Liverpool agree to sell Jordan Henderson to Al Ettifaq for £12m – how folly of his 2021 deal haunted club
Liverpool have agreed the sale of captain Jordan Henderson to Al Ettifaq for an initial £12 million.
Henderson was left out of the club’s first pre-season friendly amid ongoing interest from the Saudi Arabian club.
Manager Jurgen Klopp took the significant decision to omit the skipper ahead of the fixture against Karlsruher on Wednesday evening, insisting it was his decision not to pick Henderson or Fabinho, who has also been the subject of a bid from Al Ittihad.
“In the end, all of these decisions are made by me,” said Klopp after the 4-2 win in Germany. “And because I respect the players a lot, it’s usually [with their] consent. It was in this case, and it is all fine.”
Henderson has been part of the training camp, but his absence confirmed his imminent departure after contact was finally made between the clubs. A 12-year Anfield career is now nearing its end.
Al Ettifaq – the club coached by Kop legend Steven Gerrard – made a contract offer in excess of £30 million a year to Henderson via his representatives.
Liverpool were adamant they wanted a significant transfer fee, and the figure may yet rise depending on certain clauses.
Klopp leaving Henderson out for the warm-up match was the first clear hint that he is preparing to go into the new season without his skipper.
At 33, Henderson’s role in the Liverpool squad was due to evolve. He is no longer a guaranteed starter, so has been considering his future since the Saudi offer was put to him.
Fabinho, 29, is close to becoming the fourth senior midfielder to leave Anfield since May, with permission granted for him to agree terms with Al Ittihad as talks progress on a £40 million deal.
Neither his nor Henderson’s exit were anticipated until a few weeks ago, the Saudi interest with the potential to be destabilising unless Liverpool react quickly to secure replacements.
Henderson has faced criticism for considering an offer from the Saudis because of his previous comments regarding human rights, especially with regards to the LGBT community.
Now a deal is agreed, it is virtually certain he will join the exodus of stars to the Saudi Pro-League.
Analysis: Folly of extending Henderson’s contract in 2021 has come back to bite Liverpool
By Chris Bascombe
It has taken two years and an intervention from Saudi Arabia, but Jordan Henderson and Liverpool finally appear to be on the same page. Extending his Liverpool contract in 2021 was a serious and damaging mistake.
When Henderson had two years left on his previous deal and talks were at an impasse, the club’s American owner Fenway Sports Group – guided by the analyst team led by ex-director of football Michael Edwards – were initially reluctant to veer from their successful ‘Moneyball’ policy of forensically accounting for every cent and looking years rather than a season ahead.
The logic of handing a 31-year-old a pay rise to £200,000 a week until 2025 was strenuously argued about internally and externally given all the data suggesting he would become less productive during the course of his four-year term.
The same wisdom meant Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane – in identical situations as the skipper – would not get a renewal. Going back to when Steven Gerrard was allowed to leave for LA Galaxy in 2015 rather than extend terms, romance surrendered to reason.
Feeling undervalued, Henderson gambled, threatening to quit Anfield with Paris St-Germain and Atletico Madrid among those said to be monitoring talks.
It paid off after a critical intervention from Klopp. “We will sort it. No doubt about that,” Klopp said.
Two days later a deal was struck. Liverpool, who took pride at their success being a consequence of steadfastly ‘sticking to the plan’, had made an exception.
“I want to be here as long as possible. I have always said that,” Henderson told the club’s media.
In what could be regarded as an unfortunate coincidence, the first report of Edwards planning to quit Liverpool emerged a day before the contract extension was formally signed. Conspiratorial minds had a fiesta.
The Merseyside club has been so good at drowning out external ‘noise’ and preparing itself for the future, the disquiet about leaving themselves so vulnerable was palpable among those who admired FSG’s tough approach to transfers and contract renewals.
Memories of this have been unshakeable over the last two seasons as Liverpool failed to add midfield blood, Henderson’s deal seen as a fork in the road regarding Klopp’s plans in his central reservation.
While not the sole reason for Liverpool delaying their midfield evolution until the recent arrival of Alexis Mac Alister and Dominic Szoboszlai – they tried to sign at least one midfielder last summer – retaining Henderson undoubtedly had some impact.
Liverpool would have got more than £12 million for Henderson in 2021 – and Bellingham would have been cheaper then
Most supporters agree the tweaking ought to have started a year ago, at least, thus preventing Liverpool being hostages to fortune as their 30-somethings lose their dynamism or – as has happened with Henderson and Fabinho – survey a changing landscape due to the Saudi interest.
Had Henderson been sold in 2021, Liverpool would have received more than £12 million and replaced him with a younger model. Jude Bellingham would not have cost £115 million back then.
Alternatively, had Liverpool gone into the 2022-23 campaign with Henderson among four midfielders in their final year (James Milner, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Naby Keita departed recently), there would have been more urgency to act. Would that have spared Liverpool the indignity of losing Champions League football? A high -class midfielder would certainly have helped collect the extra five points required. They certainly would not have needed to sign four midfielders in one window.
The five departing midfielders’ peak is behind them. No tears were shed for Keita and Oxlade-Chamberlain after minimal contributions. Milner could not go on forever, and a combined £52 million for high-earning Fabinho and Henderson is decent business. That cannot disguise the uncharacteristically misjudged forward planning.
Klopp maintains that is retrospective wisdom and no one was questioning the quality of his midfield options in the immediate aftermath of the quadruple bid in 2021-22. But there was plenty of fretting, even before the 2022 Champions League final when Fabinho and Thiago carried injuries into the game in Paris and there was minimal back-up.
The Liverpool manager is famed for his empathy with his players. He agreed Henderson deserved a reward for his sterling service in 2021, and recognises the Saudi offers are insanely big, especially for a player who was no longer a guaranteed starter.
But the timing of so many exits means the midfield reset is now a radical overhaul.
One must assume Klopp believes replacements can be secured quickly and within his budget.
Henderson will leave Liverpool as a legend, the skipper who helped end the 30-year wait for the English title and lifted the Champions League, World Club Cup, FA Cup and League Cup. Not even Ron Yeats, Emlyn Hughes, Phil Thompson and Graeme Souness managed all of that.
He was nearly sold to Fulham by Brendan Rodgers in 2012, and some were happy to grant permission to consider his options in 2021, but his steely determination – often under-rated – won him key battles on and off the pitch.
Exiting now means there will be no final guard of honour at Anfield, though. Part of him must wish he had never signed that last deal, thus allowing him the send-off he deserved with Milner and Firmino.
Even the most decorated and committed footballer must sacrifice emotional goodbyes when the club lets them go on their own lucrative terms.