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May 22, 2024

Henderson Exits Saudi Club Al-Ittifaq, Returns to Europe with Ajax

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Jan 19, 2024

Former Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson has terminated his contract with Saudi Arabian club Al-Ittifaq after just 6 months, opting to return to Europe by signing with Dutch giants Ajax.

Lead-up to Shock Saudi Departure

Henderson joined Al-Ittifaq in July 2023 on a lucrative 2-year contract worth a reported £7 million per season after leaving Liverpool on a free transfer. His move was met with criticism from human rights groups due to Saudi Arabia’s poor human rights record.

However, Henderson stated at the time that he “conducted extensive research” before joining and received “reassurances” from Al-Ittifaq regarding their progressive values aligned with his own.

“I don’t think you can judge an individual on a decision they make trying to prepare for the future educationally and financially,” said Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp in defense of Henderson’s move.

While Henderson settled in well on the pitch, leading Al-Ittifaq to an impressive start in the Saudi Pro League season, off-field challenges remained. In an interview this week, Henderson admitted the cultural differences proved difficult for his family to overcome.

“It’s been an intense six months for me and my family. We’ve enjoyed parts of our time here but ultimately it hasn’t worked out as we hoped,” he said.

Surprise Switch to Ajax

After negotiating the termination of his Al-Ittifaq contract, Henderson traveled Amsterdam this week to complete a medical and sign with Ajax.

The move shocked the football world, with Ajax confirming they added an option to extend Henderson’s 18-month deal by a further year.

“Jordan’s leadership and experience will greatly benefit our squad. We are delighted to welcome him,” said Ajax manager John Heitinga.

According to reports, Henderson took a significant pay cut from his £7 million Al-Ittifaq salary, earning a still-respectable £3 million annual salary at Ajax. Nonetheless he insisted money did not motivate his decision.

In an official club interview, Henderson stated:

“The last 6 months made me realise how much I miss playing in Europe. The opportunity to join a club like Ajax is one I simply could not turn down. I still have so much to give on the pitch.”

He will wear the number 14 shirt at Ajax as they aim to retain their Eredivisie league title this season.

Impact on Saudi Pro League

Henderson was the marquee arrival when Saudi Arabia launched its controversial push to recruit global superstars like Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi to grow its domestic league.

His abrupt departure after just 10 appearances for Al-Ittifaq signals wider struggles for the ambitious Saudi project.

Table: Notable players linked to Saudi Pro League
Cristiano Ronaldo
Neymar
Sergio Ramos

“This no doubt hurts the image Saudi leaders hoped to portray,” noted Arab football expert James Dorsey. “They are under mounting economic pressure to make the league successful.”

With Henderson returning to Europe — and Ronaldo, Neymar and others yet to arrive — Achieving that success looks increasingly difficult. Al-Ittifaq and other Saudi clubs may be forced to rely on aging stars past their prime.

What’s Next for Henderson?

By joining 6-time European champions Ajax, Henderson returns to the Champions League — completing a remarkable turnaround just months after his playing career seemed in decline.

“Jordan has so much quality and maturity to offer us,” said Ajax captain Dusan Tadic. “He can be the difference as we aim for major trophies.”

If Henderson can overcome questions about his age (32) and fitness (he rarely completed 90 minutes for Al-Ittifaq), his midfield leadership could help young Ajax talents like Mohammed Kudus take the next step.

There is also chance for redemption after Henderson’s flat ending at Liverpool, where injury troubles led to reduced playing time before his release. Refreshed after six months away, he may have a late-career renaissance in Amsterdam.

For now Henderson is solely focused on gelling quickly into his new team. But a strong finish to the season could even earn the former Sunderland star an unlikely England recall ahead of Euro 2024.

“I still think I have lots to offer to club and country,” Henderson affirmed this week. “This new chapter with Ajax excites me.”

Under an experienced manager in Heitinga and back playing the Ajax attacking style he prefers, Henderson indeed has an opportunity to rewrite the ending many predicted for his storied career.

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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