Jordan Henderson excused while Marco Silva the ‘mercenary’ as gammon hits the pan

Editor F365
Jordan Henderson is heading to Saudi Arabia but Marco Silva is not.
Jordan Henderson is heading to Saudi Arabia but Marco Silva is not.

‘Why should footballers always have to be moral crusaders?’ is the question asked by Martin Samuel in the Sunday Times as he defends Jordan Henderson against criticism for his transformation from LGBT+ ally to highly paid shill for Saudi Arabia, where same-sex relationships are illegal and can be punishable by death.

There is a simple answer here and Samuel is intelligent enough to know it, but has leaned so heavily into gammon life that he is choosing to ignore it. That simple answer? ‘They don’t always have to be; some choose to be.’

There is a reason why Henderson has been roundly condemned for his decision to roll in the riyals and Riyad Mahrez, Ruben Neves, N’Golo Kante and others have not: He chose to be an ally, he chose to be vocal, he chose to embrace his standing as a spokesperson for inclusivity. That was his decision.

Samuel’s flawed argument fluffed with false equivalence is that engineers and bankers are allowed to take Saudi Arabian money without condemnation (Mediawatch would venture that the gay family and friends of engineers and bankers might argue otherwise), so why not footballers?

Bankers aren’t given to making noble statements on gay rights, but nor are many footballers unless asked about it. There was a time when they played and went home, without being required to be role models or spokesmen for a generation. We elevate these individuals and are then disappointed when they do not live up to our lofty billing.

The problem here is that Henderson was not simply ‘asked’ about it, was he? ‘We’ didn’t elevate him; he elevated himself.

He wasn’t asked to reply to gay Liverpool fan Keith Spooner by writing: ‘You’ll never walk alone Keith. If wearing the #RainbowLaces armband helps even just one person then it’s progress. Everyone is welcome at Liverpool Football Club.’

And he absolutely did not have to re-tweet (not reply, but re-tweet) the views of a non-binary England fan and add ‘Hi Joe great to hear you enjoyed the game as you should. No one should be afraid to go and support their club or country because football is for everyone no matter what. Thanks for your support, enjoy the rest of the Euros.’

He probably did not have to dedicate his entire programme notes to the subject, writing: ‘I do believe when you see something that is clearly wrong and makes another human being feel excluded you should stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them.’

It was these actions that led to Henderson being nominated for a Football Ally award in 2021. He is on record as saying he is ‘incredibly proud to be regarded’ as such. This is not a case of a footballer ‘tackled on LGBT rights’ and answering in a certain way to be ‘kind, fair and polite’; this is a footballer who actively and repeatedly chose to be vocal on that subject.

Why should footballers always have to be moral crusaders? They absolutely don’t. But when they make that choice, they really must take the criticism – particularly from those supposedly standing shoulder to shoulder with him – as well as the acclaim.

READ: Over the rainbow? Will Jordan Henderson really sell his soul for Saudi Arabia gold?

But you know who deserves criticism for taking the Saudi gold? Fulham manager Marco Silva, that’s who.

Samuel is very clear on this subject, in the very same column in which he absolves Henderson of any blame at all.

Heads are being turned by the money on offer from Saudi Arabia, and managers are no exception. Steven Gerrard is now out there, so too Slaven Bilic and Nuno Espírito Santo. So why does it feel that if Marco Silva walks out on Fulham for a job with Al-Ahly, that is him done in the English game?

Perhaps because, with his club also set to lose their main goalscorer Aleksandar Mitrovic to Al-Hilal – Fulham are asking £52 million, but Mitrovic is actively trying to force the move and has spoken privately of refusing to play – it seems like such a brazen act of disloyalty.

The problem is that by the time the Sunday Times had hit doormats, Silva had turned down the approach from Saudi Arabia. Oops.

Silva has always been ambitious and mercenary, that much is understood.


He took the job at Hull City as a springboard into English football, resigned at the end of the 2016-17 season and was appointed Watford manager two days later; he was being linked with Everton roughly six months into his tenure at Vicarage Road, and they ended up paying £4 million in compensation when Watford sued.

A few things here. First, Silva only actually took the Hull job until the end of the season and a statement from the Tigers at the time said Silva ‘will be forever remembered for his efforts to maintain our Premier League status’. Sure sounds like a mercenary move.

And Watford did actually sack Silva after poor results, a fact which is oddly missing from Samuel’s summary.

Now everyone seemingly knows the details of his Fulham release clause, which is the sort of convenient leak that happens when a manager has his eye out for a better job. And if all of this moves Silva up management’s greasy pole, we would typically shrug and dismiss it as the business of football.

Yet, in professional terms, Al-Ahly aren’t promotion. Not from Fulham, and not from the Premier League. It’s a purely financial move and while no one’s judging, it doesn’t make Silva the man for the long term, or a project, or a manager a club can even rely on being there next week, if he spies an opportunity elsewhere.

The headline is ‘Fulham deserve more as greedy Silva joins the Saudi gold rush’ so it sure feels like somebody is judging. And prematurely judging, as it turns out.

It took only one Google search to find where this antipathy towards Silva stems from – it stretches back to 2017 when Samuel lost his brain that the distinctly foreign Silva was being linked with Premier League jobs when the English Paul Clement was not.

Samuel was utterly incensed that Clement – who had an actual job at Swansea – was not being linked with better jobs like the unemployed Silva, evoking the usual tropes about the former’s ‘crime’ being that he is British.

Presumably Samuel still believes that nationality is the reason why Silva is managing a mid-table Premier League side and Clement was sacked along with Frank Lampard for doing a rotten job at Everton.

And all these years later, he is still angry at a ‘mercenary’ who has now followed the money to Saudi Arabia. Except, well, he hasn’t.

That would be Jordan Henderson, who just happens to be English so crack on, fella.