Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard has explained why he asked Al Ettifaq to sign former teammate Jordan Henderson during the summer transfer window.
Henderson brought the curtain down on a successful 12-year stay at Anfield ahead of the 2023/24 season, joining Al Ettifaq in the Saudi Pro League for a £12m fee.
Prior to this move, Henderson was known as one of the LGBTQ+ community’s strongest visible allies, but that bond has since broken down after heading to a country where homosexuality is outlawed and even punishable by death. In an interview with The Athletic in September, Henderson tried to explain his stance was about showing respect for different cultures, religions and beliefs – a response that didn’t wash back in the UK.
“I think when you’re the coach, the manager, you want players going into games that can be an extended version of the staff,” Gerrard said. “People, who can really help on-pitch coaching; where the team needs to be in terms of distances, to make on-field decisions.
“Myself and Jordan, we have that trust. We played together and he’s a fantastic player still, a fantastic human being. For us, to execute that signing was key and very important and I think a lot of the other signings we made came on the back of Jordan agreeing to come here.
“I think he wanted to still play, I think that was the key. He was at Liverpool at the time, he’s had a fantastic career, he’s achieved everything at that club, he’s been a fantastic servant to Liverpool Football Club.
“But I think in the previous months, maybe him not being a regular starter in the team, when you get to that age, I’ve been there myself under Brendan Rodgers when, you’re the captain, you play all the games, then all of a sudden you’re on the bench or you’re not getting as many minutes as you’d like, and that’s when you analyse and think about a different challenge.
“And when we knew it was a possibility, I wanted to be aggressive and wanted that to be my first signing, because for me it was a no-brainer.
“Still a fantastic player, he’s a leader, an on-pitch coach. His standards on how he lives his daily life on and off the pitch is good for our young players to see, watch and learn. Jordan understands the size of the project, that it’s not a quick fix. He wants to be part of the journey and building it with us, but he was a very important signing at a key time.”
Henderson has since been joined at Al Ettifaq by another former Liverpool teammate in Georginio Wijnaldum, who completed a move from Paris Saint-Germain at the beginning of September. The Dutchman’s career has taken a tumble since leaving Liverpool in 2021, failing to make an impact at PSG and spending last season on loan at Roma, though much of that campaign was disrupted by a fractured tibia.
On Wijnaldum’s arrival, Gerrard added: “Gini recently hasn’t played as much football as he would have liked. He had an injury where he broke his leg, and his last couple of experiences haven’t brought him football happiness, so he was looking to play regular football, he wanted to smile again, he wanted to feel an important part of the team and we could give him that stage and that platform.
“He’s got many similarities to Jordan in terms of leadership, professionalism. He’s a winner, a different type to Jordan in terms of style, but they complement each other very well and I’ve seen that firsthand being a Liverpool fan for many years.
“We’re looking for that combination, we’re looking for that leadership and we’re looking for them to play those key roles in terms of presence and contribution on the pitch.
“Bringing the likes of Jordan Henderson, Gini Wijnaldum, Moussa Dembele and Jack Hendry, it was important they were the right characters. The right people to also support us and give us a good core strength in the dressing room.”
What we know
- Jordan Henderson left Liverpool during summer transfer window
- Midfielder reunited with former teammate Steven Gerrard at Al Ettifaq
- His move to Saudi Arabia has been widely criticised.