Oh Odysseus, you have finally returned! Oh how can we bear such glorious nostos? The intrepid wanderer, the grand explorer, the missionary – see how he comes back to us as if we are now worthy. Praise be.
Jordan Henderson left English football to change the world, even just a little bit. He dreamt of broadening horizons, not just through football but by changing a culture from the inside. Now, six months later, we are told that he is after a return to the Premier League (though he hasn’t commented publicly on the reports).
Henderson must, we have to assume, have achieved all he set out to do. See how LGBTQ+ people in Saudi Arabia, the same ones who last month accused him of “orientalism”, of prioritising money over human rights and of having a “white saviour complex”, are suddenly placated and living without fear.
It seems a very efficient solution, but perhaps “Hendo” is just a steamroller of acceptance. Rome wasn’t built in a day, but then Henderson wasn’t on that particular job.
Otherwise, the only conclusion is that Henderson abandoned his principles, took the money and ran and six months later now wishes to look after No 1 again. Which sounds like having your cake, eating it and then asking someone to buy you all the cake you can eat as a reward for your magnificent cake-eating
OK, enough sarcasm for now. Henderson has realised that he has made a terrible mistake. He now realises that the temperatures get pretty hot in Saudi Arabia, that the football is pretty bad and that the crowds are pretty sparse.
He sees Euro 2024 around the corner and sees too his own presence there fading away, like the fleeting half-memories of a dream in the minutes after you wake. Six months in the Premier League and he can still be Gareth Southgate’s teacher’s pet.
Which… well, sure. Even if you ignore all the human rights and human decency stuff, the people that Henderson cared about so deeply and who subsequently felt so duped, these were known knowns: the Middle East is hot, playing in a third-rate league might harm your England chances eventually, you might get a bit lonely.
That raises questions about the Saudi Pro League in general, even if many of its superstars don’t live in the state itself. As with the Chinese Super League (it happened very quickly there), the crucial second age is not when they try to attract more star players but when several of the first raft begin to get itchy feet. The money is great, but can it buy you love?
With Henderson, the right response is surely initial cynicism followed by forgiveness without forgetting. He probably isn’t a bad bloke. He probably wanted to do the right thing and probably now does again, but learned the hard way that saying no is hard when someone shoves a load of money in your face and sells you a glittery dream and tells you that you’re special. People are selfish. People let you down.
And that’s the most demoralising part of this sorry saga, this cautionary morality tale of greed and good and grass made to look greener. What was this last six months for? Who is happy here?
Not Henderson, it seems, now full of regret and hopefully remorse. Not those who felt so abandoned by his betrayal of their trust – that cannot be simply rebuilt by a return to England. Not Al-Ettifaq, who may be a little peeved that a highly-paid player has leaked his intentions. Not the supporters of his potential new club, who will feel like a mere cog in Project Get Me To The Berlin Ball.
There is nothing but sorry waste: wasted faith, wasted allyship, wasted money, wasted months.