Jordan Henderson concedes on 'difficult year' for him and new club Ajax

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Jordan Henderson concedes on 'difficult year' for him and new club Ajax

Jordan Henderson hopes to turn around the fortunes at Ajax
Jordan Henderson hopes to turn around the fortunes at AjaxAFP
England midfielder Jordan Henderson (33) admitted Friday it had been a tough period both for him following his controversial move to Saudi Arabia, and for new club Ajax, who are enduring a torrid season.

The former Liverpool star never settled at Saudi club Al Ettifaq, lasting only six months amid a firestorm of criticism from gay rights activists, who saw the move as hypocritical.

"It's been a bit of a whirlwind, crazy few days," acknowledged Henderson in an interview posted on the club website.

Henderson is an outspoken advocate for gay rights and his move to Saudi Arabia, where homosexuality is illegal, sparked accusations he was putting money above principles.

Ajax meanwhile suffered their worst-ever start to a Dutch top-flight season, briefly propping up the Eredivisie table, with fans' frustration boiling over into violence.

"It's been a difficult year or so for the club both on and off the field. But that's the same for me in the past six months," said Henderson.

"So hopefully we can help each other come together and help each other go forward and try to be as successful as possible in the near future."

Henderson's move to Saudi Arabia - with reported wages of up to £700,000 per week - followed high-profile signings of the likes of Portuguese superstar Cristiano Ronaldo and France's 2022 Ballon d'Or winner Karim Benzema.

The world's biggest oil exporter has thrown hundreds of millions at sports deals including Formula 1 in Jeddah and the lucrative LIV Golf tour, drawing frequent claims it is "sportswashing" its human rights record.

Saad Allazeez, Vice Chairman and interim CEO of the Saudi league, said some people "don't always adjust or settle."

"Everyone tried and no one is to blame," he added.

Goodwill 'shredded'

Ajax boss John van 't Schip is hoping Henderson's experience - he has won 81 England caps and played nearly 500 times for Liverpool - can boost his young squad.

"I know there's a lot of younger players in the squad who are very talented with a lot of potential," said Henderson.

"And they wanted someone with a bit more experience to come in and try to help them, help guide them on the pitch, off the pitch. Hopefully I can do that," he added.

Ajax has experienced something of a renaissance under Van 't Schip, climbing off the bottom of the table up to fifth.

But the Dutch giants are still a humiliating 23 points behind runaway leaders and bitter rivals PSV Eindhoven.

They were dumped out of the Dutch Cup by rank amateurs Hercules and failed to advance in the Europa League, finishing third in their group and a spot in the Europa Conference League knockout stages.

The supporters' association said Henderson was a "major player" but "we shouldn't immediately expect miracles".

"It is naive to think that the road to the top is now wide open. Henderson cannot single-handedly lead the team, monitor the organisation, set the lines, speed up the game and provide coaching."

The Henderson saga was met with scorn in much of the British press, with the Independent describing it as "disastrous".

His move to Saudi had "shredded years of goodwill, with a subsequent refusal to say it was about the money almost making it worse," said the paper.

Henderson himself has always insisted the move had nothing to do with the eye-watering salary but that he felt "unwanted" at Liverpool.

He will have to swap from his preferred number 14, as that was the Ajax shirt graced by legend Johan Cruyff.

"Fourteen is my number but obviously it's a huge number here and it's not allowed here. It's been retired for Cruyff which is... understandable," he laughed.

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