England manager Gareth Southgate has admitted being puzzled by the reception received by former Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson during the Three Lions' 1-0 friendly win over Australia on Friday.
Not only was his name jeered when read out prior to the match at a sold-out Wembley, but Henderson was also booed when he was replaced in the second half.
“I really don’t understand it,” said Southgate. “He’s a player who I think has 79 caps now for England. His commitment and what he has delivered for England is exceptional."
"I know what’s created it and I know why it has happened, but it defies logic to me that you would give a player who is playing and putting his heart and soul into playing for England… why boo him?"
A controversial move
Many football fans were surprised when the 33-year-old traded Merseyside for the Saudi Pro League in the summer, joining Steven Gerrard's Al-Ettifaq in a controversial £12-million deal.
During his time at Anfield, Henderson had been a prominent supporter of LGBTQ+ rights and, just last month, he issued an apology for any pain he might have caused by moving to a country where homosexuality is illegal.
Although there was no apparent negative reaction towards him during the September matches against Ukraine and Scotland, this changed during England's first home game since he made the move.
A "tone deaf" response
Southgate questioned the attitude of the fans that booed and called on them to back the team ahead of the key Euro 2024 qualifier against Italy on Tuesday: "This is a team that are delivering a lot and they all deserve everybody’s support.”
The England boss then aimed a thinly veiled critique at those who chose not to back his selection of Henderson.
"I don’t really know where we are heading with everything," he said, before sarcastically adding: “I’m hugely impressed with the impeccable values and decisions that everybody in our country is making then."
This was perhaps an ill-advised move - one which has been widely labelled as 'tone deaf' among fans. Not only do Southgate's comments come against the backdrop of his decision not to select the in-form James Ward-Prowse, they also risk alienating a sizeable group of fans who disapprove not only of Henderson's support for a regime with a controversial approach to human rights but also what they see as a move motivated only by money.