After an injury-plagued year in England, Canadian international defender Doneil Henry is looking for a fresh start in 2016.
The 22-year-old from Brampton, Ont., hopes a good January camp with Canada will help lead to better things upon his return to West Ham United.
"Finally I feel like I’m fit (and) I can cope with anything physically," Henry told a media conference call from California where Canada is preparing for a friendly Friday with the U.S. "Mentally I’m a lot stronger than last season after dealing with the two surgeries that I had."
The former Toronto FC defender has not played for Canada since a 0-0 tie in Panama in November 2014.
Acquired by West Ham in the January 2015 transfer window, Henry was loaned out to Blackburn Rovers only to injure his hamstring in his third outing in the second-tier Sky Bet Championship.
"The hamstring injury was really, really serious," he said. "To be fair, maybe I came back a little too early."
After surgery, Henry returned to Blackburn in November but only made one appearance as a substitute. His hamstring and surgery for a sports hernia derailed him again.
Restored to health, he believes another loan spell will benefit him, "to continue to get games and build my body up to what I used to be like."
"I feel like I’m definitely over everything," he added. "I feel good."
There were plenty of tough days, but he says they will only make him stronger. As has being forced to deal with a new environment.
"Basically Toronto’s my home, Toronto FC is all I knew," he said. "Being at West Ham has taken me out of my comfort zone."
That, he adds, is a good thing.
"I wish I could have gone earlier, so I could have even developed through the youth system there. I feel like the structure is a lot better organized as the club has so many years of history with players excelling through the ranks."
West Ham’s academy is renowned for such graduates as Jermain Defoe, Joe Cole, Michael Carrick, Rio Ferdinand and Frank Lampard.
Henry, six foot one and 194 pounds, became the first Toronto FC graduate to make the first team when he signed a pro contract in August 2010. He went on to make 70 regular-season appearances for TFC, with 19 starts in each of the 2013 and 2014 campaigns.
As a young centre back, Henry’s athleticism often got him out of trouble. But it also led to mistakes.
Managers often forgave him with former TFC head coach Ryan Nelsen, a former Premier League defender himself, saying he had all the tools to excel. Reporters, Henry recalled, were not always so kind.
"I feel like in Toronto I took a lot of stick in the media," he said.
Henry actually came to West Ham from Apollon Limassol, a Cyprus team for whom he never played. Instead it bought him and loaned him back to Toronto in a strange transaction that the MLS team kept under wraps for six months.
He remains positive about his future at West Ham, despite the number of centre backs ahead of him
"I just need to be able to cope with my body and I feel like eventually I’ll get my chance … I’m still young. I’m willing to learn. I’m willing to do what I have to do to make it to the top."