Soccer-New Ajax midfielder Henderson apologises again to anyone offended by Saudi move

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – Jordan Henderson, who joined Ajax Amsterdam on Thursday, has apologised again to anyone he might have offended six months after the England midfielder was the target of scathing criticism for his move to Saudi Arabian club Al-Ettifaq.

The 33-year-old met with media a day after he signed with the Dutch side having terminated his contract with Saudi Pro League club Al-Ettifaq after six months.

Henderson’s switch to Saudi Arabia — where homosexuality is illegal — after 12 years at Liverpool was widely criticised as he has long been a supporter of the LGBTQ+ community.

The midfielder was booed by fans when he appeared for England in a friendly against Australia at Wembley in October.

“I said six months ago that if I offended anybody or people felt as though I let them down then I apologise for that, and I apologise again,” he said on Friday.

“My beliefs have never changed and never will. I can apologise if people feel let down. I haven’t changed as a person and never have.”

Henderson had nothing negative to say about his time in the Middle East.

“A lot of people would like me to sit here and criticise the Saudi Pro League and everything that went along with it. But that’s certainly not the case and something I’m not going to do,” he said.

“I have full respect for the league, for any fans, for the people over there who really made me feel welcome. Unfortunately sometimes these things in life just don’t work out.”

Henderson’s move to Ajax comes with the Dutch club fifth in the Eredivisie, 23 points behind leaders PSV Eindhoven; a disappointing start for the 36-time champions who have not finished outside the top three since 2006.

Asked why not choose a club enjoying a more successful season, Henderson said: “Because it’s one of the biggest clubs in the world. The biggest club in Holland.

“I felt it was a great opportunity for me personally to come to a huge club and try to help this club go forward and be as successful as possible,” he added.

He scoffed at reports he chose not to return to the UK for tax reasons.

“Don’t believe what you read in the press, I would say is a little bit of advice,” Henderson said. “It had nothing to do with anything else but a football decision.”

Henderson is uncertain when he will be able to make his debut for Ajax, who next host RKC Waalwijk on Sunday.

“We’ll have to wait and see. Of course it’s up to me to show how good I am on the pitch in training every day and in the games,” said Henderson, who was given a tour of the team store to see his jerseys already on shelves and later posed for photos holding his No. 6 shirt.

“I am ready to play ASAP but I have to wait for things like work permits and stuff. As soon as everything is good and ready I’ll be good to go,” he said.

Juergen Klopp, Henderson’s former manager at Liverpool, said he is happy for Henderson and questioned the ugly criticism the player has faced.

“I don’t know how we dare to judge these kind of things, we have one life and sometimes the decisions are perfect in the first place and sometimes it is different after you make them,” Klopp told reporters on Friday. “He was there and it was 100% an interesting experience.”

(Reporting by Lori Ewing; Editing by Toby Davis)