Why Jordan Henderson won't be returning to Liverpool

In football, legacy is as much about how you leave as it is to do with what you achieve. 

As a player, you could win everything but how you depart could well sour that relationship with a club and its fanbase. You could be the captain that ends a 30-year league drought but if you burn bridges in an attempt to justify the move away, it completely transforms how your time at the club is viewed.

That is what happened with Jordan Henderson.

The former skipper may have been divisive as a player but as a person, he was generally well-loved. He walked the walk and talked the talk. Henderson was always on the right side of history in the big moments.

Henderson was Klopp’s general on the pitch. He played his part in Liverpool winning everything under the German tactician. The ex-captain was destined to go down in history as an all-time great.

© Propaganda - Jordan Henderson

And then he went and forced a move to Al-Ettifaq.

In the days leading up to the transfer being finalised, Henderson used his media friends to control the narrative. It wasn’t about the money he was being offered. No, it was about an exciting project and an opportunity to work with former teammate Steven Gerrard.

In an interview with The Athletic not long after the move was completed, Henderson used it as an opportunity to defend his actions and claim he hadn’t turned his back on causes he’d previously been extremely vocal about.

It was a PR disaster.

"All I've ever tried to do is help," Henderson said. "And when I've been asked for help, I've gone above and beyond to help. I've worn the laces. I've worn the armband. I've spoken to people in that community to try to use my profile to help them.

"I see that as a positive thing. I see that because, from [the Saudi] side, they knew that before signing it. So they knew what my beliefs were. They knew what causes and campaigns I've done in the past and not once was it brought up. Not once have they said, 'You can do this, you can't do this.' And I think it can only be a positive thing to try to open up like around Qatar [at the 2022 World Cup]."

© Proshots - Jordan Henderson

© Proshots - Jordan Henderson

Henderson then tried to claim he only left Liverpool because he no longer felt wanted at Anfield.

He said: "If one of those people [the manager or the owners] said to me, 'Now we want you to stay', then we wouldn't be having this conversation. That’s not to say that they forced me out of the club, but at no point did I feel wanted by anyone to stay”.

"There were a few things that sent alarm bells ringing. I've got a very good relationship with Jurgen. He was very honest with me. I won't go into detail about the conversation because it's private, but it put me in a position where I knew that I wasn't going to be playing as much. I knew there were going to be new players coming in my position.

"And if I'm not playing, as anybody will know, especially the manager, that can be quite difficult for me and especially when I've been at a club for so long, I've captained the team for so long. Especially when England is a big thing for me."

Reading between the lines there, Klopp told his 33-year-old captain, who had arguably just had his worst season as a Liverpool player, that he wouldn’t be a regular starter for the 2023/24 campaign, and this is sparked Henderson into seeking a move. It was petulant, at best. Because he did this after pre-season had started. He did it after Liverpool had already lost a host of midfielders. Perhaps the Reds would’ve looked to keep James Milner on had they known their skipper was open to leaving.

James Milner, ProShots

On one hand, there's nothing wrong with Henderson deciding he wasn't ready to be a squad player. But it was his decision and he needed to own it. Instead, he tried to imply he was forced into the decision.

Klopp, obviously, disputed this. And let's not forget that the one-time Sunderland man has previous in this.

During the summer of 2021, he wanted a new deal and then reports randomly appeared to reveal he was being courted by Paris Saint-Germain and Atletico Madrid.

Klopp intervened and a new deal was agreed. The difference this time around was that the club weren't going to offer a player who was visibly declining a new, extended deal.

This is opinion rather than fact, but if you do a paint by numbers on this situation you get a picture of a player saying 'give me a new deal or I leave'.

Had he not handled his exist horribly, perhaps he'd be returning this month.

According to multiple reports, Henderson is looking to leave Saudi Arabia this month.

The Daily Mail has claimed that Henderson "has struggled to settle" in the country, something made worse by the team's poor performances under Gerrard. Al Ettifaq won just one of their final 13 games in 2023.

Furthermore, Gerrard's assistant, Ian Foster, has already resigned, and there is a suggestion that his departure has played a significant role in Henderson’s thinking with the former Liverpool academy coach persuading the midfielder to make the move to Saudi Arabia.

He now wants to return to Europe. And it comes at a time Liverpool are in need of reinforcements.

The Reds are without midfielders Thiago, Stefan Bajcetic, Dominik Szoboszlai and Wataru Endo.

Trent Alexander-Arnold is also out for the remainder of the month and this is a pivotal few weeks for Liverpool. Successfully navigate their way through to February and there will be a Carabao Cup final on the cards as well as a fifth-round FA Cup tie.

It would be a quick fix for Klopp to bring Henderson back to alleviate some of the pressure on what is quickly becoming a threadbare squad. After all, he knows the system, the players and the expectations of this club.

It would, in theory, be a win-win for everyone. But that just isn’t going to happen. Klopp isn’t going to give a second chance to someone who tried to blame the club for their poor decisions. He isn’t going to give Henderson an opportunity to re-do his departure.

Henderson doesn’t deserve the chance to reshape his legacy. And that right there is why Henderson won’t be returning to Merseyside this month.

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