It is fair to say that it has been a strange few months for Jordan Henderson. The England midfielder won every trophy that there was to win whilst captaining Liverpool, the most successful club in the history of the English game. In the summer of 2023, however, he made the strange decision to leave the club in order to sign for Saudi Pro League team Al-Ettifaq.
Now, less than six months on, he is one again on the move, this time heading to the Dutch team Ajax on a two-and-a-half year deal. It is an exciting signing for Ajax, given the fact that Henderson will feel as though he has a lot left to give in a footballing sense.
— Jordan Henderson (@JHenderson) January 18, 2024
He will also be a brilliant leader for the Eredivisie side. Although Henderson’s departure from Anfield left a sour taste in the mouths of many, there is no question that what he achieved with the Merseyside club should not be under-estimated.
With Henderson as captain, Liverpool won the Champions League, Premier League, FA Cup and League Cup, to say nothing of becoming the champions of both Europe and the wider world. He lifted seven major trophies during his time at Anfield, making 492 appearances and scoring 33 goals in addition to registering 57 assists. For their part, Ajax haven’t won a major trophy since 2022.
A Liverpool Legend?
On the one hand, many would consider Jordan Henderson to be a Liverpool legend. He arrived at the club from his hometown side Sunderland in 2011 in a deal that was believed to be worth around £20 million. Initially he struggled to settle, being asked to play as a right-winger by the club’s then manager Kenny Dalglish.
Although his performances had improved under Brendan Rodgers, the Ulsterman was still happy to see him leave for Fulham in order to bring in Clint Dempsey from the London-based side. That deal never happened, with Henderson instead securing his place in the Liverpool side and eventually being made captain.
That happened after the decision of Steven Gerrard to depart for LA Galaxy, with Henderson stepping up in terms of both responsibility and performance. ‘Hendo’, as he is known to most, lifted the club’s first Premier League title in 2020, a year after also being the person who hoisted the Champions League trophy above his head; the sixth time a Liverpool captain had done so.
His decision to leave Anfield wasn’t too controversial in and of itself, but his choice to do so in order to play in the Saudi Pro League rankled with many. It is not legal to be a member of the LGBTQ+ community in Saudi Arabia, with Henderson having put himself out as an ally to the community when he was Liverpool captain.
Signing for Al-Ettifaq
Henderson seemed to be somewhat confused about the furore around his decision to sign for Saudi club Al-Ettifaq, making a non-apology apology when speaking to The Athletic and saying, “All I can say around that is that I’m sorry that they feel like that”.
His move to the Saudi Pro League was justified by many on account of the amount of money that he would be making, with some referring to it as ‘generational wealth’. The anger of the LGBTQ+ community was further enhanced, however, when his signing video for the club resulted in the rainbow armband that he wore as Liverpool captain being turned to black and white.
His decision to sign for Al-Ettifaq was inspired by the fact that Steven Gerrard, his former Liverpool teammate and the person he took over from as captain of the club, was the manager. The Henderson and Gerrard families reportedly lived near to each other in Bahrain whilst the two were at the club.
‘Hendo’ made his debut on the 14th of August 2023, appearing in a 2-1 win over Al-Nassr in a Saudi Pro League match. In all, he made 17 appearances for the club before a decision was taken to terminate his contract by mutual consent. Having reportedly agreed to defer his wagers in order to avoid paying UK tax on them, he essentially played for the club for free.
Becoming an Ajax Player
On the 18th of January 2024, it was confirmed that Jordan Henderson was signing for Eredivisie side Ajax. He said,
“Putting on that Ajax shirt for the first time will be really special and I can’t wait for that to happen. Once I knew that there was an opportunity [to move here], I was over-excited and just overwhelmed that this opportunity was there for me. It was something that I wanted to try to make happen so it is very humbling for me to be here now. It’s a special day.”
Jordan Henderson joins Al Ettifaq on 3 year contract — official, confirmed 🇸🇦 pic.twitter.com/UlQyxIrbGn
— Fabrizio Romano (@FabrizioRomano) July 27, 2023
He arrives at the club knowing that a lot needs to happen in order for it enjoy success, with Ajax sitting 23 points behind league leaders PSV Eindhoven on the day that he signed.
As far as Ajax were concerned, signing Henderson was something of a no-brainer. The club’s manager, John van’t Schip, said,
“We wanted an experienced midfielder with leadership qualities. Partially due to injuries in the team, we were looking for someone who could step in immediately. Jordan Henderson is that type of player. His arrival means a huge enhancement for our squad. Both on and off the pitch, a football player of this calibre is important for our many young players. He’s an English international player and has won the Champions League and many other prizes with Liverpool. I am happy he’s here, and I think it’s very good for our club.”
It won’t necessarily be plain sailing for Henderson with sections of the Ajax fanbase, however. Sven Kistner, Board Member of Queer Football Fan Clubs, a network of LGBTQ+ football fans in Europe, believes that he’ll have to earn back the trust of the community. He said,
“He could and should have known better before, but he didn’t and now he’s coming back. I think he might again play a good role for our community, but it will take some time until the trust in him is back. It will need some effort from his side to get this reputation back.”
There is no question about Henderson’s work-rate, however, and that is sure to win over supporters of his new club.