Jordan Henderson has insisted his move to Saudi Arabia was not motivated by money and sought to appease the LGBTQ+ community by claiming he can be a force for good in the region.
The 33-year-old left Liverpool this summer to join Saudi Pro League side Al Ettifaq in a £13 million ($16.3m) deal that provoked anger given the country’s appalling human rights record.
Henderson had previously been a strong advocate of the LGBTQ+ community — supporting the “Rainbow Laces” campaign and championing other anti-discriminatory initiatives — but England fan group 3LIONSPRIDE plan to turn their back on the midfielder if he plays against Ukraine or Scotland later this month in protest at his move.
Speaking to The Athletic, Henderson defended his decision, saying the challenge of developing a fledgling league under his former teammate Steven Gerrard’s tutelage was the reason he left Liverpool after 12 years.
“All I’ve ever tried to do is help,” Henderson said. “And when I’ve been asked for help, I’ve gone above and beyond to help. I’ve worn the laces. I’ve worn the armband. I’ve spoken to people in that community to try to use my profile to help them.
“That’s all I’ve ever tried to do. I’m not going to sit here saying, ‘Why are they criticising me?’ I understand it. These are all the things I was thinking about, and I do care. When I hear stuff like, ‘You’ve turned your back on us’, that hurts me. I do care. I have family and friends in the LGBTQ+ community.
“I’m not one of these people who goes home, forgets about everything and is just like, ‘I’m fine, my family is fine, just crack on.’ I do think about things a lot. But at the same time, I knew people can look at it like that and they’re entitled to their opinion, they’re entitled to feel like that. All I can say is that I apologise, I’m sorry that I’ve made them feel that way. But I haven’t changed as a person.
“I’m not a politician. I never have been and never wanted to be. I have never tried to change laws or rules in England, never mind in a different country where I’m not from.
“So I’m not saying that I’m going there to do that. But what I’m saying is people know what my values are and the people who know me know what my values are. And my values don’t change because I’m going to a different country where the laws of the country might be different.
“Now, I see that as a positive thing. I see that because, from their [Saudi] side, they knew that before signing it. So they knew what my beliefs were. They knew what causes and campaigns I’ve done in the past and not once was it brought up. Not once have they said, ‘You can do this, you can’t do this.’ And I think it can only be a positive thing to try to open up like around Qatar [at the 2022 World Cup].”
Henderson also denied reports he is earning £700,000-a-week and claimed he was not made to feel wanted by Liverpool as they targeted several new signings to revamp their midfield this summer, eventually bringing in Alexis Mac Allister, Dominik Szoboszlai and Ryan Gravenberch.
Pushed on his reported wage, Henderson said: “I wish it was! No, honestly, the numbers just aren’t true. But again, it had to work out for us financially as well. I’m not saying that it didn’t and I’m not saying, “Oh, I’m not on good money” because it’s good money and it was a good deal but it wasn’t the numbers that were reported.
“Stevie never mentioned money. Everything I spoke to Stevie about was football and the project. And he actually said he didn’t want to get involved in any of the money stuff. It was all about what we could do together to achieve something special and build a club and build the league.
“People will see this club come with loads of money and he’s just gone, ‘Yeah, I’m going.’ When in reality that just wasn’t the case at all. People can believe me or not, but in my life and my career, money has never been a motivation. Ever.
“There were a few things that sent alarm bells ringing. I’ve got a very good relationship with [Liverpool boss] Jurgen [Klopp]. 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 is 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.
“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.”