Jordan Henderson ‘can’t wait to get going’ after controversial Saudi move

Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson insists he cannot wait to get started on a new challenge after completing a controversial move to Saudi Arabian side Al-Ettifaq.

The 33-year-old brought to an end a 12-year stay at Anfield in which he won every major trophy by finalising a three-year deal with reported wages of up to £700,000 a week.

Henderson, who posted a farewell message to Reds fans on Wednesday, took to Instagram again after his signing was confirmed.

“Delighted to announce I’ve signed for @ettifaq. New challenge ahead, can’t wait to get going. Welcome to Saudi Arabia,” he wrote.

Liverpool are due to receive an initial £12million for the England international, who will be reunited with his former team-mate Steven Gerrard who is manager at the Saudi Pro League club.

“There is no doubt that Henderson is a distinguished addition,” said Al-Ettifaq vice-president Professor Hatem Al-Mishal.

“We completed the deal after the recommendation of sports director Elko Chatori and the technical staff led by English coach Steven Gerrard, who accompanied him as a player and knows his capabilities.”

Henderson was seen training with his new team-mates at a camp in Croatia in a fan video posted on social media, which will have caused Liverpool some embarrassment even though it was hastily deleted.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp paid tribute to his departing captain.

“I know it was a really, really tough decision for Hendo and I was around or with him all the way,” he told the club’s website.

“It’s sad, absolutely strange, because he is the only captain I had here at Liverpool, but I think it is exciting for him as well.

“We will miss him, without a shadow of a doubt, that’s clear – as a man and as a player. But, as I said, that’s football.”

However, Henderson’s move had attracted criticism due to his long-time support of LGBT+ issues and the Premier League’s Rainbow Laces campaign.

Homosexuality is illegal and punishable by death in Saudi Arabia, while the state stands accused of a host of other abuses including placing harsh restrictions on women’s rights and the right to political protest.

Al-Ettifaq’s video montage to announce Henderson’s arrival mixes colour and black and white footage but in the majority of the images the captain’s armband he is wearing – including both the LGBT+ rainbow and UEFA’s No to Racism – is greyed out.

“Jordan Henderson is of course free to play for whoever he chooses, but we would urge him to examine Saudi Arabia’s human rights record and be prepared to speak out about human rights violations in the country,” Amnesty’s UK economic affairs director Peter Frankental told the PA news agency last week.

Pride in Football, a network of LGBT+ fan groups, said in a statement: “When you see someone who has been an ally so publicly transfer to a club in a country where LGBT+ people are attacked and imprisoned, it is disappointing.

“Good luck in Saudi Arabia Jordan, but you have lost the respect of so many people who valued you and trusted you.”

Liverpool’s Jordan Henderson wears a rainbow coloured captain’s armband

Henderson has been a big supporter of LGBT+ issues and the Premier League’s Rainbow Laces campaign (Peter Powell/PA)

Henderson joins a growing list of players moving to Saudi Arabia.

However, one player who will not be heading to the Middle East is Paris St Germain’s Kylian Mbappe, who reportedly refused to meet Al-Hilal officials in Paris on Wednesday after his club accepted what would be a world-record transfer fee of £259million.

PSG believe Mbappe, who has 12 months left on his contract, has already agreed a free transfer to Real Madrid but their willingness to listen to offers for the 24-year-old has led to speculation linking him to the Premier League.

However, the financial implications of such a move would be beyond almost all the clubs in the top flight.

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