ALAN Archibald quickly realised that Jack Hendry could go on and reach a high level in the professional game when he first saw him playing for the Partick Thistle Under-20 team as a gangly teenager seven years ago.

Hendry exuded confidence, had searing pace and was comfortable with the ball at his feet; Archibald had little hesitation in handing the raw youngster his debut in senior football and then giving him an extended run in the first team. 

Yet, the former Thistle manager never imagined that one day the centre half would be successfully shackling a Paris Saint-Germain forward line that comprised Kylian Mbappe, Lionel Messi and Neymar in the Champions League.

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Mbappe, Messi and Neymar is one of the most formidable attacks ever assembled - but Hendry helped Club Brugge nullify the threat they posed in their opening Group A game in the Jan Breydel Stadium on Wednesday evening and earn a 1-1 draw.

It was quite a night for a Glasgow-born player who moved to A-League outfit Melbourne City in Australia on loan in January last year because he was not getting any game time at Celtic

His old coach believes the 26-year-old’s meteoric rise is testament to his remarkable strength of character as much as his ability and hopes that other young Scottish footballers are inspired as a result.

“I don’t think we realised the heights that Jack would scale when he joined Thistle,” he said. “But we definitely saw something. We knew he had good qualities.

“He was certainly very, very confident in his own ability. He also had things that our defenders didn’t have – he could step out with the ball, was really quick and was really composed in possession. He just needed to improve his defending. He had everything else.

“He was a level-headed lad. But he didn’t lack self-belief. I wasn’t surprised that he coped with playing against Mbappe, Messi and Neymar at all. Jack always had an inner self-confidence, he really did. He has needed that to get where he has.”

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Hendry, who moved to Belgian champions Brugge in a £6m transfer from KV Oostende last month, is now a Scotland regular, featured at Euro 2020 and helped the national team to record an important 1-0 win over Austria in a Qatar 2022 qualifier in Vienna last month.

However, it has not been a smooth road to the top. He struggled to establish himself at Wigan Athletic after moving down to England in 2015 and was loaned out to Shrewsbury Town and Milton Keynes Dons. He returned to his homeland after two difficult years and joined Dundee.

He quickly caught the eye of then Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers at Dens Park and a £1.5m transfer followed. But his time at Parkhead did not go to plan. He made some costly errors and fell out of favour. He went to Melbourne last year and then, after recovering from a knee ligament injury that required surgery, Oostende.

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Archibald, who is now back at Firhill as assistant to Ian McCall, feels the Glasgow giants, who have struggled to field two top quality centre backs at times in the past couple of seasons, should have persevered with Hendry. He thinks Ange Postecoglou would relish having a defender with his attributes just now.  

“Jack has had his fair share of setbacks and he has shown great character to bounce back,” he said. “A lot of young Scottish boys don’t leave Scotland or Glasgow even. But Jack has never shirked a challenge. 

“He had to leave Celtic to get game time. Looking at it from the outside, I don’t think he got a fair crack of the whip there.

“When Brendan signed him he asked us about him. He loved his pace and the way he could recover. His one-to-one defending was very good. That is why he signed him.

“One thing Jack will always do is keep taking the ball and go and try and pass and play. But he made a couple of errors at Parkhead and continued making them over a couple of games. A lot of fans don’t forgive you for that. That is what happened.

“Then the next manager maybe came in and didn’t fancy him as much. The manager at Celtic just now would probably love him because that’s the way he likes to play – open and expansive. It was a sore one for Jack to leave. But it looks like it hasn’t affected him because he has gone on to better things.

“Yes, he made a few mistakes, but he has learnt from them. Mentally and physically, he has pushed on. He has gone on and revived his career and is playing for Scotland and for Brugge in the Champions League.”

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Archibald, a former centre half with Thistle and Dundee United himself, feels the season that Hendry spent at Oostende has helped him to become a more complete footballer.

“The big thing is he has cut out a lot of mistakes from his game,” he said. “When he played in our under-20s he made a lot of mistakes. He is now a modern day centre half. He is quick, really, really quick, good on the ball and can step out. He can play on the outside of a back three and in the middle.

“He has just learned to cut out the silly errors. He knows when to pass the ball now. He knows when to step in now. He doesn’t do it all the time. Because he is a really good footballer, he would keep driving out before and maybe end up getting caught out in the wrong areas of the pitch and giving away the odd goal. But he has cut that out of his game.”

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Archibald continued: “When he was at Thistle and wasn’t in the team, he thought he should be playing. Not out of arrogance, just because he was confident in his own ability.

“He has always had that confidence and he has needed it with everything he has had to overcome. Look where it has got him. It is a great story. It is such a rise to success, like the Andy Robertson story in many respects.

“Look at what he has had to do. He went out on loan to Shrewsbury and MK Dons and then signed for Dundee. Fast forward a few years and he has moved for millions and is playing in the Champions League against Paris Saint-Germain.

“It is a great lesson, a great example, for any young lad. It shows you can come back from any setback if you put your mind to it.”

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