Jordan Henderson has admitted it was “disappointing” to be booed by England supporters during Friday's friendly with Australia but says he still wants to keep playing for his country “for as long as possible”.
Henderson was booed by sections of the Wembley crowd while captaining an experimental England XI to a 1-0 win over the Socceroos, notably when he was substituted in the second half.
He was a vocal supporter of LGBTQ+ rights as Liverpool captain but has faced accusations of betraying the community since agreeing a lucrative move to Saudi, where same-sex relationships are illegal and can result in capital punishment.
Speaking to newspaper reporters after Friday's game, Henderson was initially “not sure” of the reaction from supporters but, when told there had been boos, he insisted he had no plans to walk away from international football.
“Everybody has got their own opinion,” he said. “I love playing for England, I have done for many years, that’s why I’m still here. I still want to play for England for as long as I possibly can and give everything for the team, for my country.
“It’s not nice, your own fans, if they were booing.
“But listen, people have got their own opinions. Whenever I bump into anyone on the street it’s always been positive stuff and nice things said. But listen, it won’t change who I am and what I do for this team and for my country. I give absolutely everything every time.”
Asked if he understood why fans might boo him, Henderson replied “not really, I don't know”, but told it was likely a result of his move to Saudi he continued: “Yeah, so… if people want to boo if I’m playing in a different country, that’s fine.
“Like I said, everyone is going to have an opinion when I’m playing over in Saudi. I’ve spoken in the past about the reasons for that. Whether people believe us or not is up to them.
“Of course it’s disappointing, but it won’t change what I do [with England]. I want to keep playing and keep fighting and help the team become successful.”
Henderson's move to Saudi was met by fierce criticism from LGBTQ+ organisations, with Three Lions Pride - the group affiliated with England - saying they would turn their back on the midfielder in the terraces if he played for his country again.
“I haven’t been surprised by that [reaction] because I can understand the reasons in what they’re saying,” Henderson continued. “I look at it from a different point of view, obviously. But I can understand it and I’ve got to take that on the chin.
I’m not a politician.
“But as I keep on saying, it doesn’t change the person that I am. I’m playing football in a different country in Saudi where I want to try to improve the game on the pitch but also things off the pitch as well. That’s all I keep trying to do.”
Pushed on what he meant by improving “things off the pitch as well”, Henderson replied: “The whole league.
"[Just], yeah, the football, I’m not a politician. You know what I mean? I’m not going to get into politics. All I’ve ever done is concentrate on my football and try to help people that have asked for my help. When I’m going out there, I’m just playing football trying to improve the league, trying to improve my own team and trying to win football games. I do the same when I come here.”
England manager Gareth Southgate offered a staunch defence of Henderson after Friday's match, saying he did not understand the reaction given the veteran's contribution to the national team.
Southgate also defended Henderson's performance on the night as England laboured against an impressive Aussie side, although the manager has previously admitted he will have to monitor the affects on the 33-year-old of playing in the sweltering, low-intensity Saudi league.
Asked if he still felt he could make the squad for next summer's European Championship, Henderson said: “Definitely, yeah. I mean physically, I don't think it's an issue.
“Look at my numbers physically and my output in a game, whether that's in Saudi, whether that's here for England, I don't see that as an issue.
“I want to try and help the team become successful... in big tournaments and hopefully, I can keep performing, I can keep fit and then stay in the squad for the tournament next summer.
“You're talking about physical attributes and physical attributes isn't a problem for me. I'm an experienced player, I know how to play football, you don't forget that when you just go out and play in a different league. So when I've been back [with England] when, I've trained when I've played games, I felt as good as ever really.
“I've been playing with these [England] players for a long time now. So when I come in and train with them, of course, the level goes up but I feel normal and it's the same for me. I feel as fit as I ever have. Probably because over there the conditions are quite hard at times with the weather and the humidity and the warm.”
Henderson has publicly backed Saudi's 2034 World Cup bid and says he is confident there will be "no issues" for fans if they win the tournament.
“[By] 2034, I think they will put on a pretty good World Cup, to be honest,” he said. “So I think that's exciting times for them as a country and I think it will be a special tournament if they ended up getting it.
“ I've been there for two months and there's been no issues in terms of fans or anything like that. So again, I think they'll enjoy the experience there. It is a long waiting time from now, but I think they'll enjoy the experience there.
“I think, you know, when we look at Qatar, the way that they did the job there. It was a good tournament, I think the fans enjoyed the tournament and I think Saudi would be no different.”