England player to leave Saudi Arabia after less than six months

UK

Former Liverpool footballer Jordan Henderson has been told he can leave Saudi Arabia, less than six months after his much-criticised move to play for a club there.

Al Ettifaq, the Saudi Pro League side he controversially signed for last summer, agreed to end his contract on Wednesday.

He is returning to England to look for a new club, after Al Ettifaq also said he could leave their winter training camp in Abu Dhabi.

Image:
Jordan Henderson and Al Ettifaq coach Steven Gerrard when he signed for the club in July

Ajax are favourites to sign him, according to Sky Sports News, which said on Monday that the Dutch club was in talks with him and hoped to agree a deal this week.

Henderson, 33, was widely criticised for signing for the Saudi club in a £12m move from Liverpool last July, on a contract worth a reported £700,000 a week.

He went to play for Steven Gerrard, a fellow former Liverpool captain, who was appointed as manager of Al Ettifaq last summer.

It has been widely reported that Henderson has struggled to settle into life in the Middle East. He is leaving after playing just 19 times for Al Ettifaq.

The midfielder had been a vocal ally of the LGBT community in football and wore rainbow laces during England’s run to the Euro 2020 final.

He regularly voiced his support for greater inclusivity in the game.

3LionsPride, a fan group for LGBT England supporters, said it was “beyond disappointed” when he made the switch to the Gulf state, where homosexuality is illegal and in some cases punishable by death.

In August, the group condemned Henderson’s selection for the England squad, saying that his “bank balance may be burgeoning, but our respect and his off-field legacy is lost – and can never be won back.”

Henderson made 491 appearances for Liverpool and captained the side to Premier League and Champions League titles. He also won the FA Cup and two League Cups during his time at Anfield.

After his departure, the pressure is rumoured to be mounting on Gerrard as Al Ettifaq boss, with Jose Mourinho – sacked by Italy’s Roma this week – being tipped to replace him.

Al Ettifaq are eighth in the Saudi Pro League, with 25 points. Al Hilal, who signed Brazilian attacker Neymar in 2023, are top – with 53 points.

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Image:
Jordan Henderson in the Al Ettifaq after signing for the club

If Henderson does sign for Ajax, a club usually known for playing exciting football and competing for the Dutch title, he will join a team which is struggling by its usual standards. After a chaotic season, the Amsterdam-based team are fifth in the Dutch Eredivisie – 23 points behind league leaders PSV Eindhoven.

Many high-profile players, mostly towards the end of their careers, have moved to Saudi Arabia to play in its Saudi Pro League in recent transfer windows, including Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema.

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