Former Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson has left Saudi Arabian club Al-Ettifaq to join Dutch giants Ajax on an 18-month contract. The move represents a dramatic turnaround for the 33-year-old midfielder, who moved to Al-Ettifaq amid much fanfare just six months ago.
Apology to LGBTQ Community
Upon his arrival at Ajax, Henderson issued an apology to the LGBTQ community for his short-lived spell in Saudi Arabia, where same-sex relationships are criminalized.
“I want to apologize to the LGBTQ community for my decision to sign for a Saudi Club,” Henderson said in a statement. “I have strong beliefs that everyone should be treated equally and with respect. My beliefs had never changed, but I didn’t reflect that well during this period.”
Henderson stressed that the move was solely a footballing decision and he did not anticipate the backlash it would generate.
Henderson’s Time In Saudi Arabia Marred By Controversy
Henderson joined Al-Ettifaq in July 2022 on a contract until 2025 worth a reported £7 million per year. However, his time there became mired in controversy over Saudi Arabia’s human rights record and treatment of the LGBTQ community.
There were also issues over the non-payment of Henderson’s salary. Reports suggest the 32-year-old did not receive any payments owed from his time in Saudi Arabia. This was likely a factor in Henderson seeking an early exit from his mega-money contract.
|Key Events During Henderson’s Spell At Al-Ettifaq
|July 2022: Joins Al-Ettifaq on £7m per year contract until 2025
|August 2022: Criticized by LGBTQ groups over Saudi Arabia’s human rights record
|October 2022: Reports emerge that Henderson has not been paid by Al-Ettifaq
|January 2023: Leaves Al-Ettifaq after mutual termination of contract
What Henderson Brings To Ajax
The move to Ajax represents a chance for redemption for Henderson after his Saudi misadventure. The former Sunderland and Liverpool stalwart will add valuable experience and leadership to Erik ten Hag’s youthful Ajax squad.
At 33, Henderson still has plenty to offer at the top level. Although no longer the dynamic, box-to-box presence of his early days, Henderson remains an intelligent reader of the game with excellent positional sense and discipline.
His organizational skills, work rate and ability to set the team’s tempo could prove invaluable for Ajax as they seek to wrestle the Eredivisie title back from bitter rivals PSV Eindhoven. Henderson’s winning mentality and experience of pressure situations will also be a boon for the Amsterdam side.
Uncertain International Future
However, question marks hang over Henderson’s international future following his Saudi sojourn. Prior to moving to Al-Ettifaq, Henderson was a central figure in Gareth Southgate’s England setup. He played a pivotal midfield role as England marched to the Euro 2020 final and 2022 World Cup quarter-finals.
But at 33, Henderson’s place was already under threat from younger contenders like Jude Bellingham and Declan Rice. The midfielder will hope his move to Ajax can spur a late career renaissance and propel him into contention for a final England swansong at Euro 2024. But with the competition for places fierce, Henderson’s days on the international scene appear numbered.
What Next For Henderson And Ajax?
Assuming Henderson can regain full fitness and sharpness after six months largely on the sidelines in Saudi Arabia, he still has plenty to offer Ajax. With vital Champions League qualifiers on the horizon, Henderson’s know-how could prove decisive.
Domestically, Ajax currently trail leaders PSV Eindhoven by 5 points in the Eredivisie title race. Henderson will hope to slot seamlessly into Ten Hag’s midfield and help drive Ajax to glory both home and abroad.
After rebuilding his reputation, Henderson will likely target one final major European adventure before eventually returning to England. A strong 18 months with Ajax could set Henderson up for a coaching role back at boyhood club Sunderland or former side Liverpool.
For now though, Henderson’s focus will be on helping restore Ajax to their former glories – and making amends for his Saudi Arabian misstep.
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