Jordan Henderson's Move To Saudi Arabia Doesn't Make Sense For Him Or Liverpool

Henderson and Liverpool will be worse off if this move is made
10:00, 17 Jul 2023

The Sportsman have chronicled the issues surrounding LGBTQ+ ally Jordan Henderson moving to Al Ettifaq in the Saudi Pro League here. While that article sums up the implications of an advocate like Henderson going to a nation where homosexuality is illegal, this one will focus purely on the footballing side of the transfer.

It is a head-scratcher on the pitch, too. Not so much for Steven Gerrard’s new Saudi Arabian charges. The former Aston Villa manager is landing a player he knows well, a former teammate no less. Henderson was Gerrard’s successor as captain when he left Liverpool in 2015. The parallels don’t end there, with both playing a crucial part in the England midfield throughout their careers. Gerrard knows exactly what he’s getting in Henderson.

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But for the player, the transfer is a harder one to quantify. On the surface of it, a reported £600,000 weekly salary would sway almost anyone. But how much of a draw is money to someone who is already living the comfortable life of a multi-millionaire? Surely there must be some further draw than that?

A lot of the recent glut of Saudi moves have made sense. Cristiano Ronaldo saw his transfer to Al-Nassr as a chance to ignite football in another country. The fact the goals had dried up at Manchester United and his advancing age probably helped. N’Golo Kante and Roberto Firmino were seeing their roles decrease at Chelsea and Liverpool respectively. For Kalidou Koulibaly it is a chance to revive a career that hit the skids at Stamford Bridge.

But none of the above rings true for Henderson. He remains Liverpool’s skipper and played in 35 of 38 Premier League games last season. Despite Liverpool’s patchy season, his reputation has dropped little. Henderson is still seen as one of the hardest workers at the club on and off the pitch. Nor does he play under the sort of manager who ruthlessly culls the over-30s from his squad. James Milner only left this summer at the age of 37 and Jurgen Klopp still publicly entertained the idea of keeping him.

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The potential loss of Henderson actually leaves Liverpool in an awkward position. The Merseyside club had expected a mass midfield rebuild this summer and have undertaken it with gusto. Naby Keita, the aforementioned Milner and Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain have left the club. A £40 million approach from Saudi Arabia is being entertained for Fabinho. Meanwhile attacking midfielder pair Alexis Mac Allister and Dominik Szoboszlai have been signed.

But if Fabinho and Henderson both leave, the club is looking incredibly light in deeper midfield positions. Klopp has a long-standing interest in Romeo Lavia, the 19-year-old Southampton midfielder. But they cannot go into the season with just a teenager, Curtis Jones and the injury-prone Thiago Alcantara as their deeper midfield options.

There is talk of a move for £100m-rated Moises Caicedo of Brighton & Hove Albion. But with Chelsea among the many clubs circling the 21-year-old midfielder, that move is by no means a certainty. Even if it were, by bringing in players aged 19 and 21 you are not replacing the experience Henderson will be taking out of the door with him. An example to his teammates, he has won everything there is to win with Liverpool.

Given leaders like Milner and Firmino have already gone, suddenly you’re looking at a young dressing room with far less points of reference for the standards required to succeed at Anfield. Obviously modern greats like Mohamed Salah and Virgil van Dijk remain, but the midfield would be down to just Thiago in terms of tried-and-true experience.

Henderson must think carefully before making this move, for reasons both on and off the pitch. Focusing on the football side, his England place will surely be at risk if he goes to Saudi Arabia. Can Gareth Southgate rely on Henderson to be sharp and firing on all cylinders when he’s playing a less competitive or high-quality standard of football? The England manager is notorious for disregarding players in leagues as renowned as Serie A. Is he really going to be looking to the Saudi Pro League when it comes time to pick his squad?

This move is hard to quantify, even from a pure football perspective. Henderson appears to have plenty left in the tank at Premier League level. We don’t know his motivations for turning his back on that but it seems like an unusual choice, money aside. Meanwhile, Liverpool will put themselves in a difficult position if they let him go, even if the fee ends up being considerable for a 33-year-old. Given these factors and several more that we have discussed elsewhere, there is no doubt this is the most surprising proposed transfer of the summer.

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