England boss Gareth Southgate has hit out at fans who booed Jordan Henderson during the victory over Australia on Friday night. Henderson captained the Three Lions in the absence of Harry Kane but jeers were heard every time the former Liverpool captain touched the ball.
Henderson’s switch to Saudi Arabia in the summer split opinion. The experienced midfielder switched the Liverpool captaincy for the Saudi Pro League.
The 33-year-old joined Steven Gerrard’s Al-Ettifaq in a £20million deal. Some fans deemed the move hypocritical over his support for the LGBTQ+ community, given the country’s poor human rights record.
LGBTQ+ groups criticised Henderson for moving to a country where members of the community face severe oppression not encountered by non-LGBTQ+ citizens. It is not clear if that was the sole reason why Henderson was booed while playing for England at Wembley.
However, Southgate felt compelled to defend Henderson’s contribution in a Three Lions shirt. The former Sunderland man has played 79 times for his country since making his debut in 2010.
Southgate said: “I really don’t understand it. He’s a player who I think 79 caps for England. His commitment and what he’s delivered for England is exceptional. His role within the group on and off the pitch is phenomenally important.”
Henderson was one of many high-profile European stars who moved to Saudi Arabia in the summer. His former Liverpool team-mates Fabinho and Sadio Mane also signed for clubs in the Pro League, with Fabinho joining Al-Ittihad and Mane linking up with Cristiano Ronaldo at Al-Nassr.
The standard of football and slower tempo have called into question whether Henderson has a future in the England set-up. Several midfielders are emerging into Southgate’s plans, handing Henderson a battle to keep his place.
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