to try and push him as much as possible. I want to repay the gaffer for the trust he has put into me.”
Did Henry expect his last campaign to kick on after his rocket of a finish against Rangers?
“Around that time we had a few cup games and I had a really good game against Gillingham, around my birthday, when I scored,” he said. “And then the goal against QPR. I was performing really well and I was really happy with where I was at.
“But maybe at that time I wasn’t doing well enough, in Ben’s eyes, or maybe there wasn’t a clear enough path with so many midfielders at the time. I thought that (QPR) probably would be the moment for me to kick on. I definitely got my first league appearance off the back of that, I came off the bench against Cambridge. I did have some involvement but it filtered out, I was back with the U23s getting minutes.
“Sometimes you can almost get lost in that transition period. It can be really difficult. The conversations I’ve had with members of staff and ex-players, they’ve told me it was probably the most difficult stages of their careers too. As a young player you feel you are ready to make an impact but the manager sees it differently.
“All I’ve got to do is believe in myself and when the opportunities do come, try and take them as best as possible.”
Henry got eight minutes, plus stoppage time, in Charlton’s EFL Cup defeat at Manchester United.
“I was very eager to come on and play on a stage like that,” he said. “It’s another example of the gaffer, with his man-management, he was so positive with me before I went on – how I deserved it and where he saw my career going, with the ability I have.
“It was a real big moment. It highlighted even more how I could trust the gaffer – he chose to put me on ahead of other players. It was another moment where I thought ‘this manager could be really, really good for me’.”
MAIN PICTURE: KEITH GILLARD
Subscribe to Blog via Email
Everyone at the South London Press thanks you for your continued support.
Former Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick has encouraged everyone in the country who can afford to do so to buy a newspaper, and told the Downing Street press briefing:
“A free country needs a free press, and the newspapers of our country are under significant financial pressure”.
If you can afford to do so, we would be so grateful if you can make a donation which will allow us to continue to bring stories to you, both in print and online. Or, please make cheques payable to “MSI Media Limited” and send by post to South London Press, Unit 112, 160 Bromley Road, Catford, London SE6 2NZ