Gareth Southgate: Jordan Henderson’s Saudi Arabian move is ‘understandable’

Gareth Southgate displayed remarkable composure throughout his tenure as England manager. Even following England’s 1-1 Nations League draw with Denmark on Malta, he did not become distraught.

Jordan Henderson has come under scrutiny following his PS12 million move to Saudi Arabian club Al-Ettifaq for PS12. This decision to move in a country where homosexuality is illegal has drawn strong condemnation from LGBTQ+ supporters’ groups in Britain. England manager Gareth Southgate understands the criticism directed towards him following this decision.

Gareth Southgate says Jordan Henderson’s criticism over his move to Saudi Arabia is ‘understandable’

Gareth Southgate was asked directly by talkSPORT host Jim Leighton to respond to Jordan Henderson’s controversial move to Saudi Arabia from Liverpool this summer. Henderson left Anfield this summer to join Al-Ettifaq and reunite with former team captain Steven Gerrard; this decision has drawn the ire of LGBTQ+ rights campaigners who feel it’s hypocritical for him to work in a country where homosexuality is illegal and punishable by death.

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Southgate did not evade this question, confirming that Henderson had asked about his international future before making the move to Middle East. However, Southgate stated it is not his place to judge any player’s choice to work in certain leagues; such decisions must be made independently by each player involved.

Southgate quickly dispelled concerns that Henderson’s selection for the national team would be negatively impacted by his move to Saudi Arabia, in response to fears he may be excluded for working in a country with grave human rights abuses – something the 33-year-old wanted to address directly. Southgate stated he would judge Henderson based on performance rather than where they choose to play their football.

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Henderson’s move to Saudi Arabia has not affected his position as a vocal advocate for LGBTQ+ rights

Henderson’s decision to move from Liverpool to Al Ettifaq in Saudi Arabia, where homosexuality is illegal and death penalties regularly lead the world charts, has raised serious doubts as to his future involvement with England. England manager Roy Hodgson has yet to provide assurances that Henderson will still form part of his squad ahead of Euro qualifiers this season and next summer’s finals in Germany.

As Liverpool captain, Henderson was an outspoken supporter of LGBTQI+ community and took part in Stonewall’s Rainbow Laces campaign each year. As such he was shortlisted for the “Football Ally” award at the 2021 British LGBT Awards; this earned him respect from groups like Pride in Football but now that he has relocated to Dammam their trust has been broken.

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Southgate acknowledged these concerns while also noting it is not his place to judge individual choices and upheld Henderson’s beliefs have not changed. Nonetheless, Southgate acknowledged the growing financial power of clubs in Saudi Arabia and cautioned players before considering making moves there. While Southgate declined to rule out an eventual move to one in future he did caution that such an act would force him to consider “his own moral standing”.

Southgate’s response to criticism

England Manager Gareth Southgate clearly understands the criticism being directed at Henderson, whose decision to join Saudi Arabian club Al-Ettifaq — competing in the lowest level of Saudi Pro League — has raised eyebrows as it casts doubt upon his stance as an advocate of LGBTQ+ rights. Homosexuality is illegal under Saudi Sharia Law and this decision by Henderson to join an organization under such strict legislation has caused many prominent advocates of LGBTQ rights displeasure with him joining such a club that operates under strict Sharia law rules.

Southgate maintains that Henderson’s move to Al-Ettifaq has not altered his role as an advocate for LGBTQ+ rights, and claims he consulted him about international future before making decision to leave Liverpool; Midfielder asked whether his joining of Saudi Arabian club automatically disqualified him from England call-ups.

Southgate has made clear that his decisions regarding international selection are solely determined by performance on the pitch, dispelling suggestions that his decisions might favour other players with stronger club form, such as Harry Maguire, Jack Grealish or Joao Moutinho – this viewpoint being supported by many players themselves, including those who may have fallen from grace due to recent poor showings.