Last week, Graeme McKay travelled to Italy to interview Liam Henderson exclusively for 90 Minute Cynic. The full interview is available as a podcast on the 90 Minute Cynic channels:
This is an edited version of that interview and in this second part Liam talks about his time in Italy, including playing under Fabio Grosso, the difference in playing style and what it is like to live in Italy. He also discuss the relationship with his two brothers, what it would be like to play together with wee brother Ewan and his Scotland ambitions. Oh, and the Irn Bru sugar reduction.
90MC: How did the move to Bari come about?
Liam: I’m not 100 per cent sure, I think the Sporting Director at the time, Sean Sogliano, again a top, top guy, he used to watch games outside Italy, cos there was a few foreigners that came in at the same time as me, a boy from Holland, a boy from Slovenia, so he had obviously done his homework so to speak and they got in touch with my agent and I was all for it straight away. I had a couple of doubts when it was actually over the line, but after being here and living and experiencing it, and getting over the first bit of being on my own, it’s a great life.
90MC: What did Italian football mean to you beforehand?
Liam: It was AC Milan when I was growing up, the Kaka team, Pirlo, Seedorf and that. The Italians love football, they are always at the World Cup minus the one just there. It’s a football fanatic country. They love it. The fans are still like the old school fans where they go to football for the football, it’s not a tourist attraction. It’s quality. They sing for 90 minutes like Celtic. The same in Scotland, in my opinion.
90MC: At the weekend there you were playing Perugia and you scored a belter. Are you having fun here?
Liam: I’m enjoying it. It’s completely different to football back home, but it’s great and I’m loving every minute of it. I’ve got great teammates and I’ve got a great coach.
90MC: What about Verona the city itself?
Liam: It’s a wonderful city, aye, it’s really beautiful. I’d say it’s one of the most beautiful I’ve been to. My family enjoy coming to visit, also my girlfriend. It’s a lovely city, it’s a really nice lifestyle.
90MC: Aye, do I want to live on the Italian coast or stay in Broxburn?
Liam: Haha tough decision, aye.
90MC: You’re part of a wave of British youngsters that are moving to foreign leagues, why do you think that’s happening at the moment?
Liam: The opportunities you can get abroad, they enjoy young players playing, they enjoy the UK mentality, the Scottish mentality, working, first and foremost work hard, win your battles, tackling. I think they like that. It’s something different.
90MC: I have seen you referred to as ‘the Braveheart’…
Liam: Aye, haha, but anybody that’s Scottish who comes is immediately going to get the Braveheart shout cos it’s the most famous Scottish film, but its only good and the more Scottish players that can get abroad and play…the boy Bates at Hamburg is going unbelievable. The more Scottish players that can get abroad and learn a different side of the game, the cuteness and the tactical side, not conning the referee, but being able to see out games and use intelligence, the foreigners are all cute and will do anything to win, and the more Scottish boys moving abroad will only benefit the national team.
90MC: So now as a Hellas Verona player is there anything you do now that you took from that first experience (of moving abroad) in Norway?
Liam: Aye, I think moving away from home is the biggest part because as you see there’s not many players from the UK playing abroad, there’s very, very little. And I do think that’s the one to overcome. It’s going out your comfort zone, being on your own is the most difficult part. I have got five very close friends back home that I went to school with and have been friends with me for as long as I can remember, and I have my girlfriend and my family and they come visit as much as they can, but I think it’s just getting past that original stage of being on your own.
But once you’re past that – here we’ve got boys in the team from South America, Korea, all over the world and you get to become friends with them. I have learned so many things about different people and different cultures and it’s great. I came here for the football first and foremost, but the way I’m learning about life. It can only stand me in good stead for the future.
90MC: When we came to this café you ordered in Italian. Gareth Bale has recently been criticised for failing to acclimatise to Spain, like he doesn’t know the language, sits and watches golf on his own, which is his prerogative, but what about you, are you all in on Italian culture?
Liam: I am, aye. I got a cappuccino cos I had an espresso after lunch so I don’t want to be up all night! The other day I did my first interview in Italian after the Perugia game so I do think it’s important that you need to indulge yourself in the culture. The other night when I did the interview it may not have been grammatically correct, but I think it goes a long way with people, they can see you make an attempt, they can see that you want to integrate yourself with learning the language and stuff, so I do think it’s important. But the language comes. I’ve had a few lessons, but not that many cos in the dressing room it’s just Italian that’s spoken. I’m hearing it every single day.
90MC: Your training centre here is next to Lake Garda, are you enjoying that aspect of the life as well?
Liam: Aye, especially when you have a day off and my family or my girlfriend are over its lovely to come out for a coffee and sit in the sun, the weather is usually beautiful, it’s nice and relaxing. When you are not playing and want to get away from it it’s good to just come and clear the head. It’s a really lovely place to live.
90MC: Is there anything that annoys you here?
Liam: They are never on time, that’s the one thing about Italians…
90MC: How long are we talking here?
Liam: There’s just never a rush for anything. And I think I have implemented that into my life since being here. What is the point in rushing? But here it’s another level. When they get here, they get here. I kinda like that aspect now. I like to be on time for training, but outside of football it’s a bit more relaxed. Everyone is nice and calm
90MC: What do you miss about Scotland?
Liam: Family first and foremost, I’m really close with my brothers. And girlfriend of course, but they get out to visit a lot. And Irn Bru…
90MC: What do you think of the sugar reduction?
Liam: Shambles. You would pay 8p more for the sugar tax for the original. Just add it on.
90MC: What do you tend to do in your spare time?
Liam: I socialise with a few of the team mates, there’s a whole load of different nationalities so we like to socialise, go for coffee or just sit and chat, last night I was at one of the boys watching the football. The social side is great. I’m never really alone cos there is always someone else who is on their own… we go for dinner, play FIFA. Its great cos I’ve learned so much about other peoples’ lives and other cultures.
90MC: What is Fabio Grosso like as a coach? How does he compare? Does he often show you the World Cup medal?
Liam: Ha, no, no. For someone that has achieved so much in the game and played at the level he has played at he’s the most humble, nicest man I have met in football. He’s an incredible person first and foremost and that’s something I took to straight away. When I first came to Italy he made an attempt to speak to me in English, so straight away you’re thinking ‘this guy cares about me as a person.’ He speaks Italian, fluent French cos he played at Lyon and he says he wants to practice English with me. He’s great, tactically, technically, everything. He’s going to be, in my opinion, one of the top, top coaches in world football.
90MC: Does he know about Celtic needing a permanent manager?
Liam: Ha, maybe. If he went to Celtic, that would be good for me!
90MC: When Bari went into financial meltdown Grosso left the club, went to Verona and took you with him. How did that feel?
Liam: Great. There were a few options I had in the summer, but when the manager called me here there was nowhere else I wanted to go, I wanted to come and play for him again cos he’s a great person, humble person and I have learnt so much from him in such a short space of time, so long may that continue.
90MC: In the book ‘A Season with Verona’ the Hellas fans come across as being a wee bit mental. Fan culture in Italy and in Scotland is under the microscope at the moment, how does it compare between the two countries? Do you feel pressure from it?
Liam: No, not really. I love it, I genuinely love all fans I have come up against in Italy, they’re ledge. If you are going through a bad spell, the ultras will stand and speak to you. I remember we were playing Foggia with Bari, it was a derby and I was suspended, I got five yellow cards in the space of like five games, it was a shambles my fifth booking.
But I remember before we went to Foggia (with Bari) the ultras came to the training. Before your training you go and applaud them and they have got the flares and that… at training! It was incredible. After the training they came and spoke to us and we stood listening to this main guy talking about the derby and how important it was to the city and that if they saw us running and fighting and seeing that we really wanted it, then there’s no problem, but if they don’t see that, then there will be a problem. But for me I was wishing I could play cos after that I was so pumped and that was two days before the actual game. The ultras here are class, I love it.
90MC: What is the difference in the week build up to a game here than at Celtic? Is it tactically different?
Liam: Aye well the Italians are known for their tactics so there is a lot more tactics, but overall its very similar. We get information on everything, it’s really thorough. It makes you think about the game more. I think about the game more since coming here, especially defensively cos when I was playing with Celtic and Hibs I didn’t really have to defend it was attacking all the time, but here I have developed my game defensively.
90MC: Do you think your game is more suited to Italian football? And what kinda player are you now?
Liam: I would say so, aye. I have always wanted to play abroad. I would say I’m more box to box here, doing the defensive work and get in the box, up down, up down, up down, work for my team mates and if I can pop up with a goal or an assist that’s what my role in the team is.
90MC: What kinda player did you model yourself on?
Liam: Ha, well this is not going to be a big hit with the Celtic fans, but I’m not going to change cos I have said it many interviews, but it was Gerrard. When he played with Liverpool he could win games on his own with that drive and I would say Broony has the similar effect on Celtic as Gerrard had on Liverpool, just that talisman that can always rise to the big occasion. I enjoyed watching football when I was younger, Italian, German, French, Spanish, just all sorts, but I would say Gerrard was my idol.
90MC: Ok. Idol is a bit strong, but ok.
Liam: Along with my dad, of course.
90MC: Anytime you do something special it is all over Celtic social media, how does that make you feel?
Liam: Tremendous. They are paying attention to what I’m doing and it’s great to still have that relationship. I was back at the weekend for the Aberdeen game and talking to the fans outside the stadium and that. They are a special support and once you have played for Celtic I think you are always a part of that family. I have not got a bad word to say about Celtic fans at all.
90MC: Scotland has all of a sudden got a pretty decent midfield, what are your ambitions when it comes to the Scotland team?
Liam: Get picked for Scotland, aye. 100 per cent. I want to be playing with Scotland, desperate. I would walk back from here to play with Scotland. I just need to keep doing what I’m doing and keep my head down…
90MC: Do you feel like there’s eyes on you?
Liam: I dunno, I dunno… it’s not really something for me to worry about. The only thing I can worry about is myself and helping Verona first and foremost to achieve what we want to achieve. I just want to keep working hard and keep doing what I’m doing. I’m never going to change the way I play no matter where I am. If I get called up for Scotland, it would be a huge honour.
90MC: ‘Wee Hendo’s class, man.’ A quote from Kieran Tierney…
Liam: So proud, so, so proud of him. I’m proud of both my brothers, my middle brother Jamie is at Napier Uni studying Sports Science, he’s the rock for me and Ewan. You can go to him with anything, he’s the most supportive, the best person in the world. I’m so proud for Ewan, but watching him play I’m nervous. Oh my word, I’m nervous. I’m not even that nervous for when I play. I can only imagine how my mum and dad feel. I’m immensely proud.
90MC: How good do you think he can be?
Liam: Top, top level. He’s got it all. I don’t want to be biased or anything cos he’s my brother, but I think he’s got a right good chance and he’s got the right people around him at the club. He’s got the right team mates to keep him focused on what he has to achieve. Think he has got a right good chance.
90MC: Any chance of a Ewan/Liam Celtic midfield at some point?
Liam: That would be wonderful. Absolutely wonderful
90MC: Grosso as head coach?
Liam: Ha, aye. You never know… you never know where we could end up together, Scotland…I played with him in a couple of development squad games, which was great. But to play with him would be unbelievable. Frightening.
90MC: How you feeling about the end of the season with Verona with Serie A being so close? And how much would getting to Serie A mean to you?
Liam: It’s exciting. That’s what you play football for. Hopefully fingers crossed we can keep a nice run going and keep on the tails of the two. It would be incredible (to get promotion to Serie A). I mean it’s one of the top five leagues in the world. Would be incredible with the likes of the teams that are in Serie A. But I’m focused on the next eight or nine games and if we can get that I will have all summer to think about Serie A.
90MC: Ok thank you Liam, you have taken over an hour out of your time to show me round Lake Garda a little bit and speak to me, very much appreciated.
Liam: No problem, no problem at all. Thank you very much for coming and doing it.
The pictures of Liam and of Lake Garda for this interview was taken by Kristin Zöcklein – visit her blog Fraeulein Zeebra