Saudi Pro League chief reveals truth behind Jordan Henderson’s exit

Saudi Pro League chief executive Michael Emenalo has admitted Jordan Henderson’s exit from Al Ettifaq was damaging for the midfielder “on a personal level”.

Henderson made the hugely controversial switch to Saudi Arabia from Liverpool last summer and was adamant about his passion towards the project, only to depart after just six months to sign with Dutch giants Ajax.

Speaking to The Telegraph, Emenalo insisted Henderson’s exit was not a poor reflection on life in Saudi Arabia and revealed his efforts to try and convince the former Liverpool midfielder to stay.

“It wasn’t damaging at all for the league,” Emenalo explained. “It was damaging on a personal level because this is someone that we all admired and we tried our very best to help him adapt and to stay.

“But sometimes these things are just beyond your own needs and just beyond professional. Jordan did a lot of good work here, did a lot of good work for Ettifaq and had inputs in ideas that have transformed that club and had an opportunity to know the country and the culture.

“If you ask him privately now, he will tell you that he had no issues. But sometimes there is a confluence of things happening that makes individuals make a decision that I think is best for them.

“I felt that is a guy who’s an ultra-professional and who had built a career, a magnificent, magnificent career through becoming Liverpool captain, England captain and maybe to, in his mind, he had an idea of how he wanted to finish.

“And maybe at some point in the course of the season he just felt that he is not going to get that. That’s something that you have to respect and it’s not something that I agree with because I really admire him and I had a one-on-one with him to try to [persuade him to stay].”

Jordan HendersonJordan Henderson

Henderson lasted just six months in Saudi Arabia / Yasser Bakhsh/GettyImages

Despite insistence from England manager Gareth Southgate that Henderson would still get a fair shot at representing his country while playing out in Saudi Arabia, the 33-year-old grew concerned about his international future and pushed for an exit in January.

He joined Ajax on a free transfer but managed just 12 appearances in all competitions as injuries limited his impact, and Henderson’s chaotic campaign culminated in the news that he had not made England’s squad for Euro 2024.

Henderson wasted little time in admitting his move to Saudi Arabia was a “mistake”, insisting his desire to play on a grander stage contributed to his decision to leave.


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