Steven Gerrard ‘disappointed’ in Jordan Henderson? Unai Emery’s made him look a right mug

Will Ford
Steven Gerrard, Unai Emery and Jordan Henderson.
Steven Gerrard, Unai Emery and Jordan Henderson.

We don’t blame Steven Gerrard for being “disappointed” in Jordan Henderson. We’re disappointed too, though the source of Gerrard’s disappointment earned Henderson some credit back in our books. He’s left Saudi Arabia while Gerrard remains, and that’s one of the key contributors to the irony of Gerrard being disappointed in anyone.

Henderson said the opportunity to work under Gerrard was a “huge factor” in his decision to sign for Al-Ettifaq. We didn’t buy it at the time and still don’t. Gerrard may be the reason he chose them over other Saudi Pro League clubs but, just like Gerrard, Henderson went to the Middle East for the money.

The move was far more damaging for Henderson’s reputation. A man who had championed the LGBT+ community in his time as Liverpool captain abandoned his morals to play football in a country that denies human rights to members of the very same group of people.

He could have stayed at Liverpool and will have had his pick of other huge European teams, like Ajax, where he now plays.

Some scant justice for those frustrated, hurt and angered by Henderson’s decision came through the LGBT+ turncoat not receiving a penny of his £350,000-a-week salary from Al Ettifaq, having deferred his wages to avoid UK tax before ripping up his contract with the Saudi Pro League club, while further schadenfreude has been enjoyed on the back of his struggles at Ajax and resulting snub from the England squad for Euro 2024. Serves him right.

READ MORE: 16 Conclusions on England’s Euro 2024 squad: Rashford, Henderson, alarming defensive gaps, absurd attacking strength

Gerrard didn’t need to go to Saudi Arabia either. He too deserves reproval for turning a blind eye to their human rights violations. But he didn’t have Henderson’s options.

We expected great (or at least half-decent) things after his title-winning season with Rangers. One of the greatest Premier League footballers of all time looked the likeliest to put the kibosh on the idea that the Golden Generation all turn into terrible football managers.

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The first signs at Aston Villa weren’t bad either. Having taken over with them in relegation peril on 10 points from 11 games he steadied the ship in his first season, but was then dismissed having accrued just nine points from the same number of games at the start of the 2022/23 campaign.

“We had players who weren’t giving what I felt they should have been giving at the time,” Gerrard said when reflecting on his time at Villa Park, insisting he takes “full responsibility” while actually laying a significant portion of the blame at the doors of his supposedly work-shy players.

Unai Emery has had no such issues and has extolled and exemplified the virtues of a “no excuses” philosophy while making his predecessor look like a right mug.

While Gerrard has taken Al-Ettifaq from seventh to sixth in the Saudi Pro League playing in front of an average crowd of 7,390 people in a 35,000-seater stadium, Emery can look forward to Real Madrid at the Bernabeu or Inter Milan at the San Siro having led Villa into the Champions League in his first full season in charge after taking them into Europe from 17th when he took over from Gerrard.

Villa spent over £100m last summer to make that push into the Champions League, but Emery had the very same players as Gerrard the season before and got a far better tune out of them. Ollie Watkins, John McGinn and Douglas Luiz are three of the most improved, but we’re struggling to pinpoint any member of the squad inherited by Emery – who hasn’t been snubbed by the Spaniard – whose performances haven’t been boosted by his arrival.

Gerrard won’t be thanking Nassef Sawiris and Wes Edens for replacing him with a managerial genius – it’s made for an embarrassingly stark contrast – but there is no way that a squad featuring the aforementioned trio, Emiliano Martinez, Tyrone Mings, Ezri Konsa, Lucas Digne, Boubacar Kamara and Jacob Ramsey should have found themselves in a relegation battle.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised considering what Gary Neville, Paul Scholes, Frank Lampard and Wayne Rooney have achieved as managers, but after going to Saudi Arabia having failed spectacularly at Aston Villa following the green shoots of hope at Rangers, we are very disappointed.