Jordan Henderson has claimed that if Jurgen Klopp had asked him to stay at Liverpool amid Saudi interest this summer, he would still be playing for the Reds.
The 33-year-old former Liverpool captain completed a surprise £12m move to Saudi Pro League side Al Ettifaq in July, joining manager Steven Gerrard in the city of Dammam.
The move caused controversy among fans both for the manner of Henderson’s exit and the choice of his next destination.
As a prominent champion of LGBTQ+ rights in football during his time in the UK, the midfielder’s decision to play in a country where homosexuality is illegal and, in some cases, punishable by death, led to widespread criticism.
England fan group 3 Lions Pride branded Henderson a ‘sell-out’, while Thomas Hitzlsperger – the former Aston Villa and Everton midfielder who came out in 2013 – also questioned his supposed support for the LGBTQ+ community.
Beyond disappointed. A sell out like Becks.
Looks like we’re back to one banner. https://t.co/4S2v5H46j2
— 3LIONSPRIDE 🦁🦁🦁️️ (@3Lionspride) July 19, 2023
Eyebrows were raised further when Henderson’s official announcement video as an Al Ettifaq player appeared to show his rainbow-coloured captain’s armband greyed-out.
READ MORE: Jordan Henderson – Liverpool legend with a tainted legacy
Speaking to the Athletic in a wide-ranging interview about all aspects of his transfer, Henderson has now defended the move, saying that he ‘strongly believes’ that playing in Saudi Arabia is a ‘positive thing.’
Here are the key quotes from the interview.
On not being wanted at Liverpool
Asked how the transfer came about – seemingly out of the blue – Henderson revealed that he’d had conversations with Liverpool manager Klopp that made him question his position at the club.
He said: ‘There were a few things that sent alarm bells ringing. I’ve got a very good relationship with Jurgen. He was very honest with me. I won’t go into detail about the conversation because it’s private, but it put me in a position where I knew that I wasn’t going to be playing as much. I knew there were going to be new players coming in my position.”
© Proshots – Jordan Henderson
Henderson then revealed that once the opportunity to move to the Saudi Pro League came up, no-one at Liverpool fought for him to stay – a factor which apparently influenced his decision to leave.
“If one of those people said to me, ‘Now we want you to stay’, then we wouldn’t be having this conversation. And I have to then think about what’s next for me in my career. Now, that’s not to say that they forced me out of the club or they were saying they wanted me to leave but at no point did I feel wanted by the club or anyone to stay
“I’m at the latter stage of my career and I want to be happy playing football. I want to play. I don’t want to be sitting on the bench and coming on for 10 minutes in games. And I knew that would have an effect on my chances of playing for England.”
On why he chose Saudi Arabia
When asked why he decided to move to Al Ettifaq over potentially staying in the Premier League – with the examples of Brighton or Brentford put to him – Henderson claimed he wanted to try something ‘totally different.’
“I wanted something that would excite me,” he said. “And that’s not to say those clubs [in the Premier League] wouldn’t excite me because they are great clubs and they come with really different challenges. But it needed to be something that I felt as though I could add value in and do and try something new, a new challenge and for different reasons.
“And this opportunity with Stevie (Gerrard) in a totally different league and totally different culture was something completely different, that maybe it would excite us in terms of the project that was put in front of us, in terms of the league and using my experience to try to help with that in many different areas and feeling that people value. It’s nice to feel wanted.
“I know Stevie really wanted me. I know the club really wanted me to go and they wanted us to try and build over the next few years — something that is here to stay and be one of the best leagues in the world.”
On how much he is being paid
Henderson also addressed his much-discussed salary, but dismissed the idea that it was £700k a week as reported by some outlets.
“No. I wish it was [£700k] (laughs),” he said.
“No, honestly, the numbers just aren’t true. But again, it had to work out for us financially as well. I’m not saying that it didn’t and I’m not saying, “Oh, I’m not on good money” because it’s good money and it was a good deal but it wasn’t the numbers that were reported.
“People will see this club come with loads of money and he’s just gone, “Yeah, I’m going.” When in reality that just wasn’t the case at all. People can believe me or not, but in my life and my career, money has never been a motivation. Ever. Don’t get me wrong, when you move, the business deal has to be tight. You have to have financials, you have to feel wanted, you have to feel valued. And money is a part of that. But that wasn’t the sole reason. And these possibilities came up before money was even mentioned.”
READ MORE: How much will Jordan Henderson really earn in Saudi Arabia
On the LGBTQ+ issues
Elsewhere in the interview, when pressed on how he squares his transfer to Saudi Arabia with his allyship with the LGBTQ+ community, Henderson admitted he can ‘understand the anger’, but made the decision based on his family’s interests – also claiming the move will not change his personal positions.
He said: “I think there was always going to be criticism regardless of what I did, whether I stayed, whether I went. So basically I had to make the decision on what was best for me and my family. So the football is the football side. So do I go somewhere to try something new, to grow the game that I love in another country, and grow the league into one of the best in the world? That excites me because I want to grow the sport all over the world. And that got me going, really.
“And obviously the LGBTQ+ community. I can understand the frustration. I can understand the anger. I get it. All I can say around that is that I’m sorry that they feel like that. My intention was never, ever to hurt anyone. My intention has always been to help causes and communities where I felt like they have asked for my help. Now, when I was making the decision, the way that I tried to look at it was I felt as though, by myself not going, we can all bury our heads in the sand and criticise different cultures and different countries from afar. But then nothing’s going to happen. Nothing’s going to change.
© Propaganda – Jordan Henderson
On saying goodbye to Liverpool
Henderson also admitted that it ‘hurt’ not to be able to say a proper farewell to Liverpool, having left during pre-season, and left the door open for a future testimonial at the club he captained for eight years.
Asked about the negativity from fans around his exit, he said: “When I’ve seen people around, they have all wished me all the very best. Even Liverpool fans. I dedicated my life for 12 years to the club. I gave them everything. And I would do it all again if I could go back.
“I think they know that, they appreciate that. I’d have no concerns if I had the opportunity or if they welcomed me back to say goodbye. Because that does hurt me a little bit, that I didn’t get to say goodbye properly to the fans.
“… if I had the opportunity to do something — whether that would be a testimonial or just to go back to say “bye” — I think that would be good and nice for me to do, because that does hurt.”