With Jordan Henderson posting his farewell to the fans, it’s safe to say that the saga is over. The transfer is complete; the deal done. And with it, the Henderson era at Liverpool FC has come to a close in just about the most ignominious manner imaginable, as the 33-year-old departs for Saudi Pro League side Al-Ettifaq FC, reuniting with former teammate and fellow ex-Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard after Gerrard was appointed manager there earlier in the summer.
The saga has been covered at length here at TLO Towers and elsewhere, and with the saga now officially over there is at least a certain relief to be felt in simply moving on. It has been reported that Liverpool will receive a £12million transfer fee plus unspecified add-ons, while the player will be paid a £350k weekly salary on a three year deal.
This writer has made no effort in the past to hide her support of and fondness for Henderson as a player and leader both on and off the pitch, and has already written at length of the heartbreak that his departure has caused so we’re going to try to take any emotions out of it. Just the facts, then.
Steven Gerrard, former Liverpool player and captain—and failed Premier League manager after a disastrous spell at Aston Villa—accepted a position of the manager of Saudi Pro League club Al-Ettifaq earlier in the summer. Ettifaq finished 7th last season in their 16-team league and are looking to improve their fortunes, though they aren’t considered a serious contender for silverware.
Soon after his arrival, Gerrard decided to target Henderson as part of his own managerial process. We know he likes Liverpool players, having signed Philippe Coutinho (another transfer disgrace in the memories of Liverpool fans) for Aston Villa during his short tenure there. It wasn’t a move that could be said to have worked out well for anyone involved.
As for Henderson, his decision to leave caught Liverpool by surprise, a week into pre-season—and a week after he had been posting thirst trap pictures and talking about how focused he was on Liverpool and the upcoming season—and in a summer transfer window that had already seen the departure of four players, three of those in midfield. The lone forward, Roberto Firmino, whose contract expired at the end of June and was not renewed, signed by another Saudi club, Al Ahli, as a free agent.
Many people both here and elsewhere have gone over the sportswashing implications of Henderson moving to a club in a country with numerous human rights violations and laws on the books in opposition to the values that Henderson has vocally stood for while captain of Liverpool. There are layers to this disappointment, though, and it is not Henderson alone leaving a sour taste in the mouths of many Liverpool fans.
There is also Gerrard, the catalyst of the deal who took the Ettifaq job and then made Henderson his top target. For his part, though, Gerrard at least had no previously stated public morals to hold against him for his appointment, making his a more simple case of a famous figure happy to trade his notoriety for cash and to aid in Saudi Arabia’s efforts to sportswash the so-called beautiful game.
A few might also raise eyebrows at Liverpool’s willingness to sell their captain for a cut-rate fee, one well below their reported £20M+ valuation of the player. The sale comes in the midst of what is turning out to be an incredibly tumultuous transfer season, and along with the expected departure of Fabinho it could leave the Reds with just one senior midfielder older than 24-year-old new signing Alexis Mac Allister.
In the midst of it all, Henderson was spotted on Tuesday at Anfield, filming what will likely be his farewell message. He was then spotted training with his new club before the deal had even officially been announced. Unlike the club’s earlier, expected departures, he leaves without a chance to say a proper goodbye to any of the fans who have watched him play over the past 12 years.
That, though, is part of the choice Henderson made—and that the club, for right or wrong, acquiesced to. If he is to have any kind of a send-off, a testimonial to his time at the club, it will have to wait until at least next summer, an undertaking that one would imagine might see some of the profits donated to charity in the hopes that it makes his decision this summer more palatable to those fans who feel an already rich man went back on his promises to them in order to get a little bit richer.
Depending on how his time in Saudi Arabia goes—and on how long Gerrard lasts there as manager—it’s also possible the 33-year-old Henderson could return to the Premier League one day, though one imagines if he does it won’t be with Liverpool. His era in Red is over. Unexpectedly but with finality, and with those who had been his strongest supporters during his time at the club likely to be the ones most hurt by the manner of his departure and the destination.