Wolves rounded off the Premier League season in front of a crowd of 60,095 at Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium on Sunday.

It’s a stadium at which Karl Henry has played on several occasions during a career which brought him 127 Premier League appearances and 574 in total.

But, as for the Wolves Championship-winning skipper’s last game of this season? In his new-found vocation as a coach?

Well, that was Boldmere St Michael’s Under 11s against Redditch. A couple of weeks ago.  Boldmere won.  So, Henry was happy.

For a while anyway, because his attention quickly turned to next season.  That’s how Henry works. 

His Boldmere team, going into Under 12s football, will once again be playing in the Midland Junior Premier League (MJPL) on a Saturday, and, for the first time, in a proper league system in the Central Warwickshire League on a Sunday.

It is now ten years since Henry played his last game for Wolves, the team he was immensely proud to both represent and captain having been born in the city and brought up in Ashmore Park.  It is four-and-a-half since he officially retired, his final appearance coming for Bradford against Walsall.  And it’s three since he embarked on a coaching journey which has been meticulously mapped out to include several years in grass roots alongside completing his badges, then, ideally, moving into an Academy at Under-18 or Under-21 level before, eventually, finally, managing at first team level.  

It’s bold and it’s ambitious.  But anyone who knows Karl Henry will know it is far from unachievable.  His attitude towards planning, towards work, and towards winning, gives him every chance of success.

Alongside managing his own team, he is also more involved within the Boldmere junior set-up as a whole, has helped the club build a partnership with Wolves Academy, and also runs the Karl Henry Academy, a coaching programme which is attracting top young talent from across the Midlands.

Having already passed his UEFA B licence, Henry expects to complete the A licence over the next two years, whilst continuing to work to sell the business he has built up since he was a player – a luxury lifestyle online platform which has over 1,200 players on its database – after which he will be able to fully concentrate on his coaching career.

“I’m enjoying it so far and it’s all going really well,” the now 40-year-old says of his foray into the world of junior coaching.

“I have gone into this with a professional mindset, just the same as when I was playing.

“The sessions I deliver while coaching have come from those I learned as a player, so not even Academy sessions, first team sessions.

“Obviously they have to be adjusted to suit younger players but that is the way I approach it.

“Anyone who knows me knows how competitive I am and how passionate I am with what I am involved in and get my teeth into, and this is no different.

“I want to develop and produce players, ultimately I’d love to see a lot of them get signed by academies at clubs, but my overriding objective is to improve players as much as I can.

“I am really enjoying it and getting a buzz out of it, far more than I ever thought I would, both with my competitiveness and the style of football I am trying to get the team to play.

“I am devoting a lot of time to the coaching but I am still very hands-on with my business, which is why I am looking to sell it at which point I will be ready to try and go full-time into coaching or management.

“Up until then, I will continue with my badges, and fit in as much coaching experience as I can so I am in the best possible position to look for an opportunity to take the next step.”

As revealed in the Express & Star when Henry first set out on this coaching journey three years ago, his over-riding belief is that the game should be played the way Pep Guardiola aims to play it with Manchester City.

More recently, the new managerial kid on the Premier League block, Brighton’s Roberto De Zerbi, is another with whom the former Wolves stalwart sees similarities in styles.

All things are relative, and that may be extremely aspirational given Henry is working with a group of Under-12s, but even the most cursory of glances at his team or Academy’s Instagram account gives a glimpse of what he is trying to achieve.

Plenty of controlling games by dominating possession, plenty of defensive shape, plenty of high pressing and plenty of slick attacking patterns of play when the opportunity arises. 

“I have always loved Pep Guardiola, I loved him as a player – a defensive midfielder who was a ball player – but also as a manager,” he begins.

“I have also been influenced by so many I worked with myself, such as Glenn Hoddle and Steve McClaren with their coaching, Mick McCarthy and Tony Pulis with their approach to management.

“My ambition as I progress is to try and play the kind of football that all the top teams are playing, and the way Brighton play under De Zerbi is a style that really interests me.

“The way they press, the way they draw teams in, the way the whole club is with their recruitment, Brighton are a phenomenal example of a club which has a defined strategy and then sticks to it.

“I remember getting in trouble at Wolves for an interview after the double relegation when I said the club needed to decide on a playing philosophy and stick to it, rather than keep switching between managers with different styles of play.

“I think more recently, although Wolves have had different managers, there is more emphasis on playing out from the back and what that does is bring continuity and consistency with players.

“It’s the way I want my teams to play and it’s something we do with my Academy, on Friday evenings, which has attracted players – including Academy players – from across the Midlands.

“I know a lot of Academy players will also go and have one-to-one coaching, and that technical side is really important, but in the time I have it’s all about teaching possession-based football, how to receive the ball under pressure, the tactical side, how to pass with both feet.

“The sessions have been really popular so the players must feel they are getting some benefit which, from my point of view, is really good to see.”

Henry is certainly relishing both the coaching via his own Academy and working with Boldmere within the junior pyramid.  

Having honed his own talents on the streets and parks of Ashmore Park, before moving to Stoke’s Academy and then later joining Wolves, he is well aware of the importance, and the value, of grass roots football.

But, and sadly there is a but, it hasn’t all been sweetness and light.  

There are certain issues, and incidents, probably stemming from his status as a former Premier League player, and a former Wolves captain heading across into Villa, Albion and Birmingham territories, which haven’t sat right.

“I think there is an animosity, an envy, about me being involved and what we are trying to do with the team at Boldmere,” he says.

“I was involved in professional football for 25 years, from the age of 11 to 36, and I am trying to bring my competitive edge to what I am doing now, and trying to find the gains that we can make to the benefit of the players.

“In Premier League, clubs are constantly looking for the smallest of gains to bring an advantage, whether that be in nutrition, psychology, better sleep methods, orthotics, yoga, Pilates, anything that might give them an extra percentage in such a competitive environment.

“Going into grass roots, I have seen ways we can make huge gains, there is so much you can do to improve, and we are perhaps doing it a bit differently.

“Although we don’t always get the results, and those results don’t always reflect those gains, we have found a style of football that is way beyond the players’ years, and they are developing rapidly because of that.

“As a result, I have seen this animosity from opposing parents and coaches because of the way we play and the way I coach from the sidelines.

“I know there are lots of discussions across youth football about academies being ‘player led’ and a lot of the time I get shouts to ‘let them play’ from the opposition.

“I think there always has to be a balance between being player-led and managers dictating, but if all you are going to do is ‘let them play’, then what is the point of having a coach?”

It’s a good point.  And, anyone who has ever been involved in junior football, as a coach, an official or a parent, will know there are always certain fixtures, certain teams, who can provide flashpoints.  

For Henry, the experience has extended way beyond that.

There have been many examples where he perhaps fears his reputation, and the style and intensity of his team, has preceded him.  Moreover, there have actually been many complaints about him filed to the league in which he operates.

“I have had to learn and adapt to a lot in grass roots, but one thing I have learned is that there is a culture about being the first to complain,” he insists.

There are many situations which Henry goes into in detail, where it certainly appears prejudice is at play, including once when, after a game in which he and his players had been on the end of swearing and abuse from opposition and coaches and managers, he instructed his team not to shake hands at full time.

“When players shake hands in situations like that, often something can happen that makes it escalate, so with everything that had gone on I just wanted to get the boys out of it,” he explains.

Despite the build-up and the circumstances, it was Henry who ended up on the receiving end of the complaint to the league.

Perhaps even more potentially damaging, particularly to his overall reputation, was the accusation from a linesman that he had pushed a young opponent.

Fortunately, as he has every game filmed for analysis purposes, he was able to quickly disprove the accusation, which, despite the player concerned saying hadn’t happened, had gone far enough to cause consternation among the opposition coaches and parents.

While you would perhaps hope or expect opposition teams to enjoy and relish the challenge of facing a former Premier League player and a team trying to set lofty standards in both style and results, on many occasions it appears completely the opposite is the case.

There are many different ways for young players to enjoy their football, whether just for fun or in a more demanding environment and looking to improve, and Henry, whilst making no secret of the aspirations for himself and his players, believes grass roots football should be a ‘broad church’.

“When I watch games back on camera, I hear a lot of obscenities and abuse directed at me, on a weekly basis,” he reveals.

“I don’t know what conversations have been had, but at times there seems to have been colluding between managers and there was one who posted on a social media platform, trying to get others to complain about me.

“I am elitist when it comes to what I am doing with my team, I don’t hide that and I get a lot of stick for it.

“I don’t mind the stick for that, and I will always have a huge amount of respect for coaches at grass roots level.

“A lot of them work full-time, others have multiple jobs, but they want to coach their kids and volunteer their time to take training and matches.

“There is a really broad church of coaches, some like me who are aspiring to have careers in the game, some that want to coach their own kids, or some who just want to have a fun experience and be inclusive, sharing minutes through their squads.

“All that is great, there is no right approach, and anyone who has been involved in grass roots football knows how brilliant it is, going to watch games with their families on a Saturday or Sunday, it’s a lovely thing to be able to do.

“I am just taking it more seriously than most, and I make no apologies for that.

“Young players that come into our team know there are demands, and if they want to progress and be pushed then we are here, if they don’t and would rather just be playing for fun then that is absolutely fine but they are probably not for us.

“Through my experience so far, very few come in and then decide to leave, and that’s because they enjoy the challenge and enjoy the journey, along with hugely committed parents who feel exactly the same.

“And what I will never do is make any guarantees about where it all might lead.

“We want to produce players who might go on and join club academies, but we know how competitive it is to break through and there are never any silly promises about making players into professional footballers because that sort of promise doesn’t really exist.

“I should also say that there are many other great coaches out there in grass roots who are also trying to get their teams playing some really good stuff, and it’s always great to chat to them as well.

“It’s good to share ideas and experiences and that’s what makes it a shame that there are also so many people who see what we are doing as wrong.

“I am thick-skinned, and will just carry on getting on with it, but other former players might just think it’s not worth the hassle and not get involved when they could actually bring so much benefit to the grass roots game as a whole.

“And that’s what I would find really sad and disappointing.”

Despite some of the more difficult experiences, the positives of life in grass roots certainly far outweigh the negatives for Henry.  He is also compiling a portfolio of suggestions to try and improve the grass roots experience for all, which he would gladly pass on to the Football Association.

Two of these specifically relate to officiating, in terms of providing young up-and-coming referees with match videos to help improve their performance, and to get rid of referee’s assistants completely.

These suggestions from Henry came prior to this week’s announcement that the FA are to introduce potential points deductions for serious misconduct from players and coaches, aiming to address unacceptable behaviour within the game.

“I feel like being a referee at grass roots level, especially a young referee, is quite challenging, but I feel like the only feedback they will often receive is abuse during and after a game,” says Henry.

“From a lot that I have spoken to, and parents of young referees, they don’t get much constructive feedback based on their performances, and I’m really not sure that is particularly helpful?

“By that I mean looking back over games, seeing what they did well, learning from mistakes, and I’d be more than happy to send in the footage from games so they can look back at their decisions.

“Young referees, like all of us as players, need to learn and develop and I think there should be a rule that with any game that gets filmed, the footage is distributed so that the referees can watch it back.

“Those that are serious about refereeing as a career will want to get better and will want to be able to see how they can improve.

“Aside from that, I would get rid of referees’ assistants completely, at least until an age where they are proper officials and not just parents or coaches linked to the teams that are playing.

“We all know how it works, and this is in adult Sunday League as well, that most assistants, when they have an affiliation to a team, are always going to give their own team the benefit.

“By this I’m not talking mistakes, which we can all make, but I’m talking cheating, flagging for offside even when the opposition player is clearly a yard or two on.

“As much as you know that the sun will rise, or that a report will go in after a game complaining about a former player coaching at grass roots level, there are so many occasions when you know that flag is going to go up, every single time.

“All that does is cause a flashpoint, it creates controversy, so what I would advocate is leaving it to the referee, whereby it’s only the really obvious ones that are given.

“The closer ones would be difficult, of course, but the way it is now is that they are rarely given fairly or correctly so there wouldn’t be any difference, and at least it would get rid of some of the blatant cheating and the atmosphere which that creates.”

Strong words. But ones which Henry would be happy to discuss with the powers-that-be, at least putting his thoughts up for debate, if nothing else.

And he doesn’t want these opinions to be seen as him complaining about his situation, or about the criticism he receives – it’s more a constructive process where he hopes to engender an improvement in officiating and general conduct around matches, whilst also encouraging more former players to become involved.

That’s because while there are so many different journeys and entry points to coaching in the professional game – Henry’s former team-mate Rob Edwards has just seen years of his own hard work come to fruition by leading Luton into the Premier League – the proud Wulfrunian is really enjoying both the workload and the challenges of the world of grass roots.

He remains hugely appreciative of the link-up with Boldmere, this year celebrating their 140th anniversary, especially with their admin support for the complaints he has faced.

A forward-thinking club, only this week they were proud to to welcome England women’s manager Sarina Wiegman, who visited the club to announce her 23-player squad for this year’s World Cup.  Quite an honour!

He is also an ambassador for Wolves Foundation, which has also included taking coaching sessions for BTEC students at the City of Wolverhampton College, more experiences he has greatly enjoyed.

The partnership with Wolves as a club has also opened Henry’s eyes up to the world of Academy football, which, in some respects, particularly in terms of greater interaction with the young players, he wishes he had been more involved with when he was a professional.

Suffice to say, he has been mightily impressed with the operation at Compton Park.

“The first year of the partnership between Boldmere and Wolves Academy has gone really well and opened up so many opportunities,” he explains.

“I have seen how hard people like Jack Maydew and Calvin Smith work on the recruitment side, how competitive it is in that area and how important it is to get players in from eight years old, the point of entry for the Academy.

“The standard of coaching is also excellent, and I hear from players and parents who have been to different academies just how well regarded Wolves are.

“I think these experiences have shaped what I would do if I land a managerial job – at the very least I would always want at least one or two Academy players in the matchday squad.

“And when I think back to my time as a player, we always did a lot of visits, which players generally enjoy, but probably didn’t do any in terms of chatting to the Academy.

“I am not sure there was that sort of connection between first team and Academy at all the clubs I was at, but what a great tool it could be to use first team players to help recruit and develop those who are the future of the club.”

Henry is one of those who lives and breathes football, who loves talking football, debating football, and it is no surprise that he would have plenty of ideas which he feels could improve experiences at grass roots level.

It’s an arena in which he wants to continue to develop, continue to grow, whilst hopefully helping both Boldmere St Michael’s and Wolves Academy along the way, in tandem with his own strong aspirations.

If it continues to ruffle a few feathers, even if he would really prefer that it didn’t, then it certainly won’t deflect him off course.

His is a journey which is only just beginning.