IAN HERBERT: Jordan, did you really need to trash your reputation?

IAN HERBERT: Jordan, did you REALLY need to trash your reputation for a few million more? Henderson’s attempt to justify his Saudi move was meandering, contradictory nonsense

  • Jordan Henderson staunchly defended his big-money move to Saudi Arabia 
  • But his argument was flawed and he didn’t seem to see the backlash coming
  • Listen to the latest episode of Mail Sport’s podcast It’s All Kicking Off 

You can be exposed to the crazy economics of top-flight football for so long that the unfathomably vast salaries just become routine: a casual reference point in the game’s vocabulary.

But when Jordan Henderson mounted a flawed, awkward, sometimes excruciating defence of his decision to play in Saudi Arabia, it was the time to pause and ask the question. Why Jordan? Why, on a Premier League salary of £190,000 a week, did you really need to trash your reputation for a few million more?

He didn’t seem to see the reaction coming. Didn’t appear to compute for a moment, that the various pretty words he’s uttered about inclusion and diversity and rainbow laces – ‘I’ve never liked to see people ostracised or bullied, it’s how I was brought up’ – would suddenly seem hollow and baseless. 

Perhaps that’s just the way it gets in the protected, gilded cage at the top end of football, hearing so many other people’s platitudes that you begin to believe your own publicity.

That publicity always did seem slightly confected. Wearing armbands and laces and making some pronouncements is hardly going to the ends of the earth, celebrated though it was at the time. But to witness someone who had made that one of his ’causes’ drowning in his own self-justification and contradictions was depressing.

Jordan Henderson has looked to defend his controversial decision to move to Saudi Arabia

His arguments were flawed, awkward and sometimes excruciating, with his reputation trashed

‘We can all bury our heads in the sand and criticise different cultures from afar,’ Henderson said in one breath, before declaring in the next the need to ‘respect’ the ‘values’ of Saudi Arabia because ‘surely that’s the way it should be’. Those ‘values’ including the criminalisation of homosexuality.

Henderson was at least willing to put his head above the parapet and discuss his decision in a lengthy interview with journalists from The Athletic. 

But there were moments within that process when, reading back the transcript, you wanted to physically shake this individual from his vague complacency.

In 2019, he told The Athletic that the notion of ‘anyone making another person feel uncomfortable or unwelcome because of their sexuality is mind-blowing. I can’t get my head round it’. 

Yet when it was put to that very same individual that a rainbow armband he had been wearing in an image used to promote his signing had been deliberately ‘greyed out’ by his Saudi paymasters, he declared it perfectly acceptable.

‘If I wear the rainbow armband (and) that disrespects their religion, then that’s not right either. 

‘Everybody should be respectful of religion and culture. That’s what I think we’re all trying to fight for here in terms of inclusion and everything…’

Meandering, contradictory nonsense.

The various pretty words he’s uttered about inclusion and diversity seem hollow and baseless

Henderson was on a very healthy wage at Liverpool and did not need to go 

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Just like the unmitigated rubbish that Henderson had to say about how all the evidence he was presented in Qatar did not match up with the claims of human rights abuse of immigrant African and Asian workers.

‘You get to meet the workers there and it was totally different,’ Henderson said, oblivious to the fact he’d been watching a choreographed PR opportunity.

He’s only a footballer, some will say. He can’t answer on these things. And if he really does not have the faculty to see the contradictions and the nasty little hypocrisies, then you wonder who, among those who are taking a cut of that cool £190,000 a week, is helping him out here. The same ones who encouraged him into his various ’causes’, presumably.

On footballing grounds, which Henderson can comprehend, there were very few opportunities this summer when the unexpected Saudi offer arrived and he went in to see Jurgen Klopp, expecting the entreaties to stay which never came.

There was a little interest from Chelsea, who were on a watching brief, but no firm contact. There was some other interest from overseas which didn’t interest Henderson. Liverpool would not have sold him to another Premier League rival bar his old club Sunderland, had they been promoted through the play-offs.

Even though the options away from Anfield were limited, the path he has chosen has consequences everywhere. The pitiful level of competitive challenge in Saudi Arabia renders the prospects of him playing a part for England at next summer’s European Championships slim in the extreme. He seems to believe otherwise.

The midfielder was a vocal ally of LGBTQ+ communities and wore rainbow laces (pictured)

It’s too late now, but at least there is that £190,000-a-week, tax-free, to help sugar the pill

His departure from Liverpool after 12 years has been far more abrupt than he would have wanted. Though he clearly hopes for some means of saying a proper farewell – ‘just to go back to say “bye”, that would be good and nice for me to do’ – some in the city he has served so well would probably have their reservations now.

Some gesture of solidarity from him, delivered from the place he has alighted, might help, leading The Athletic to pose the question of whether he might wear rainbow laces in his new land. 

‘I wouldn’t rule that out. But at the same time, what I wouldn’t do is disrespect the religion and culture in Saudi Arabia,’ was his small, dismal response.

He said it’s been hard to hear the negativity and wanted ‘to learn why that’s the case’. Didn’t he know? Would one season of mild frustration, warming the Liverpool bench more than he wishes, really have been such a hardship? 

It’s too late now. But at least there’s that £190,000 a week, tax-free, to sugar the pill.


It’s All Kicking Off is an exciting new podcast from Mail Sport that promises a different take on Premier League football.

It is available on MailOnline, Mail+, YouTube, Apple Music and Spotify.

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