Opinion: Henderson Eredivisie Move Could End In Disaster

Jordan Henderson has not covered himself in glory over the last six months.

He was a stellar servant to Liverpool, but his failed move to Al Ettifaq certainly tarnishes the reputation he built up at Anfield. Sadly, it says as much about the state of the club he is joining as it does him.

His move to Saudi was never about anything other than money, but the manner in which the public relations was handled made Henderson something of a laughing stock in world football. He claimed his move was in some way going to help change LGBTQ+ rights and that he wanted to help grow the league. Fans mostly believed it was about money, up to £700,000 per week.

The Saudi league may be attracting big names for eye-watering sums of money, but it will not be an overnight success if it is a success at all. These gimmick leagues, inflated by money but not supported by fans, come and go. There was the North American Soccer League, the Japanese A-League, and now the Saudi League. Each attracted fading England stars; Bobby Moore went to America, and Gary Lineker to Japan. There’s no shame in chasing a payday, nor in talking about the challenge, but you cannot expect to go to one of these leagues and still be an England regular.

In October, Al Riyadh took on Henderson’s Al Ettifaq, winning 1-0. The game was watched by 696 spectators, whilst on the same weekend, 1,385 watched Scarborough Atheltic beat Buxton in England’s National League North. It underlines how you can pay the best players in the world (and Jordan Henderson) to come to your stadiums, but if the desire isn’t there from spectators, the league will never kick-off.

You have to wonder what Jordan expected. He’s struggled with the heat and humidity despite being a member of England’s World Cup squad in Qatar. He’s dismayed by attendances, and whilst it hasn’t been said publicly, he probably realises if he stays put, his chances of appearing at another international tournament are over. Enter Ajax.

Once upon a time, Ajax were a big gun in Europe. European Cup winners on three occasions and Champions League winners once, they are a huge club with a rich history. Last season saw them fail to qualify for the Champions League, and they’ve suffered humiliation by being eliminated from the Europa League in a group containing Brighton & Hove Albion and AEK Athens. At one stage, there was even talk of relegation from the Eredivisie, but they’ve clawed their way back up the table and now sit nine points off third spot, the final Champions League place.

If this were Ajax of old, top of the league and in the latter stages of the Champions League, Jordan Henderson would not be on their radar. A 33-year-old who has his best years behind him is not the sort of player a European giant targets, but Ajax are different. They need a bit of experience and a steady head, and Henderson’s departure from Al-Ettifaq is perfect for both parties.

Both player and club have a reputation to rebuild, and they can be good for each other. Ajax get to sign an England international to marshall the midfield, a stable figure if you discount the last six months. Henderson gets a move to a club whose name carries more clout than its performance this season, and he jams his foot in the door of Gareth Southgate’s midfield once more, sweeping in from the forgotten desert to hopefully reignite his England dreams.

There is another angle here that should worry Ajax. Al-Ettifaq, with Henderson, Georginio Wijnaldum, Jack Hendry, Demarai Gray, and Moussa Dembele, are eighth in the table, 28 points off the top spot. They’ve been poor, and the club’s decision to let him go might be framed as a player decision, but it could also be linked to his below-par performances. With Ajax reportedly paying £175,000 a week for the midfielder, the risk is obvious. Is this a fading Henderson cast aside by his Saudi paymasters for underperforming?

Will the move work out? From where we’re sitting, it only has bad outcomes, one of which is Henderson doing well and keeping the younger Kalvin Phillips out of England’s midfield! That’s the best outcome; the worst is costly to a household name of Dutch football and a further decline for a Liverpool legend.

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