Jordan Henderson has given his first interview since leaving Liverpool for Saudi Arabia — a move which saw him draw criticism from many fans and those in the LGBTQ+ community in particular.
As he returns briefly to England this week to represent his country, the national team’s LGBTQ+ fans group have said they will turn their backs on him during the game in protest at how they feel he has turned his on human rights.
Henderson has stood accused of putting money over his morals and, in his interview with David Ornstein and Adam Crafton, he addresses his critics. The story is a compelling read and worth diving into for the full depth and nuance of the conversation.
But if you’re short on time, here are the main themes he discusses…
Jordan Henderson: I strongly believe that me playing in Saudi Arabia is a positive thing
His departure from Liverpool
Henderson won the Premier League and Champions League with Liverpool. He was club captain, so it came as a surprise when he left for Al Ettifaq this summer. In the interview, the 33-year-old midfielder reveals that he felt unwanted by the club after returning from his summer break and insists he would have stayed if those in charge had wanted him to.
“I knew that time would come at some point,” he says. “I didn’t think it would be now. And I had to accept that.”
The England international explains that new signings meant he was going to struggle to start many games and that his personality meant he and manager Jurgen Klopp both felt that was not a tenable situation. He also explains that he feels sad about not being able to say goodbye to Liverpool’s fans and wants to return at some point for a game to be able to do that.
Accusations that he only went to Saudi for the money
The Saudi Pro League has been the dominant storyline of the summer transfer window, with several high-profile players taking up hugely lucrative offers to play there. Henderson is the only England international who has done so and he is managed by former Liverpool star Steven Gerrard.
The accepted narrative around the league — and indeed Saudi sport in general — is that the huge amounts of money being offered to athletes is the main reason for going there, such is the low level of sporting competition. Many are being paid considerably more than their wages at European clubs, for example.
Henderson, who it is reported is earning £700,000 ($881,000) per week there, says that is not the case. He says the salary numbers are wrong and that he didn’t even discuss money with the club or Gerrard at the beginning. “Everything I spoke to Stevie about was football and the project. And he actually said he didn’t want to get involved in any of the money stuff. It was all about what we could do together to achieve something special and build a club and build the league.”
Going from being a prominent LGBTQ+ advocate to representing the Saudi league
Before this move, Henderson stood out within the football world as a rare player who would speak in support of the LGBTQ+ community. In a game with very few openly gay male players and an environment that some fans find uncomfortable, Henderson repeatedly went “above and beyond” to support the Rainbow Laces campaign.
His move to Saudi Arabia, therefore, caught many by surprise and upset fans such as the Liverpool and England LGBTQ+ supporters groups, who pointed out the Gulf state’s terrible record on human rights and persecution of gay people.
In the interview, Henderson tries to explain his thinking, saying that he hopes his move can bring change. “I think having someone with those views and values in Saudi Arabia is only a positive thing”.
Henderson says he would consider wearing rainbow laces in Saudi but only if it did not offend people, reiterating several times in the interview that it is important to respect their religion and culture. When asked what LGBTQ+ people in Saudi Arabia, who don’t have such freedoms and cannot choose their sexuality, can do about that, Henderson says he hopes things will change in the future. He also says that, from his experiences so far, the country is very different to the one that is talked about in Western media and on social media.
He also says he feels sorry that some LGBTQ+ feel negatively towards him and insists his values have not changed.
You can read the interview in full here.
(Top image: Ian Hodgson)