"During the Liverpool game, a clearance came out and I was against [Mohamed] Salah. We were running side by side and I managed to get there ahead of him.

“After the game, some of the Liverpool players came up to me and said, ‘You’re quick! You’re quicker than Salah!’

“I just replied, ‘Yeah, of course…’”

There’s a reason why Rico Henry has so much confidence in his own athletic ability.

Whether it be sprinting back to stop Salah from scoring at the Gtech Community Stadium or accelerating past an opponent who has a five-yard head start on him, the defender’s quick-thinking and even quicker legs have clearly impressed not just his Premier League colleagues, but almost anyone who watches him.

His Roadrunner-esque dash doesn’t just look quick - the numbers demonstrate that once the 25-year-old has gone, you’ll struggle to catch him.

Henry’s top recorded speed of 37km/h, according to data from the Premier League in the three-and-a-half seasons since the stats began to be logged, puts him on a similar level to the quickest players in the top flight, including Salah, Adama Traore and Mykhailo Mudryk.

And being fast is something that Henry has always been able to count on.

“At school, I used to do all the running - short distance, 100m, 200m, long distance and 1,500m,” he begins.

“I’ve even got the cross-country record. I don't know if it’s still valid, but when I left school I still had it.”

Henry went from racing past his school mates at sports day to terrorising League One defences with his pace, as he began his professional career at Walsall at the age of 17, before a move to Brentford in 2016.

But it was far from a fast start to his career in west London, after he suffered shoulder and knee injuries in his first season at the club, before tearing his ACL at the beginning of his second campaign with the Bees - something he feared would slow him down.

"When I did my ACL, I thought I was going to lose my pace because I was out for so long. I was out for about a year,” Henry says.

“Not running for a whole year, I just didn’t know if I’d be able to run like that again, especially because I was so quick before that.

“But just slowly building up when I came back, I felt good, but it was a lot of hard work – running and gym with the physios.”

It’s evident that Henry didn’t lose any of his searing pace after a knee injury which kept him out of action for 10 months.

If anything, it made him physically and mentally stronger, which has resulted in the left-back becoming one of the Premier League’s most consistent defenders over the last two seasons.

In that time, Henry has gone head to head with some of the best wingers in the world, but not many of those have beaten him for speed - including the aforementioned Salah.

So, which player has given him the closest test when it comes to a foot race?

“[Adama] Traore was so quick off the mark, so he’d be up there,” Henry recalls.

“When I played against [Bright-Osayi] Samuel in the Championship when he was at QPR, he was quick - long strides, powerful - similar to Traore, the way he could accelerate.”

When asked about his toughest test since Brentford won promotion to the top flight, Henry mentions Traore again, adding: “The power he has is ridiculous. Not just when he’s running at you, it’s even from throw-ins and corners, he’ll pin you as well.

“He's got pace and strength and, when you put those two together, it's hard to deal with. He’s so direct as well, he just wants to get the ball and run at you.

“It was harder as well because he was oiled up with a tight top on - I couldn’t get hold of him!

“Playing against players like him is difficult, but I back myself - it’s a good test. Especially when he comes off the bench in like the 70th minute and your legs are gone!”

While Henry believes that he would finish in the “top five” of a Premier League 100m race, there was recently some discussion about whether he was even the quickest player at Brentford, after the loan addition of forward Kevin Schade in January.

The German, who is expected to join Brentford permanently from Freiburg in club-record deal this summer, registered the seventh-fastest speed (36.37 km/h) in Bundesliga history in the first half of Freiburg’s 3-1 win at home to Greuther Furth in October 2021.

But Henry did beat Schade in a recent short-distance sprinting session and would be keen to have a proper race with his team-mate, along with a couple of the other speedy players in the squad.

The defender recalls: "We had a race in the warm-up - you had to get around the cone and sprint forward and I managed to beat him. That's the only little race we've had, but Kevin's so quick off the mark.

“We haven’t had a proper race yet, but I think I’d have him. It would be a good race. Throw Bryan [Mbeumo] in there as well, maybe even Kris Ajer - he’s quick.”

When watching Henry for the first time, his speed, of course, catches the eye. But, when you watch him over a period of even just a few matches, it soon becomes abundantly clear that his pace makes up just a small fraction of his all-round game.

Playing against the division’s top wide-men has seen Henry develop into one of the best left-backs in the country.

Of English players in the top division, Henry ranks eighth for tackles won this season (41). Of the English full-backs, only Kieran Trippier (50), Ben White (45) and Tyrick Mitchell (44) have won more tackles.

When questioned where this season ranks in terms of the best in his career, he says: “It's up there, for sure. I’m still trying to stay consistent with my injuries. I've had little niggles so, if I can stay consistent with staying fit, I think it will be a top season for me.

“I still need to try and get more goals and assists, goal contributions, and continue to help out defensively.

“At the start of the season, the gaffer said that there are a lot of teams that have second-season syndrome, where teams will take their foot off the gas and think they’re used to the Premier League when they're not, and they end up getting relegated.

“The gaffer told us to keep our foot on the gas, keep progressing every day, and I think that's what we've been doing. We’ve been staying switched on, staying on top of everything, and everybody's just taking it game by game.”

Asked which parts of his own game have pleased him this season, Henry adds: “Playing against wingers, the top players, and keeping them as quiet as possible. I think I’ve done that well this season.

“It's good to play against players like that. You want to progress. But you have to stay switched on when playing against them because anything can happen at any time.

"I remember when I played against Liverpool the first time, the game was so intense. I remember switching off for literally a split second and Salah got in over the top… goal.

“After that game, I realised that I have to stay switched on.”

Enjoying this interview? Read other instalments in our Long Read series, including in-depth features with Mathias Jensen, Christian Norgaard and Kevin Schade

The 25-year-old has been involved in a Brentford defence that has kept clean sheets against Manchester United, Chelsea and Brighton and Hove Albion this season, but it’s not just what he’s done on the pitch that has helped him tackle the top teams and players - it’s also what he’s learnt off it.

Henry reveals: “I used to watch Premier League games all the time because that’s obviously where I wanted to be and that's where I aspired to be.

“So, I was watching games, watching all the top players - but playing against them is a different story compared to watching them on the TV!

“You definitely gain the experience when you play against them but, before that, you try to learn their game, what foot they prefer, and how to try and close them down.

"When you get to know who you’re playing against, even if it’s by watching on the TV, you know what certain players want to do. You learn all the time.”

He adds: “You’ve got to learn a bit about the player you’re up against. I watch clips with Kev [first-team assistant coach Kevin O’Connor] before games and work out what I can do to affect the game. That’ll mainly be what I do building up to a match.

“But I can still do more. I need to continue to focus on stopping crosses and stopping things happening at the back, but also going forward I still need to progress.

“Things like my final ball, my end product, my crossing, my finishing.”

Henry is aware that he needs to improve the number of goals and assists he gets and cites the numbers that Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold has been recording over the last few years as a target to aim for.

He netted three goals last season and has two assists this campaign, with his most recent goal contribution coming in a 3-0 win over Southampton - a cross for Mathias Jensen, which the midfielder headed home.

“I need to find Ivan [Toney] more, for sure,” he says. “Even other runners like Mathias against Southampton - just putting a quality ball into that sort of area.

“I need to get into those positions more. I think I probably need to put more crosses in as well. If you look at Trent, he’ll put like 10 crosses in, two of them will be great, and he’ll get an assist out of it.”

When it comes to scoring, Henry adds: “I got three goals last season but I’m still yet to score this season, so I need to keep pushing.

“I think it will come, I just need to keep arriving in the right areas, getting forward when crosses are coming in and probably take more shots!”

He continues: “Last season, arriving in the box is where I got my goals. When the ball is on the other side, you have to make the back stick. So, I think I've got to do that a lot more.

“The gaffer always talks about being on the last line, and that’s where I want to be when I'm playing in a back five, getting involved in those attacking phases.

“But this season we've switched to the back four and I can't necessarily make the back stick, but I can still be involved. I’ve got to try and get forward and make the box or the edge of the box, even if I am in a back four.”

Henry’s ability to perform so well on such a consistent basis is even more impressive when you consider that he has played as both a left-back and a left wing-back throughout the course of the campaign.

He explains the main differences between playing in a 4-3-3 and a 3-5-2 (the two most-used formations by Brentford boss Thomas Frank), and how his role changes in each system.

"It’s quite similar,” he says. “Playing in a back four, I think you have to use your brain a bit more positionally – defensively and offensively.

“Playing in a back five, there’s a lot more running involved. You have to get forward, make the back stick, and then track back and help out in defence as well.”

He adds: “I like playing as a wing-back, but I’m a bit more used to playing in a back four.

“Growing up I would play as a left-back, rather than a wing-back. Dean Smith [Henry’s former Walsall and Brentford manager] played a back five a few times, but Thomas Frank likes playing it.

“I’m getting a bit more used to it. I just need to up my game going forward to improve in that role.”

While he’s slightly critical of his own play in the final third, even Henry would find it difficult to negatively evaluate his performances in the defensive third this term.

The defender has blocked the most crosses in the league (12) and has only been dribbled past on nine occasions, with a tackle success percentage of 61 per cent.

But what is the key principle that Henry reminds himself of before stepping across the white line?

“I just don't want my guy to get a goal and assist - that's the main thing,” he says.

“Going into the game, that's what I think about: I don't want my guy to do anything, even if he’s over on the other side of the pitch.

“I also want to get forward and I want to contribute myself but, first and foremost, I want to defend.

“After I’ve sort of sussed out the guy I’m marking, I can then try and progress into the game and get forward a bit more.”

These are all traits that Henry has absorbed from watching former Arsenal and Chelsea defender Ashley Cole, someone the Brentford defender describes as his “hero”.

Cole is 5ft 9in and, despite Rico being a few inches shorter at 5ft 6in, the ex-England international gave the Bees man the belief that he could make it as a professional footballer, and then go onto play in the Premier League, even when some said his height would be a problem.

Asked if his size has held him back, Henry recalls: “Definitely back in the day, especially playing in England. I feel like in places like Spain, it's not really like that.

“But in England, for me, it was difficult. I remember going on trial with West Brom and they told me I was too short. I was on trial with a few clubs actually and they said the same thing.

“But then I feel like I grew into my body a bit more, I got quicker and stronger and that helped me a lot.”

If the two headed goals Henry scored last season aren’t enough evidence that he is more than capable in the air, winning an aerial battle with 6ft 7in Southampton centre-forward Paul Onuachu was a sign that he is more than happy to take on any challenge.

When asked about how he competes with players taller than him, he responds: "For me, I think it’s more about timing, knowing how to use your body, knowing where to be at the right time - that's something I think about going forward.

“Defensively, it's more body contact with the player. Being smart. If I know the ball’s going out of play, there's no point in even jumping, I just need to get my body in the way and see it out.”

The height that Henry is yet to hit is an England call-up, despite his impressive performances and calls from fans, pundits and even his Brentford boss for Gareth Southgate to give the full-back his first cap for his country.

But the defender, who made four caps for England Under-19s and three for England Under-20s between 2015 and 2017, knows there’s still work to be done before he can follow in Cole’s footsteps and don the Three Lions jersey.

On whether he pays much attention to praise from the media, he states: “My friends will watch and read things, they’ll show me or send them to me. Being in the conversation for England, that's a good feeling.

“But the important thing is to keep doing well and trying to progress.”

When asked if he think he’s done enough to earn a call-up to Southgate’s squad, he adds: “I think I can still do more. My stats [goals and assists] probably play a big part into why I haven’t been called up yet.

“I feel like I know what I need to do to get into the squad. I’ve just got to now do it on the pitch and keep progressing.

“I do want to play international football. It would be good to just be away, playing with different people, it'd be a good feeling, playing in different competitions. That's what I want to be doing.

“Hopefully it'll come one day.”

If everything else Henry does is anything to go by, there’s no reason why it won’t happen quite quickly.