When people say “the grass isn’t always greener”, file Jordan Henderson’s (33) switch to Saudi Arabia under that.
Just six months after moving to the Middle East to join Al Ettifaq, Henderson is already packing his bags and returning to Europe.
Ajax are his apparent rescuers, but it is a pretty embarrassing turn of events given how controversial the initial move was in the summer.
A vocal supporter of the LGBTQ+ community, Henderson attempted to justify his bumper move by insisting it wasn’t about the money and more about bringing “change” to a country with a poor human rights record.
“We can all bury our heads in the sand and criticise different cultures and different countries from afar,” Henderson said in an interview with The Athletic.
“But then nothing’s going to happen. Nothing’s going to change.”
That interview happened four months ago and unless Henderson has managed to transform what is accepted in that time, it looks as if he has given up on those plans.
One thing that has changed, though, and for the worse, is his reputation, something that he built tremendously over the years while at Liverpool.
He worked hard to mould it, forcing his way into becoming a key part of Jurgen Klopp’s machine which won major trophies in a relatively close period of time.
It was his thick skin that helped him forge his image, but turning his back on such a controversial move this early has damaged it, and for what?
A warning sign
What his short Saudi stint does show is chasing the money doesn’t necessarily always end well and serves as a warning to other professionals who are contemplating a move there.
From a strictly football point of view, the Saudi Pro League is a major step-down even with some of the top names playing there.
Henderson had a pretty miserable time on the pitch with Al Ettifaq hardly pulling up any trees – eighth in a league comprised of 18 teams.
Attendances have also been a major talking point about the league, with Al Ettifaq drawing in an average of 7,854 spectators at home.
Henderson played in front of just 696 people against Al Riyadh in October – hardly inspiring and a damning look at the quality of the league regardless of what the players are earning.
Yet after all of this, Henderson won’t even get to reap the full benefits of his £350,000-a-week salary, having reportedly deferred his earnings to avoid a hefty tax bill.
It has appeared to be a complete waste football-wise for Henderson, but he might have got out just in time.
Joining Ajax is usually seen as a decent move and while the standards are still higher than whatever is going on in Saudi Arabia, the Dutch side have had problems of their own this season.
They were recently knocked out of the Dutch Cup by a part-time team and have moved on to their fourth manager of the season – not exactly the most stable of environments for Henderson to arrive into.
Henderson’s international career may have also received some extra security, although England boss Gareth Southgate has stuck by him quite rigidly throughout.
Playing in the Netherlands likely only strengthens his case for being in the Three Lions squad for Euro 2024 – not that his position has been massively under threat anyway.
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