Gareth Southgate has said criticism of Jordan Henderson “defies logic” after the midfielder was booed by some England fans during Friday’s 1-0 friendly win over Australia.
The 33-year-old was named captain in an experimental lineup but a smattering of supporters jeered his name when the teams were read out before kickoff and many more of the 81,116-strong crowd joined in when he was substituted on 62 minutes.
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Henderson made a controversial but lucrative move from Liverpool to Saudi Arabia side Al Ettifaq in the summer, triggering a backlash from LGBTQIA+ groups he had previously championed.
In Saudi Arabia, LGBTQIA+ individuals, including foreigners, “risk imprisonment and corporal punishment for same-sex relations, expressing their identity or support for LGBT rights,” according to Amnesty International.
But Southgate said: “I really don’t understand it. He is a player who has I think 79 caps for England. His commitment and what he has delivered for England is exceptional.
“His role in the group on and off the pitch is phenomenally important. He is the one who has taken the likes of Jude Bellingham under his wing as soon as he gets in the squad, providing a brilliant role model for all of the group. His professionalism and his approach to every part of his work.
“Some people decided to boo, I really don’t understand what that is for. We’ve got players in England shirts.
“Come on, we play Italy here on Tuesday. Let’s get behind this team. I know we weren’t at our best tonight but that was due to a lot of changes we made and we gave the players that we put out there a very difficult task because to be cohesive with so many changes is tough.
“I would just say that this is a team that are delivering a lot and they all deserve everybody’s support.”
Henderson has also publicly backed Saudi Arabia’s bid to stage the 2034 World Cup, but Southgate continued: “What has that got to do with supporting a guy wearing an England shirt? I don’t really know where we’re heading with everything.
“I’m hugely impressed with the impeccable values and decisions that everybody in our country is making then. I don’t understand it. I know what has created it and why it has happened but it defies logic to me that you would give a player who is putting his heart and soul into playing for England. How is that going to help him or the team?”
Ollie Watkins scored the only goal as England beat Australia 1-0, turning home Jack Grealish’s low drive on 57 minutes.