After six months in Saudi Arabia, Jordan Henderson has returned to European soccer

RIYADH, SAUDI ARABIA - AUGUST 28: Jordan Henderson of Al-Ettifaq looks on during the Saudi Pro League match between Al-Hilal and Al-Ettifaq at Prince Faisal Bin Fahad on August 28, 2023 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (Photo by Francois Nel/Getty Images)

Henderson made 17 league appearances for Al Ettifaq.Francois Nel/Getty ImagesCNN — 

Soccer player Jordan Henderson has announced that he is returning to Europe to join Ajax, six months after making a controversial move to Saudi Arabia.

On Thursday, the England international said that he is leaving Saudi Pro League (SPL) club Al-Ettifaq “with immediate effect,” adding: “It wasn’t an easy decision but one that I feel is best for me and my family.”

Ajax, currently fifth in the Dutch Eredivisie, also confirmed the transfer on Thursday, posting photos and videos of Henderson’s arrival on the club’s social media pages.

“I still want to perform at a high level on the pitch and that’s the most important thing. I’ve got to come and perform and try and help the team become successful,” the 33-year-old said in a video on X, formerly Twitter.

A statement from Al-Ettifaq described the decision to terminate Henderson’s contract as “amicable,” while club president Samer Al Misehal said that the “quick decision, without any delay or further distraction, has been made for both the overall good of the club and for Jordan.”

Henderson’s deal with Al-Ettifaq was for three years, according to ESPN.

“Jordan is a good guy and it’s a shame that things didn’t work out for him, but he’d be the first to admit that full support was given to him and respect shown,” said Saad Allazeez, the interim CEO of the SPL.

AL DAMMAM, SAUDI ARABIA - NOVEMBER 24: Jordan Henderson of Al Ettifaq with the ball during the Saudi Pro League match between Al-Ettifaq and Al-Ittihad at Al Ettifaq Stadium on November 24, 2023 in Al Dammam, Saudi Arabia. (Photo by Yasser Bakhsh/Getty Images)

Henderson makes a pass during the Saudi Pro League match between Al Ettifaq and Al Ittihad in November.Yasser Bakhsh/Getty Images

Henderson’s move from Liverpool to Al-Ettifaq came under scrutiny given the midfielder’s previous support of LGBTQ rights. He has publicly endorsed the Stonewall-backed Rainbow Laces campaign and spoken about the need to stand “shoulder to shoulder” with those experiencing exclusion.

But in moving to Saudi Arabia – where same-sex sexual activity is an offense, according to Human Rights Watch – Henderson attracted criticism from LGBTQ campaign groups and the wider soccer community.

Kop Outs, a group for LGBTQ Liverpool fans, said it was “appalled and concerned” by the move, while 3LionsPride, a similar group for England supporters, said it was “disappointed.”

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In an interview with The Athletic published last year, Henderson said that he believed his move to Saudi Arabia was “a positive thing,” explaining that he understood the frustration from the LGBTQ community.

“I can understand the anger. I get it,” he said. “All I can say around that is that I’m sorry that they feel like that. My intention was never, ever to hurt anyone.”

Henderson won the Champions League and Premier League during his 12 seasons with Liverpool before moving to Al-Ettifaq last year, joining a number of high-profile players – including Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Neymar – in Saudi Arabia.

He made 17 league appearances during his six months with Al Ettifaq, which is managed by Liverpool great Steven Gerrard. On Thursday, the club announced that it had extended Gerrard’s contract until 2027.

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