Jordan Henderson has spoken openly for the first time about his controversial move from Liverpool to Al-Ettifaq in the Saudi Pro League, highlighting the ‘alarm bells’ that he noticed prior to his exit.
In one of the more surprising moves of the summer, Liverpool captain Henderson left the club to link up with Steven Gerrard at Al-Ettifaq. There were always expectations of a midfield rebuild at Liverpool, but Henderson’s exit stood out for a number of reasons.
Off the pitch, the fact that he has gone to a country where homosexuality is criminalised, after being an advocate for LGBTQ+ rights, has made Henderson the subject of scrutiny.
As for the footballing values, Henderson has explained what led to his Liverpool departure and why he felt unwanted by the end of his 12-year tenure in a conversation with The Athletic.
After confirming he had spoken with Jurgen Klopp after last season ended, Henderson explained: “There were a few things that sent alarm bells ringing.
“I’ve got a very good relationship with Jurgen. He was very honest with me. I won’t go into detail about the conversation because it’s private, but it put me in a position where I knew that I wasn’t going to be playing as much. I knew there were going to be new players coming in my position.
“And if I’m not playing, as anybody will know, especially the manager, that can be quite difficult for me and especially when I’ve been at a club for so long, I’ve captained the team for so long. Especially when England’s a big thing for me. You’ve got the Euros coming up.
“And then there was an approach from Al-Ettifaq to the club to see if it would be possible for me to go there. The reaction from the club again wasn’t to say no. At that moment I felt as though my value or the want for me to stay, with the manager and within the club, maybe it had shifted. I knew that time would come at some point. I didn’t think it would be now. And I had to accept that.
“I’ve got very good relationships with Jurgen, with the owners of the club. That’ll be forever. What we’ve achieved together in the past 12 years has been incredible. But at the same time, it was hard for me to take that.”
The 33-year-old added: “If one of those people said to me, ‘Now we want you to stay’, then we wouldn’t be having this conversation. And I have to then think about what’s next for me in my career.
“Now, that’s not to say that they forced me out of the club or they were saying they wanted me to leave but at no point did I feel wanted by the club or anyone to stay.”
Henderson explains Al-Ettifaq choice
Nevertheless, Henderson’s choice of destination has caused a stir, even if many other high-profile players have been going to the Saudi Pro League as well.
However, the former Sunderland star has suggested a lack of offers, combined with a desire not to play against Liverpool, contributed to his decision.
Henderson said: “I think a lot of clubs would have known there was a possibility of me leaving because it was speculated over the summer.
“I’d love to sit here and say that every club under the sun was wanting me. But the reality was that they weren’t.
“Liverpool is where my kids were born, I’ve achieved so much there. I love the club, I love the fans and the thought of playing against them would have been a different challenge in a different way. And it wasn’t something that I felt was right for me.”
And while Henderson was starting to feel unwanted at Liverpool, the opposite was the case with Gerrard’s side.
He concluded: “This opportunity with Stevie in a totally different league and totally different culture was something completely different, that maybe it would excite us in terms of the project that was put in front of us, in terms of the league and using my experience to try to help with that in many different areas and feeling that people value.
“It’s nice to feel wanted. I know Stevie really wanted me. I know the club really wanted me to go and they wanted us to try and build over the next few years — something that is here to stay and be one of the best leagues in the world.”
Henderson has played four times for his new club so far, contributing two assists.