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Apologetic Henderson – Leaving Saudi a ‘football decision’

Jordan Henderson has said that his decision to leave Al Ettifaq and sign for Ajax was “a football decision” and apologised to LGBTQIA+ supporters in a news conference on Friday if they felt let down by his move to Saudi Arabia.

Henderson signed a 2½-year contract with Ajax on Thursday after he agreed to terminate his deal with Al Ettifaq, less than six months after signing for the Saudi Pro League club.

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“It was very much a football decision. Of course I’ve got to make the decision be for me about what’s best for me and my family as well. … I think a lot of people would probably like us to sit here and criticise the Saudi league and everything that went along with that, but that certainly wasn’t the case and that’s something that I’m not going to do.

“I’ve got full respect for the league, for any fans of the club, for the people over there who really made us feel welcome. But unfortunately these things in life sometimes just don’t work out in football and in life in general.”

Henderson was criticised for his move to Saudi Arabia given the country’s poor human rights record, including laws that state homosexuality is illegal and punishable by death.

He had been an outspoken advocate of the LGBTQIA+ community before the transfer, but insisted he was not solely motivated by money and relished the opportunity to make the Saudi league “one of the best in the world” in an interview with The Athletic in September.

Henderson, 33, offered an apology to LGBTQIA+ supporters if they felt let down by his move to the Saudi Pro League in July.

“If any people from that community feel let down or hurt, I apologise. I did that six months ago, I’ll do it again,” Henderson said.

“That was never my intention. I had to make a decision based on what I thought was best for me and my family, but I understood it at the same time. But I haven’t changed as a person. … I have the same beliefs.

The midfielder had continued to be included in England squads by manager Gareth Southgate during his time in Saudi Arabia and was booed by sections of the country’s fans at Wembley Stadium during a friendly against Australia in October.

Asked whether he felt “hurt” by the criticism he received upon signing at Saudi Arabia, Henderson said: “I am not going to sit here and say I haven’t been hurt, but at the same time I understand it.

“But I do care if people might think I don’t, but I actually do care about other people, and I do think a lot about football and how I treat other people and have respect for other people.

“So it does hurt of course, but at the same time I totally respect their opinions and how they view me as a person, and I just had to obviously take it on the chin. And that’s all I’ve continued to do. I’ve never tried to hurt anybody. That was never the intention ever.

He has taken a huge pay cut from his Saudi salary to join Ajax — thought to be at least £350,000 a week ($443,000).

Henderson won seven major trophies during his time at Liverpool and lifted the Premier League, Champions League and FA Cup as captain.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp was supportive of Henderson’s transfer in a news conference on Friday.

“I am happy for him because it looks like he’s happy and that’s the most important thing for me,” Klopp said. “I don’t read these stories, people are critical of the move, first there and now coming back.

“I don’t know how we dare to judge. We have one life and sometimes you make decisions and it is different after you make them. Ninety-nine percent when I spoke to him was football-wise, many things to develop there but not critical [of Saudi Arabia] but then he thought it was better to come back with his family. Ajax is a sensational club.”

The midfielder is the third English-born player to represent the Dutch giants after Ray Clarke became the first in the 1978-79 season and Chuba Akpom’s arrival in Amsterdam in August 2023.

Henderson’s new No. 6 shirt has sold more in the first 24 hours than any other in the club’s history. Only the Bob Marley ‘Three Little Birds’ shirt sold more in the first 24 hours. However, Ajax are selling the shirt for 40% off its usual retail price.

After a difficult start to the season that saw them briefly spend time in the relegation zone, Ajax have recovered to the point that they now sit fifth in the Eredivisie table, 23 points behind league leaders PSV Eindhoven.

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