When Everton snapped up talented young Belgian winger David Henen in 2014 they did so after a mad scramble for his services over the past two years.
The impressive Belgian youth international had already been on loan at Monaco and been heavily linked with Manchester United at just 15-years-old.
His move to Everton was not straightforward. He signed for Greek side Olympiakos on deadline day in 2014 despite having trained with Everton in the weeks leading up to the Greek switch. Henen was then immediately loaned to Everton for the season.
Roberto Martinez immediately had plans on eventually having Henen graduate to the first-team and after his loan deal ended Everton paid a reported (ESPN) £200,000 to bring him in permanently from the Greek side.
“As we had said previously he’s someone whose potential we recognise and at this stage he will go into the under-21 development squad,” said the manager Roberto Martínez. “We’re looking forward to working with him this season.”
Strong and fast, the wide man or central striker immediately garnered comparisons to then Everton stars Romelu Lukaku and Kevin Mirallas, owing to his nationality and ability to play a variety of attacking positions.
Unfortunately, he never joined his countrymen in the Everton first-team.
Instead, Henen played exclusively for Everton’s under-23s. In his 55 games with the Everton youngsters, he managed 11 goals, most of them coming from the left-wing in his first season at the club.
A loan spell at Fleetwood Town had mixed results and Henen left Finch Farm in 2018. As reported by the Liverpool ECHO, Everton planned to let Henen leave on a free transfer and replace him with George Hirst of Sheffield Wednesday. They missed out, with the England youth striker and son of Owls legend David Hirst joining Belgian side OH Leuven as a Leicester City stop-gap instead.
The writing had been on the wall. Speaking to La Meuse (h/t Sport Witness) in 2017, Henen was quoted as saying he was left ‘furious’ at not being allowed a loan move away from the club. He later denied the severity of his comments, suggesting he was merely disappointed not to be playing first-team football and had cleared the air with Everton after positive talks.
For Henen, it seems the managerial upheaval at Everton did not help his cause. Speaking to Sport/Foot in 2018, he suggested that under both Martinez and Ronald Koeman he felt in with a chance of first-team football. That all changed when Sam Allardyce was appointed.
“I lost my dreams then,” Henen said. “His results weren’t bad because Everton ended eighth under him, but he was kick and rush and didn’t want to hear about the youngsters.”
It was time to move on.
“I’d already lost enough time,” Henen stated. “Those in charge knew I shouldn’t be in the reserves, but they asked me to be patient. I was just a number to them.”
Henen headed back to Belgium, joining Sporting Charleroi and cementing a place as a regular first-team member for the past two seasons. After dropping down the pecking order, Henen headed to France to join Ligue 2 side Grenoble Foot in October and is currently helping them forge a promotion campaign.
“I was able to discuss with the General Manager and the coach and I had this impression of a family club which has great ambitions as its start to the season shows,” Henen stated when joining the club. “I am very happy to arrive at GF38.”
Henen, who now plays senior international football for Togo, was another of Everton’s recruits under the Martinez era who found their potential passage to the first-team waylaid by upheaval at the club.
The 24-year-old was always full of praise and respect for the club’s traditions when talking to fans on Twitter. Simply put, things just did not work out the way they had been planned for Henen at Goodison Park.
But as he once put so succinctly in a typically upbeat Twitter post, once a blue, always a blue.