England midfielder Jordan Henderson has apologised for upsetting the LGBTQ community with his move to Saudi Arabia but said playing in the Gulf state is a “positive thing”.
The former Liverpool captain, a vocal supporter of gay rights, was fiercely criticised over his switch to the Saudi Pro League in July.
Henderson, in an interview with The Athletic, said he could understand the frustration and anger directed towards him.
“There can be a lot of criticism, a lot of negativity around me as a person, and that was difficult to take” he said.
“But I just feel as though, because I do care about different causes that I’ve been involved in, and different communities… I do care. And for people to criticise and say that I’d turned my back on them really, really hurt me.”
The Al-Ettifaq player added: “All I can say is that I apologise, I’m sorry that I’ve made them feel that way. But I haven’t changed as a person.”
Henderson said he would not rule out wearing rainbow laces to show support for LGBTQ people but added he would not “disrespect the religion and culture in Saudi Arabia”.
And he argued that his move to the Gulf state, where he has been reunited with former Liverpool team-mate Steven Gerrard, who is manager of Al-Ettifaq, is “positive”.
“People know what my views and values were before I left and still do now,” he said. “And I think having someone with those views and values in Saudi Arabia is only a positive thing.”
The 33-year-old, who was last week named in Gareth Southgate’s England squad for upcoming internationals, denied that money was the incentive behind his move.
He said eye-watering salary figures quoted in the press of £700,000 ($879,000) a week were over-inflated.
“That was the hardest thing,” he said. “People will see this club come with loads of money and he’s just gone, ‘Yeah, I’m going’.
“When in reality that just wasn’t the case at all. People can believe me or not, but in my life and my career, money has never been a motivation. Ever.”
Henderson said he had not felt “wanted” by Liverpool, who have overhauled their midfield, and was attracted by a new challenge.
“Stevie never mentioned money,” he said.
“Everything I spoke to Stevie about was football and the project. And he actually said he didn’t want to get involved in any of the money stuff.
“It was all about what we could do together to achieve something special and build a club and build the league.”
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