Jordan Henderson did not receive a hero’s welcome from pundits for helping grow the game on his first appearance for England as an Al-Ettifaq player.
Henderson played the full game as England laboured to a 1-1 draw against Ukraine in World Cup qualifying.
The midfielder ‘looked off the pace, illustrated best when he was late on the scene for Ukraine’s goal,’ according to our player ratings from the game.
But even before the match, Henderson’s first as an Al-Ettifaq player, he was taken to task by Channel 4 pundits, with Jill Scott, the gay former England international and 2022 Women’s Euros winner, pointing out that she would not be able to watch the 33-year-old as a fan in Saudi, where homosexuality is illegal and can be punishable by death.
“In terms of the morals and values, I’m a really big Jordan Henderson fan, he’s a Sunderland lad and really hard-working,” she said.
“But for me, the fact that I couldn’t go and watch him represent his team, that’s what doesn’t sit well for me. Football for me is for everyone and the fact that I don’t feel like I would be welcome (to watch him play), that’s a very sad situation.”
Joe Cole, an ex-teammate of Henderson’s at Liverpool, offered more backing to the midfielder.
“We’ve been trading and have open relations with Saudi Arabia many times, why is it Jordan Henderson, the other footballers and managers who have to be the moral barometer of where we’re at?” he asked.
“I’m not educated on geopolitics and what we’re talking about, I wanna come here and talk about football, but I understand the situation that he’s in is very, very difficult,” Cole said, adding that he “can see it from both sides”.
But Cole did criticise “good lad” Henderson for one thing: his risible interview with The Athletic.
“When you boil it down – something so nuanced, something so difficult to talk about – I think it just comes down to transparency,” he said.
“Where Jordan Henderson probably slipped up was the interview afterwards where he said he didn’t go out there for the money.
“It’s a huge contract and as an individual he has the right if he wants to go and earn that kind of money and bring it back, he could be doing lots of work in the community with that.
“It is so, very in depth, and it’s not something we can get in depth with on a football show, it’s a very difficult subject.”
England boss Gareth Southgate stuck up for Henderson before the game but it feels like both manager and player are in for a shock when Tuesday’s game against Scotland at Hampden Park rolls around.
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