Resilience is typically defined as the capacity to recover from difficult life events. A resilient individual is able to withstand adversity and bounce back and grow despite life’s downturns.
Rico Henry is resilience personified. Still only 24 years of age, the full-back has had to overcome no shortage of setbacks during his five years in TW8.
A dislocated shoulder shortly after signing for the Club in August 2016 was followed by a knee injury in May 2017. Four months later, Rico suffered a torn ACL that kept him out until November 2018. In total, he played just 39 of 152 games during his first three seasons in West London.
Pace is a key component for any modern full-back, and Rico was fearful that his ACL injury may have caused him to lose a yard. “I didn’t think I’d come back as good as I was,” Rico tells us on an overcast afternoon at Brentford Community Stadium. Supported by the Club’s medial team, and by his family who came down to London from the Midlands to help him through the initial stages of his rehabilitation, Rico returned stronger than ever. Since our 2019/20 season opener against Birmingham City, he’s made more than 90 appearances for Thomas Frank’s side.
The former Walsall man played an instrumental role in our promotion to the Premier League and, after a long and sometimes painful journey, looks to be thriving in the top flight of English football. There is no one more deserving of the opportunity.
The Premier League has been blessed with some quality left-backs. Who did you look up to during your younger years?
Ashley Cole is a player who I really liked, both from an attacking and defensive point of view. He was solid. When I got more serious – around the time that I started to play First Team football at Walsall - I’d watch left-backs specifically, rather than watching the whole game. I started to look at how they played and what I needed to work on to improve. Cole was one of the players who I watched closely.
We’ve heard conflicting stories! Which team did you support during your younger years?
My family were Villa fans. I went on trial there, didn’t get in and then they stopped supporting them! I watched Blues [Birmingham City] quite a lot. I like watching all of the games, to be fair. There are quite a few derby games in the Midlands – you’ve got Villa, Birmingham and Wolves – and the atmosphere is always crazy for those games.
It’s always special for me to head back home and play against those sides. I obviously want to beat them, though! I had 15 people come along to the Villa game! Everyone is local and they want to get to the game. My mum, dad, grandad and sister go to every match. My family being there gives me a bit extra; I want to win for them, too.
Familiar surroundings: Rico battles with Aston Villa’s Emi Buendía during our visit to the Midlands in August
You first stepped through the gates at Jersey Road in August 2016. Having spent five years of your life here now, how do you reflect on your journey so far?
It’s been a rollercoaster. We’ve changed stadiums, been promoted and basically have a whole new team from when I first joined. Sergi [Canós] is one of the longest-serving players as well. It’s been good. I’ve had some injury setbacks during my time here but I’m back now, feeling fit and playing regularly. It’s been a crazy, crazy journey. To be playing in the Premier League, in a new stadium, in front of the fans who have been amazing with me, is a good feeling. It feels like home now. I live close to the training ground, everyone is close. It’s a good group we’ve got.
When you first signed, did you honestly think you’d end up playing Premier League football with Brentford?
No! I thought it was a step from Walsall. I didn’t know we’d get to the Premier League until the last couple of years. It was during the season that we lost to Fulham in the Play-Off Final when I really started to believe we’d get there. To bounce back and get promotion after that disappointment was a really good achievement.
As I said, I feel at home here, so it’s so good to play in the Premier League with Brentford. We’re a good club and it’s great for the fans that they can watch us at this level. It’s brilliant for everybody, myself included.
We’re putting you on the spot here, but who’s the best player you’ve played alongside during your time in West London?
That’s a tough question! There are a few, but the obvious one is Saïd [Benrahma]. He’s a magician with his skills and the way that he plays. I’ll say Saïd, he’s the standout one I think, but I’ve played with so many good players here. He got on to me a couple of times when I didn’t pass him the ball, but he was enjoyable to play with!
Magician: With Saïd Benrahma
As a group, you look like you’re enjoying the defensive challenge more than ever this season. Is it fair to say there’s been a shift in mentality?
For sure. We have defensive meetings with Brian Riemer and he’s always telling us that we’ve got to enjoy the challenge; no turning away when you’re stopping shots or blocking crosses. Brian is a constant voice, it’s good to have him around as he’ll always give you a reminder that we need to defend with our lives. You’ve got to enjoy defending, then create chances from there.
What was your mindset coming into this season? You look like you’ve been playing at this level your whole career…
I knew it would be different. The intensity is a bit higher, but that’s something we’re getting used to. We’ve got to find our feet and enjoy the challenge. A lot of the wingers at this level are quick, but I’ve got pace too, so being able to match them up is a benefit for me. It’s good to play against quality players because you learn more. I’m really enjoying it but there are a lot more challenges to come.
Under pressure: Rico holds off Crystal Palace’s Wilfried Zaha
How have you found playing as part of a back five? Does having an additional centre-back alongside you give you more attacking license?
It’s tough – you still have to get back and track runners as well as create opportunities going forward – but I’m enjoying it. Ethan’s [Pinnock] good to play with. He doesn’t lack confidence, he’s got pace and I know he’s always going to be behind me – that gives me the chance to get up the pitch. I really enjoy playing with him and long may that continue.
As you mentioned earlier, you were initially hampered by injury at Brentford, making only 24 appearances during your first two seasons at the Club. Since the beginning of the 2019/20 campaign, however, you’ve been one of the first names on the teamsheet. How difficult were those first two years, and how have you been able to go from playing such little football to barely missing a game?
It was difficult, yeah. When I did my ACL, I was scared, I didn’t realise I’d be out for so long as I’d never had an injury like that. I was worried I wouldn’t get my pace back. I didn’t think I’d come back as good as I was. You have to keep believing during the journey. Once I got back on the pitch, I felt good. During the early stages of my recovery, when I was on crutches, my family stayed in London to help me. My mum would cook for me! Rice, peas and chicken!
The physios are always on to me about gym work; I had to be more robust because I was getting injured a lot. Neil Greig [Head of Medical] was always on about my strength. Getting in the gym really helped, I think. I feel good when I’m on the pitch now.
It feels like you’ve barely put a foot wrong over the past couple of seasons. How do you maintain such a high level of consistency?
Concentration levels are really important; you’ve got to stay focused. You’ve got to work hard, too, and that’s what I do. I always go into games with the attitude of giving everything to help the team. I do think my consistency is a strong point of my game.
Finally, looking ahead, what would a successful season look like for Rico Henry and Brentford Football Club?
Staying in the Premier League is obviously very important. From a personal point of view, I want to add more goals and assists to my game. I had the chance at Villa where I should have scored. I want to get on the scoresheet more regularly to help the team.
This interview was first published in our Match Programme. Missed an issue this season? Grab a copy online here.