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Jordan Henderson*

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Titi Camara:
Now that some time has passed hopefully JH can be discussed with calmer heads and a more sober outlook. Please note that this thread will be closely monitored; persistent rule breaking, thread derailment or abuse of other posters will not be tolerated. This may result in the thread being shut down permanently or posters simply removed from the site completely.

The Athletic Jordan Henderson Interview

--- Quote from: David Ornstein and Adam Crafton Sep 5, 2023 ---Jordan Henderson: I strongly believe that me playing in Saudi Arabia is a positive thing

Jordan Hendersonís transfer from Liverpool to Saudi Arabian Pro League side Al Ettifaq was one of the most controversial stories of the summer.

The Premier LeagueĖ and Champions League-winning captain, who had long been an advocate for LGBTQ+ rights, has been questioned by many for moving in July to play in a country that criminalises homosexuality. Many felt the England international put the vast amounts of money on offer from Saudi Arabia ahead of his morals.

Henderson has not spoken about the move but today, for the first time, he explains the thinking behind his decision and answers the criticisms aimed at him. He also discusses his departure from Liverpool.

We have decided to run the interview as a transcript below (edited in some parts to avoid repetition) so you can make your own minds up as to what you feel about his answers. And so you can see how the conversation developed.

As with all The Athletic interviews, no topics were off limits and neither Henderson, his representatives nor Al Ettifaq were allowed approval of the words or headline before publication.

David Ornstein: All your pre-season preparations appeared to be focused on returning to Liverpool in the Premier LeagueÖ

Jordan Henderson: That was very much the case. I had a chat with the manager at the end of last season, which was about the season coming up, the players that we were looking to bring in and what his plans were. I went away over the summer and I had an intense period of training to make sure that I was in the best shape possible when I returned to Liverpool.

Ornstein: You were Liverpool captain, the man who lifted the Premier League and Champions League trophies. When did that start to change? Was there an approach from the Saudi Pro League? Did Jurgen say you werenít part of his plans?

Henderson: There were a few things that sent alarm bells ringing. Iíve got a very good relationship with Jurgen. He was very honest with me. I wonít go into detail about the conversation because itís private, but it put me in a position where I knew that I wasnít going to be playing as much. I knew there were going to be new players coming in my position.

And if Iím not playing, as anybody will know, especially the manager, that can be quite difficult for me and especially when Iíve been at a club for so long, Iíve captained the team for so long. Especially when Englandís a big thing for me. Youíve got the Euros coming up. And then there was an approach from Al Ettifaq to the club to see if it would be possible for me to go there. The reaction from the club again wasnít to say no. At that moment, I felt as though my value or the want for me to stay, with the manager and within the club, maybe it had shifted. I knew that time would come at some point. I didnít think it would be now. And I had to accept that.

Iíve got very good relationships with Jurgen, with the owners of the club. Thatíll be forever. What weíve achieved together in the past 12 years has been incredible. But at the same time, it was hard for me to take that.

Adam Crafton: Was there part of you that was thinking, ďIíd just like you to fight for me a little bitĒ, as in ďfight for me to stayĒ?

Henderson: If one of those people said to me, ďNow we want you to stayĒ, then we wouldnít be having this conversation. And I have to then think about whatís next for me in my career. Now, thatís not to say that they forced me out of the club or they were saying they wanted me to leave but at no point did I feel wanted by the club or anyone to stay.

Ornstein: Why did you choose the Saudi offer? Did you have other opportunities? Because I think many people will be wondering what the captain of Liverpool was doing considering that move.

Henderson: Iím at the latter stage of my career and I want to be happy playing football. I want to play. I donít want to be sitting on the bench and coming on for 10 minutes in games. And I knew that would have an effect on my chances of playing for England.

Crafton: Liverpool have bought midfielders before when youíve been at the club. Thiago Alcantara came in. Naby Keita came in. And youíve always responded. There have been times when players came and Iíve thought, ďIs Jordan going to be in trouble?Ē And then you came back stronger each time. Were you tempted to think, ďOK, theyíre not saying theyíre desperate for me to stay, but Iím going to prove them wrong and get back in the teamĒ?

Henderson: 100 per cent. That was the whole thing about this training regime over the summer. I was working so hard and people saw the shape that I came back in. But when I got back, it was still the same situation, which made me think, ďActually, this time, does it matter what I do?Ē

Ornstein: Did you consider other options or was it full steam ahead with the Al Ettifaq approach?

Henderson: I think a lot of clubs would have known there was a possibility of me leaving because it was speculated over the summer. Iíd love to sit here and say that every club under the sun was wanting me. But the reality was that they werenít. Liverpool is where my kids were born; Iíve achieved so much there. I love the club, I love the fans and the thought of playing against them would have been a different challenge in a different way. And it wasnít something that I felt was right for me.

Crafton: What if it would have been maybe a Brighton or a Brentford, that kind of level, or was it your view, ďIf Iím going to stay in European football, I want to be really competing at the topĒ?

Henderson: I wanted something that would excite me. And thatís not to say those clubs wouldnít excite me because they are great clubs and they come with really different challenges. But it needed to be something that I felt as though I could add value in and do and try something new ó a new challenge and for different reasons.

And this opportunity with Stevie (Gerrard) in a totally different league and totally different culture was something completely different, that maybe it would excite us in terms of the project that was put in front of us, in terms of the league and using my experience to try to help with that in many different areas and feeling that people value. Itís nice to feel wanted. I know Stevie really wanted me. I know the club really wanted me to go and they wanted us to try and build over the next few years ó something that is here to stay and be one of the best leagues in the world.

Ornstein: Does that value extend to monetary? Because thereíll be so many people who will hear you say, ďI want the challenge and the project and Stevie and the excitementĒ but still say ďhe has just gone for the moneyĒ.

Henderson: That was the hardest thing. People will see this club come with loads of money and heís just gone, ďYeah, Iím going.Ē When in reality that just wasnít the case at all. People can believe me or not, but in my life and my career, money has never been a motivation. Ever. Donít get me wrong, when you move, the business deal has to be tight. You have to have financials, you have to feel wanted, you have to feel valued. And money is a part of that. But that wasnít the sole reason. And these possibilities came up before money was even mentioned.

Crafton: Itís been pretty widely reported figures like £700,000 ($881,000) a week or four times what you were earning at Liverpool. Is that true?

Henderson: No. I wish it was (laughs). No, honestly, the numbers just arenít true. But again, it had to work out for us financially as well. Iím not saying that it didnít and Iím not saying, ďOh, Iím not on good moneyĒ because itís good money and it was a good deal but it wasnít the numbers that were reported. No.

Crafton: So youíre saying that Steven, in all the conversations you had with him, was never mentioning the money to you?

Henderson: Stevie never mentioned money. Everything I spoke to Stevie about was football and the project. And he actually said he didnít want to get involved in any of the money stuff. It was all about what we could do together to achieve something special and build a club and build the league.

Ornstein: It prompted a backlash from fan groups, LGBTQ+ rights groups, around Liverpool and the wider game. You will have seen many of the comments, absolutely damning. They were urging you not to take it and they hoped you would do the right thing in their eyes and reject the move. Did you start to have second thoughts? Were you talking to your wife, your advisers and your friends?

Henderson: Every day. It was a difficult time, definitely. Donít get me wrong, I donít want people to feel sorry for me. It was just difficult to make that decision. Iíd been at a club for so long, a club that I love and have a lot of respect for the fans, the owners, the manager, my team-mates ó to leave my team-mates was a big thing. But in the end, I felt as though it was the right thing for them as well.

But from the outside and people who donít know me, then itís a lot more challenging to understand. There can be a lot of criticism, a lot of negativity around me as a person. And that was difficult to take. But I just feel as though, because I do care about different causes that Iíve been involved in, and different communitiesÖ I do care. And for people to criticise and say that Iíd turned my back on them really, really hurt me.

Crafton: When you say you were having those second thoughts, what were they about?

Henderson: Everything. About the situation with the LGBTQ+ community and with everything that is being reported in Saudi, my family, footballing decisions, team-mates. And again, Iím not just saying this for people to think, ďOh yeahÖĒ Iím just trying to give you some insight into what it was like. I spoke to so many different people that I trust, who know me, who will challenge me.

Crafton: What was it, therefore, that persuaded you? What reassured you?

Henderson: I think there was always going to be criticism regardless of what I did, whether I stayed, whether I went. So basically I had to make the decision on what was best for me and my family. So the football is the football side. So do I go somewhere to try something new, to grow the game that I love in another country, and grow the league into one of the best in the world? That excites me because I want to grow the sport all over the world. And that got me going, really.

And obviously the LGBTQ+ community. I can understand the frustration. I can understand the anger. I get it. All I can say around that is that Iím sorry that they feel like that. My intention was never, ever to hurt anyone. My intention has always been to help causes and communities where I felt like they had asked for my help. Now, when I was making the decision, the way that I tried to look at it was I felt as though, by myself not going, we can all bury our heads in the sand and criticise different cultures and different countries from afar. But then nothingís going to happen. Nothingís going to change.

Crafton: So, what youíre saying is, that by going and engaging, that brings a bigger possibility of change in some way?

Henderson: I think people know what my views and values were before I left and still do now. And I think having someone with those views and values in Saudi Arabia is only a positive thing.

Crafton: So I would press you on that, because we were told that around the World Cup in Qatar. You go, you engage. But I was there in Qatar walking down the street one day and saw a flag draped with a rainbow symbol crossed out, with the words that said, ďNot welcome in Qatar.Ē Then supporters were trying to go into the stadiums and they were having rainbow T-shirts taken off them. There was a story about one person being stripped down even, and having it taken off them by a security guard. So I suppose Iíd ask: have you actually seen or heard any evidence of this change on this specific issue?

Henderson: Firstly, Iím not a politician. I never have been and never wanted to be. I have never tried to change laws or rules in England, never mind in a different country where Iím not from. So Iím not saying that Iím going there to do that. But what Iím saying is people know what my values are and the people who know me know what my values are. And my values donít change because Iím going to a different country where the laws of the country might be different.

Now, I see that as a positive thing. I see that because, from their (Saudi) side, they knew that before signing it. So they knew what my beliefs were. They knew what causes and campaigns Iíve done in the past and not once was it brought up. Not once have they said, ďYou can do this, you canít do this.Ē And I think it can only be a positive thing to try to open up like around Qatar. In the end, around Qatar, having a World Cup there shined a light on certain issues where I think in the end, I might be wrong, but they changed some rules and regulations to be able to host the World Cup and I think thatís positive. Thatís the way you try to create positive change. And Iím not saying that I can do that. Iím one person.

Crafton: At Liverpool, a little thing, which meant a lot to a lot of people, was that you wore the rainbow laces and the rainbow armband. And during the Rainbow Laces campaign, when most players sign off a statement or quotes to go on a club website, you really engaged. You created expectations ó expectations that people feel that youíve not matched up to. So when you say you would continue to be the same person, would you wear rainbow laces still or would you see that as disrespectful to Saudi people?

Henderson: I wouldnít rule that out. But at the same time, what I wouldnít do is disrespect the religion and culture in Saudi Arabia. If weíre all saying everybody can be who they want to be and everybody is inclusive, then weíll have to respect that. Weíll have to respect everyone. And by doing something like that, if that did disrespect the religion, then no, Iím not going to do that. But if the opportunity comes where I can do it and it doesnít, then yeah, because thatís my values.

Crafton: That strikes at the heart of the tension here, as there are laws in the country. But there are almost certainly gay Muslims in the region of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf, who are arguably the most important people in this discussion and feeling the brunt of that situation. To go back to the words that you have used in the past, everyone should be able to be themselves. That is where people see the issue.

Henderson: Yeah. Iím not an expert, Iím learning with this, but the way that Iím trying to be is Iím quite a positive person. So I like to think that by me going with the beliefs and values that I have, is that not a positive thing?

Crafton: I donít know. Letís take something that happened when Al Ettifaq announced your signing. There was a video that went out on social media from the club, where it looked to a lot of people as though in one of the pictures, your armband, which was rainbow in the original, had been greyed out. And a lot of people interpreted that to mean maybe they have censored it or changed that. Do you know whether that was the case?

Henderson: I didnít know anything about it until it was out. And itís hard for me to know and understand everything because it is part of the religion. So if I wear the rainbow armband, if that disrespects their religion, then thatís not right either. Everybody should be respectful of religion and culture. Thatís what I think weíre all trying to fight for here in terms of inclusion and everything.

You know, years ago, for instance, women or kids probably couldnít play football, but now Iím over there and thereís loads of women and girls playing football, so slowly things can change. I canít promise anything, but what I can do is sit here and say I have my values and beliefs. And I strongly believe that me playing in Saudi Arabia is a positive thing.

Ornstein: Do you think that you holding those beliefs is respected by the Saudis and the people who are employing you? Will they be unhappy to hear these words?

Henderson: Thereís never been any mention of, ďYou can say this, or you canít say this.Ē Itís basically, ďYou have your values and your beliefs, which we will respect, but you respect our values and our beliefsĒ and surely thatís the way it should be.

Crafton: This is something we heard a lot during the World Cup in Qatar, about having to respect the culture. When we talk about culture, I think of food, music, sport, art. And then I think about being a gay person, which is not something where youíve woken up one day and decided you want to get into it. Itís something that youíre born as. You canít change it. So, therefore, when people describe homosexuality as a culture, I think gay people really struggle with that because youíre basically being told you have to just accept living a life where youíre illegal.

Henderson: (Long pause) Now, I totally understand that. And I couldnít imagine how that must feel. And thatís why I have so much sympathy and the last thing I want to do is to upset you or anyone who is part of the LGBTQ+ community. All Iíve ever tried to do is help. And when Iíve been asked for help, Iíve gone above and beyond to help. Iíve worn the laces. Iíve worn the armband. Iíve spoken to people in that community to try to use my profile to help them. Thatís all Iíve ever tried to do. Iím not going to sit here saying, ďWhy are they criticising me?Ē I understand it. These are all the things I was thinking about, and I do care. When I hear stuff like, ďYouíve turned your back on usĒ, that hurts me. I do care. I have family and friends in the LGBTQ+ community.

Crafton: What have they said to you?

Henderson: They know me, so itís not an issue. They were the people I spoke to before I made the decision. Iím comfortable knowing exactly what I am and exactly what I stand for. But I get and I can accept not everyoneís going to get that. So thatís why I can only apologise to those people if they feel like that.

Crafton: What would you say to those people who just say you were completely genuine, in terms of the engagement you made and the things that you did to support LGBTQ+ people, but then, as might be the case with loads and loads of people, thereís just a point where a sum of money comes along where itís simply too hard to say no to. Is the most honest answer here, ďIíve been really genuine, but actually thereís an offer on the table and maybe most people in this position would do the sameĒ?

Henderson: It would be a lot easier for me to say that. But thatís not true. Itís not the case because money wasnít mentioned until after the event. I could have stayed at Liverpool and earned a lot of money and if people donít believe that, then thereís nothing I can do.

Crafton: I donít want to dwell on this topic too much longer because I feel the intensity here now. But just a, really, almost yes-or-no question: as part of your agreement, will you receive payments for any sort of social media posts promoting the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia?

Henderson: No. Anything contractually was all to do with football. But thereís a lot of stuff that gets reported in the media and on social media. And Iíve learned over the years that you donít know whatís true and whatís not. So youíve got to go and experience it for yourself. So my (reported) wages, for one, are not true. I see stuff about me thatís just not true. There are loads of things. Do we sit over in the UK just criticising everything that goes on in the Middle East when really, when youíre there, itís not quite like that. And Iíve found that over the past few weeks, the perception that Iíve seen in the media here compared to what the reality is over there isnít the same.

Ornstein: There was an article I read before this interview that sort of said that youíre being used ó not just you but others as well ó to help grow this league, and that is part of an attempt to improve the countryís image. Did it never get to a point where you listen to the people you were talking to before, including members of the LGBTQ+ community, and think, ďI canít do thisĒ?

Henderson: Itís hard to know what the reality is and whatís not true. Because you hear about stuff and youíre like, ďIs that true?Ē But when you speak to people who are close to me and have had experiences over in Saudi or over in the Middle East, itís like, ďWell, actually, thatís not the same.Ē

A perfect example would be before Qatar. We had a meeting with the FA about human rights, about the issues around the stadiums. I think it might have been Amnesty who had sent the images and stuff. And then, half an hour later, I go into a press conference or some media and Iíve commented on that situation. I was like, ďWell, it was quite shocking and horrendousĒ and that was quite hard for us to see. But then when I went to Qatar and we had the experience we had at the World Cup, you get to meet the workers there and it was totally different.

Crafton: I suppose people would come back and say what you were presented with in Qatar as a high-profile footballer was always going to be different, a choreographed, manicured perceptionÖ

Henderson: Iím not saying that it wasnít true. All of this stuff might have been. But when you go there and experience it for yourself, it is totally different. Now, what I would say is that if, letís say, all of those things are true, is it not good that it highlights the problems and weíre trying to make positive change, slowly? You know, Qatar made rule and regulation changes for the World Cup. Is that not a positive thing? Is that not what we want? Otherwise, if we donít have the World Cup there and nobody goes there, then nothing really changes for the people that are living there.

Like you mentioned before, if you have gay Muslims in those countries, nothingís changing. Even looking in this country, Iím sure same-sex marriage nine, 10 years ago wasnít legal ó but in time, things change, things evolve, things open up. And I hope hopefully that thatís the case everywhere. Thatís what I want.

Crafton: As the Saudi league infrastructure starts to grow, what are the things that youíve been impressed by and what are the things that can still get better?

Henderson: I think thereís a lot to do to improve ó in terms of infrastructure, facilities ó but thatís ongoing. Youíre seeing the different training grounds, the gymsÖ all of that sort of stuff to get it up to a level that it needs to be at. I can see them working on it now, which is good.

Ornstein: Iím sure it would have been tricky for you and many others at the start ó acclimatising to the weather, to the facilities when youíve come from the top of the Premier League. But are you pleased you went? Is it going to be huge?

Henderson: Iím trying to embrace it. Itís totally, totally different in terms of culture, living, night-time training, getting to bed late, waking up during the dayÖ

Crafton: Are you being recognised?

Henderson: Yeah, a bit! I thought Iíd be under the radar but people are coming over. Sometimes theyíre not even asking for a photo; itís just like, ĎWelcome to Saudi. Hope you enjoy your experience hereí. Iíve had loads of that and thatís been a really positive thing for me. Honestly, and Iím not just saying it, the people have been amazing so far.

Crafton: If you were to go back to Anfield, given everything thatís happened over the last couple of months, would you have any anxiety in terms of the negative reaction?

Henderson: To be honest, Adam, the negative reaction, I think a lot of it is on social media and in the media, which I donít get involved with. When Iíve seen people around, they have all wished me all the very best. Even Liverpool fans. I dedicated my life for 12 years to the club. I gave them everything. And I would do it all again if I could go back. I think they know that, they appreciate that. Iíd have no concerns if I had the opportunity or if they welcomed me back to say goodbye. Because that does hurt me a little bit, that I didnít get to say goodbye properly to the fans.

Crafton: Have you done a testimonial?

Henderson: No. But if I had the opportunity to do something ó whether that would be a testimonial or just to go back to say ďbyeĒ ó I think that would be good and nice for me to do, because that does hurt.

Ornstein: Englandís LGBTQ+ fan group has been quite vociferous in the last 24 hours, saying thereíll be no more cheering, no more banner with your face on. Theyíre urging their group to turn their back to the pitch as they feel you have turned your back on advocating human rightsÖ

Henderson: It hurts to hear that. I do care. Iím not one of these people who goes home, forgets about everything and is just like, ďIím fine, my family is fine, just crack on.Ē I do think about things a lot. But at the same time, I knew people can look at it like that and theyíre entitled to their opinion, theyíre entitled to feel like that. All I can say is that I apologise, Iím sorry that Iíve made them feel that way. But I havenít changed as a person.

Crafton: Did you speak to Gareth (Southgate, Englandís manager) during the transfer to check where youíd stand? You have said you were worried about how being on the bench at Liverpool may affect your England chances. Some people might say going off to Saudi Arabia presents the same issue.

Henderson: I spoke to the manager, who was very good. It wasnít so much to check because I knew I didnít really want to put him in the position where he would guarantee that Iíd be playing for England. He couldnít do that. Ultimately, I backed myself in terms of fitness, in terms of desire and keeping myself in the right shape.

Ornstein: Is there anything else you want to say to people reading?

Henderson: No, just thanks for taking the time. I donít want a pat on the back or anything but I could have easily not done anything. I could have gone with another journalist (Adam is part of the LGBTQ+ community) who I may have a relationship with and been protected more. But I felt as though this felt right. Because I want to learn as well. Because itís hard for me to hear some of the stuff that Iíve heard and I want to learn why thatís the case and how I can help going forward. People can make their own mind up.

--- End quote ---

Terry de Niro:
Enjoy your despot retirement.   :-\

As I posted in the other thread, Iím genuinely knocked sick by this quote. Above and beyond, yeno.

--- Quote ---
--- Quote ---Jordan Henderson on LGBTQ: "All Iíve ever tried to do is help. And when Iíve been asked for help, Iíve gone above and beyond to help. Iíve worn the laces. Iíve worn the armband."
--- End quote ---

This fucking c*nt truly thinks wearing laces and an armband constitutes going ďabove and beyondĒ. Are you MESSING.
--- End quote ---

Iím almost 33 (bisexual and a woman, which I guess is relevant to the subject matter) so Iíve been too old to idolise footballers for a long time now. Even so, Iíve never been more disillusioned with the state of this sport and the people within it than I am these days.

I have never seen anyone get this exposed for what they are this abruptly. What a complete c*nt. I do not even have words.

Jeeeeesus, got to have a strong stomach to get through all of that. Execrable. Can't believe he's trying to spin this laughably insulting bullshit instead of keeping his head down. I'd be too ashamed to leave the compound.

--- Quote ---And I think having someone with those views and values in Saudi Arabia is only a positive thing.
--- End quote ---

But then

--- Quote ---Firstly, I'm not a politician. I never have been and never wanted to be. I have never tried to change laws or rules in England, never mind in a different country where I'm not from.
--- End quote ---

Spineless weasel c*nt.

But it's ok, because he went above and beyond for the LGBT community.

--- Quote ---And when I've been asked for help, I've gone above and beyond to help. I've worn the laces. I've worn the armband.
--- End quote ---

Nice one Jordan, I hope you choke on the blood money.


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