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The Saudi football dream suffers a setback with the departure of a star

by SuperiorInvest

Jordan Henderson greets the crowd after the Saudi Pro League match between Al-Ettifaq and Damak at Prince Mohamed bin Fahd Stadium on September 2, 2023 in Ad Dammam, Saudi Arabia.

François Nel | Getty Images Sport | fake images

England international Jordan Henderson has abruptly ended his playing time in Saudi Arabia’s Pro League, dealing a blow to the kingdom’s ambitious plans to make its domestic league an international football hub.

Former Liverpool captain Henderson signed a two-and-a-half-year deal with Dutch side Ajax on Thursday shortly after the 33-year-old mutually agreed to terminate his contract with Saudi Arabian side Al-Ettifaq.

Henderson’s U-turn on playing in the Saudi Pro League comes six months after his controversial decision to sign with the club. He was reportedly unhappy at not being able to settle in the country.

Henderson’s hasty departure from Saudi Arabia marks the end of “a miserable episode in a previously exemplary career”, according to BBC Sport’s chief football editor, and raises questions about both the midfielder’s reputation and the image of the Saudi Pro League.

“I am sad to say that I will be leaving Al Ettifaq effective immediately,” Henderson said. saying Thursday through social networks. “It wasn’t an easy decision, but I think it’s the best thing for me and my family.”

He added: “I want to take this opportunity to thank the club and the fans for all the support during my stay. I really felt the love from day one. I will continue to watch and hope for your success. Good luck for the future.”

In an interview published by Ajax shortly afterwards, Henderson described the last few “crazy” days as a “whirlwind” but that he was now excited to start a “new chapter” in his career and life.

Henderson had been one of many high-profile players to move to Saudi Arabia last summer, with former Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema and former Chelsea midfielder N’Golo Kante also making the move.

Saudi Arabia has spent an extraordinary amount recruiting soccer stars to boost domestic competition in recent years, as well as making huge investments in sports such as Formula One, golf, tennis and boxing.

Critics have repeatedly accused Riyadh of “sportswashing,” or using sports to distract from human rights abuses in the country. Saudi officials have consistently denied these claims.

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Shortly after Henderson’s departure from Al-Ettifaq was confirmed, the club said Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard had signed a two-year contract extension to remain as Al-Ettifaq’s head coach until 2027.

Upon moving to Saudi Arabia last year, Henderson, who had been a human rights advocate and strong supporter of the LGBTQ+ community, was criticized by some for “self-inflicted reputational damage” by moving to a country where sexual activity among people of the same sex is criminalized. .

Henderson said he had been “really hurt” by the backlash to his move, adding that his intention “has always been to help causes and communities.”

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