Jordan Henderson’s Saudi Sham: What Now For His Liverpool Legacy?

Jordan Henderson’s Saudi Sham: What Now For His Liverpool Legacy?

By Gareth Roberts


JORDAN Henderson has given up on the Saudi Pro League then, returning to Europe to likely play for Ajax, work permit and medical allowing.

After just six months, and 17 matches played, the Liverpool player of almost 12 years, and captain of eight, has realised what many pointed out last July – moving to Al-Ettifaq Football Club was a wrong move.

Financially, reports suggest Henderson will take a significant hit in tax by returning so soon. Others say he hasn’t even been paid for his time in Saudi’s Eastern Province.

Ironically, it seems Henderson has decided there is more to life than money - which despite the car-crash interviews and the protestations otherwise, was surely the prime motivation for leaving Anfield in the first place.

And so was it all worth setting light to a Liverpool legacy for this? No. Clearly, unequivocally, no. Not then and not now.

Henderson - should anyone need reminding - turned out with a Liver Bird upon his chest 492 times. He lifted seven trophies for Liverpool, including the Premier League and the European Cup, a trophy that is now tattooed on his left leg.

He’s joint-15th on the Reds’ all-time list of appearances, level with Roger Hunt. Had he stuck around he would have likely surpassed Kenny Dalglish’s 515 appearances for the club. Some going.

Just as when he departed, his quick-fire return to Europe has sparked a myriad of opinions. Some suggest all should be forgiven now. “We all make mistakes.” Which we do. But mistakes are often not easily forgiven. Particularly after such a short time.

To these eyes, the reaction from many in the LBTQ+ community was more than justified. Henderson championed the cause. He went the extra mile. He did what many don’t.

Henderson set himself apart as a thinker; someone who cared, someone who recognised football as a power of good. And then he helped to sports-wash a regime that criminalises same-sex relationships. His subsequent words only made it worse.

How’s that “growing the game” going?

Others have compared his 4,150-mile move to Dammam to just anybody in just any profession being tempted by bigger tax-free salaries abroad. What’s the difference, they say?

Really? How about everything? How many people have a poster of Mick The Accountant on their wall? 

Frankly, I don’t get the umbrage directed at people who remain disappointed with Henderson.

He was already a rich man. He has played professional football for 16 years. And fair play, he has been well rewarded for his skill and dedication and for reaching the pinnacle of the sport.

But why are the wages so good for playing football in the first place? Well, here, in England, it’s us, isn’t it, ultimately - the fans. Because without supporters, without people who love the game devoting so much time and effort to it, those wages don’t exist.

If it didn’t matter to millions, there would be no eye-popping TV deals, bloated sponsorships and the rest. And if the Saudis didn’t see how powerful it can be, they wouldn’t be throwing millions at it either.

We’re in Tom Hicks-Weetabix territory to suggest it is purely transactional (in case you missed it): “You could say that anyone who was eating Weetabix was paying for our purchase of Weetabix. It was just business. It is the same for Liverpool...”

Have we had spreadsheets and finance stuffed down our throats so much that this is where we have arrived now?

The reality is that the dedicated football fan has invested a lifetime to a cause and, by proxy, those that fight for that cause. We love our legends. We have favourite players, and favourite moments. We buy their books. We put their names on our kids’ shirts. Some of us even name their kids after players…(ahem).

And so if we support a player, see him as one of ours, think he reflects our values, think he is a great ambassador, is proud of his captaincy, loves our club, loves our city, then we will be pissed off if it feels like he is taking the mick out of us and it was all a bit tick-box.

It’s not a throwaway thing for many of us. It’s not easily forgotten. Loads of Reds went into bat week after week for Henderson; arguing online, arguing outside pie shops, writing about him, talking about him, supporting him, singing his song, and so on.

He was once presented with ‘The Embodiment of Liverpool FC’ award - voted for by fans - by The Anfield Wrap. And few argued he deserved it.

Everything about the situation seems so unnecessary. It’s been reported he has recently spoken with Jurgen Klopp. That he is still on good terms with his former team-mates. So why the hasty exit with two years left on his contract?

The story so far from the Henderson camp just doesn’t cut it. Undoubtedly there will be more to come.

“I want to be here as long as possible. I have always said that,” he said on securing his last contract extension at Liverpool.

Only four players in the history of Liverpool FC have worn the armband more than Jordan Henderson, who pulled it on 268 times – Steven Gerrard, Ron Yeats, Emlyn Hughes and Donald McKinlay.

Henderson called it “a great honour and a huge privilege” to succeed Gerrard as skipper in 2015.

The words seem hollower now and in the here and now he’s been left looking a bit daft. Whatever his reasons for his latest volte-face (and it is another one) are they likely to be anything that wasn’t suggested before he made the switch to Saudi?

Standard of football, climate, level of interest out there, the way of life, the distance from home, the likely reaction from the football world, how it would affect his career and reputation… Was any of it a real shock?

Henderson sacrificed a farewell. He sacrificed his reputation. And now he’s about to kick off another chapter in Holland with thousands of told-you-sos ringing in his ears.

Would a James Milner-esque role at Liverpool really have been so bad? Could it have been more than that had he knuckled down and cracked on like his six-pack had suggested he was about to do?

He will never know now and neither will we.

What happens next? Well time is a great healer. Many thought there would never be a way back into Liverpool hearts for Fernando Torres. Or for Graeme Souness. But stances softened over time and for many they have been allowed back in.

On the flip side, we have Michael Owen, a living breathing example of a tainted Liverpool legacy.

It could have been so different for Henderson. Perhaps one day it will be. For now, it’s a sign off that reads 1-1 against Aston Villa at Anfield and a sub appearance at Southampton in a 4-4 draw.

A rushed recognition of his contributions from the club followed.

Like everything else, it didn’t quite land right. It was never the plan for Liverpool. It should never have been the plan for Jordan Henderson.

1 comment
Back to blog

1 comment

Yes, Henderson made a daft mistake and for that he takes responsibility, especially with the LBTQ support. . But I do think people forget the role of Steven Gerrard here. He was brought in for a reason to attract the big names, remember his big PR piece for Saudi? Oh, it’s a great country etc etc. I do have to wonder had it been anyone other than Gerrard as manager would Henderson even have considered it? Possibly we’ll never know, but it should be said Steven is still out there accepting the blood money. But, I guess he doesn’t count.

Jill Clay

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.