Things didn’t work out for Jack Hendry at Celtic and he was promptly sent out on loan to Belgian minnows KV Oostende. However, he and his teammates are now making huge strides to transform the club from perpetual relegation contenders to European qualifiers. So big a shock is Oostende’s turnaround that the BBC likened the situation to Hamilton Accies reaching the Champions League!
To reach Europe’s premier competition, Oostende will need to finish runners-up. It seemed impossible at the start of the season but is now very much on the agenda. Hendry has played a big part in this campaign and has scored a couple of important goals too. This is pleasing for the player, who originally went to Melbourne City but had his loan spell cut short after two games when he suffered a cruciate ligament injury.
Speaking to BBC Scotland about his performances in Belgium, Hendry said: “I needed to hit the reset button. Going to Australia was an opportunity to get away from everything, get my confidence back, get back playing. Then I picked up that bad injury.
“When I was out there, coronavirus started and I came back and had a few months to make myself into the best shape possible. I used that time to get one up on people who maybe weren’t working as hard.”
Hendry’s hard work paid off when a team from the Belgian league came calling.
“Oostende really wanted me. They finished low down the league last season but I felt I could have a good impact. Thankfully it is paying off.”
Going to the Belgian coast was a new challenge for Celtic’s young defender, especially considering that Oostende have never finished higher than fourth in the top flight. Meanwhile, they finished second bottom of the 16-team table last season.
Astonishingly, that form has been flipped as Oostende find themselves fourth – just two points adrift of Antwerp, who occupy the second Champions League place.
“Oostende are like a Hamilton back home – a club that’s lower down in the SPFL is comparable,” Hendry said. “It’s a small, local club with good people around it. That shows how big it would be if we got into that Champions League spot and achieved something hugely impressive.”
Such achievements have not gone unnoticed across Europe and Hendry hopes it resonates with Steve Clarke as the Scotland head coach formulates his squad for the Euros this summer.
Hendry won the last of of his three caps in October 2018, but with Scotland’s 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign kicking off with a triple-header this month, the centre back isn’t short of incentives.
“The first time I played for Scotland was my proudest moment and I’m desperate to put on that jersey again,” he added. “All I can do is maintain my standards to give the coach a difficult decision to make.
“Coming to Oostende, I’ve progressed as a player and person. I’ve really matured, grown up quite a lot. I’m playing against good opposition and international quality strikers every week.
“Scotland have been playing with the back three and I’ve been part of the same system system here. Playing in the middle, I can show my pace, power, and ability on the ball. If I was to get that Scotland call-up again it would really suit my style.”
Brendan Rodgers signed the player, but Neil Lennon never gave him an opportunity. Despite the fact that most fans shed no tears when he was sent to Australia and Belgium, Hendry was disappointed not to be given a chance to prove himself.
“It’s frustrating that I was never given the opportunity to show what I could do under Lennon,” Hendry said. “The way I’m performing, I could have a real good impact and it’s not been nice seeing the way the season has panned out for them (Celtic).”
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