The 11 worst answers in Jordan Henderson’s execrable interview explaining his Saudi Arabia move

Dave Tickner
Jordan Henderson wearing rainbow armband
Jordan Henderson wearing rainbow armband

Jordan Henderson has given an interview to The Athletic about his move to Saudi Arabia and how you’re all wrong about him and his motivation.

We thoroughly recommend reading the whole thing, not least because David Ornstein and Adam Crafton have done a fine job in holding Henderson’s feet to the fire. He is not given an easy ride or allowed to escape with facile answers.

But his answers are, frankly, absolute bullshit. Here are the worst of them, picked apart at furious length.


1) On wearing Rainbow Laces

I wouldn’t rule that out . But at the same time, what I wouldn’t do is disrespect the religion and culture in Saudi Arabia. If we’re all saying everybody can be who they want to be and everybody is inclusive, then we’ll have to respect that. We’ll have to respect everyone. And by doing something like that, if that did disrespect the religion, then no, I’m not going to do that. But if the opportunity comes where I can do it and it doesn’t, then yeah, because that’s my values.

This is the most important and shittest answer Henderson gives. Because it accidentally reveals the emptiness of everything else he says before and after this about how him and his values being in Saudi Arabia can be a positive.

He is admitting here that he will do nothing to try and change anything, but will happily pop some laces in his boots if things happen to change anyway and “the opportunity comes”. The opportunity won’t come, not under the conditions he’s laid out here, and Henderson knows this.

Because the opportunity to wear rainbow laces is there right now. He just won’t do it because of the ‘disrespect’, and he won’t push back against that. So where does that leave the oft-stated positive aspects of his presence in Saudi Arabia if he is so determined to meekly avoid any ‘disrespect’?

There are elements in this answer of the fallacious idea that being tolerant means being tolerant even of intolerance. It’s a paradox all right, but it is neither new nor controversial to assert that tolerance by definition requires us to be intolerant of intolerance. It’s not ‘inclusive’ to respect those who render illegal the very existence of vast groups of people you’ve previously claimed to support.


2) On change

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 nothing’s going to happen. Nothing’s going to change.

Fine. Yet a couple of questions later we get this…

It’s basically, “You have your values and your beliefs, which we will respect, but you respect our values and our beliefs” and surely that’s the way it should be.

So, again, how the juddering fuck are you going to change things, Jordan?


3) On Liverpool playing time and England

I knew that I wasn’t going to be playing as much . I knew there were going to be new players coming in my position.

And if I’m not playing, as anybody will know, especially the manager, that can be quite difficult for me and especially when I’ve been at a club for so long, I’ve captained the team for so long. Especially when England’s a big thing for me. You’ve got the Euros coming up.

Dangerously close here to claiming to have made the move for footballing reasons. Going to the Saudi League because it will help your England chances? Come on.


4) On Liverpool’s ambivalence

If one of those people [Jurgen Klopp or Liverpool’s owners] said to me, “Now we want you to stay”, then we wouldn’t be having this conversation. And I have to then think about what’s next for me in my career. Now, that’s 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.

Mainly Liverpool’s fault, innit.


5) On those all-important England chances

I’m at the latter stage of my career and I want to be happy playing football. I want to play. I don’t 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.

If literally no club outside Saudi Arabia is going to give you more than 10 minutes a game, then your England chances are already shot to shit, no?


6) On wanting a new, exciting challenge

I wanted something that would excite me. And that’s not to say those clubs [Brighton or Brentford] wouldn’t 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, 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. It’s 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 — something that is here to stay and be one of the best leagues in the world.

But why, Jordan? Why do you want to make the Saudi League one of the best in the world when it is a country that stands squarely against so many of your stated values? Why did that challenge excite you more than, hypothetically, going and adding ‘value’ and trying something new at a club like Brighton or Brentford? Or a club in Spain, or Germany, or France, or so on and so on.

Jordan Henderson is a Premier League winner, a Champions League winner, a vastly experienced and respected captain, a 77-cap England international in great physical shape at 33 years old. Are we really expected to believe the only possible offer that was or would ever be on the table that provided an exciting new challenge was from Saudi Arabia?


7) On money

People can believe me or not, but in my life and my career, money has never been a motivation. Ever. Don’t 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 wasn’t the sole reason. And these possibilities came up before money was even mentioned.

Thirty words it takes here for Henderson to go from ‘money has never been a motivation’ to ‘and money is a part of that’ and finally to ‘that wasn’t the sole reason’. Would have so much more – albeit grudging – respect if he could just say ‘the money was so inconceivably vast that it outweighed any and all other concerns’. Henderson here is making the same mistake as all those LIV golfers, trying to convince everyone (although mainly, we suspect, themselves) that this is primarily or even slightly an altruistic ‘grow the game’ venture in which the eye-wateringly absurd sums of money are of secondary or no significance. It’s an insult to the intelligence of every single person who reads it.


8) On being a positive influence

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. So I’m not saying that I’m going there to do that. But what I’m saying is people know what my values are and the people who know me know what my values are. And my values don’t change because I’m 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 I’ve done in the past and not once was it brought up. Not once have they said, “You can do this, you can’t do this.”

This, perhaps, is the fundamental clash of perception and reality. Even if we give Henderson the benefit of the doubt and assume he truly, honestly believes it, it’s still arse backwards.

Saudi Arabia hasn’t changed because Jordan Henderson is going there. Jordan Henderson has changed because he’s going to Saudi Arabia. Whether he can see that or not. They don’t care about his ‘values’ or ‘beliefs’ because they know they’ve just bought them wholesale.

Saudi Arabia aren’t showing tolerance by signing an LGBTQ+ ally, they’re showing their power: look how easily we can buy out your so-called values and beliefs.


9) On the LGBTQ+ community

I can understand the frustration. I can understand the anger. I get it. All I can say around that is that I’m sorry that they feel like that.

Ah yes, the old “I’m sorry you feel that way” passive voice apology is it? Not “I’m sorry that’s how I made you feel”. Henderson may not be a politician, but he’s certainly mastered the politician’s non-apology.


10) On Qatar

But when you speak to people who are close to me and have had experiences over in Saudi or over in the Middle East, it’s like, “Well, actually, that’s not the same.”

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 I’ve commented on that situation. I was like, “Well, it was quite shocking and horrendous” 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.

Staggering, just staggering. The whole interview is startlingly bold, but bringing up Qatar to defend his position is perhaps Henderson’s boldest gambit of the lot. What you’ve described there, Jordan, is quite literally sportswashing. We truly struggle to believe he’s this naive about the carefully curated experience of Qatar he was given as an England footballer during the Sportswashing World Cup.


11) On pats on the back

I don’t want a pat on the back or anything.

Just as fucking well.