When Al-Ettifaq signed Jordan Henderson in July 2023 it was an announcement of intent. To poach the Liverpool captain was a coup for not simply Ettifaq however the wider Saudi Professional League.
It wasn’t a simple deal to drag off. Ettifaq aren’t one of many PIF-controlled golf equipment and function off a modest price range. Plus, Henderson had rejected their first provide, and senior figures at Liverpool thought he’d keep at Anfield proper up till the 48 hours earlier than he departed.
Driving the Henderson deal was Hatim Al-Misehal, the membership’s former vice-president, who now heads up the membership’s sporting committee. His brother, Samer Al-Misehal, is the comparatively new membership president and has a major say on signings and technique as properly.
Hatim performed a key position in convincing Henderson to hitch. And naturally the funds performed a component; however regardless of some studies, Henderson was not incomes £700k-per-week. Saudi sources insist his wage was £8m-per-year, however it could have been tax free had he stayed in Saudi for 2 years.
Ettifaq really pushed arduous to signal Henderson on a free switch however finally agreed a £4m price, decrease, membership sources declare, than the £12m quantity that’s extensively reported. Liverpool additionally inserted a sell-on clause.
In the identical window Ettifaq additionally added Scottish centre-back Jack Hendry from Membership Brugge and striker Moussa Dembele from Lyon. Gerrard personally pitched to every of them, however was particularly arms on with Henderson.
The Ettifaq boss, who lately signed a brand new contract till summer season 2027, was additionally employed straight by Hatim following a number of Zoom conferences and an in-person interview in Dammam. Gerrard was requested to make his choice in a short time, and regardless of publicly stating he wouldn’t be transferring to Saudi, he accepted the position just a few weeks later.
Gerrard and Henderson arriving was significantly particular for Hatim since he’s a self-proclaimed Liverpool fan, who will attend February’s League Cup Closing when Jurgen Klopp’s facet tackle Chelsea. He was instantly rubbing shoulders with Liverpool legends he’d watched and admired from afar.
After accepting Ettifaq’s provide and passing his medical, Henderson travelled instantly to Croatia final summer season for a pre-season coaching camp. Then, upon arriving in Dammam he took a full tour of the membership’s services. Ettifaq listened to Henderson’s suggestions, and when he requested for enhancements to the fitness center, it was renovated in simply 4 days.
Henderson had two bases: one in Saudi and one other together with his household in Bahrain. He struggled to choose and off the pitch, and even wanted post-match oxygen after one recreation with summer season temperatures in Saudi reaching 40 levels. However the season began properly as Ettifaq beat Al-Nassr of their opening recreation and adopted this up with an away victory at Al-Hazm.
Ettifaq went out of their means to assist Henderson acclimatise, however the England midfielder discovered it tough making the transition from morning to nighttime coaching and adjusting to the late kick-off instances.
Nevertheless, he was consulted on many main choices on the membership, together with the arrival of Everton’s Demarai Grey on deadline day in summer season 2023. Henderson was additionally a driving drive behind the appointment of Dr Carl Todd because the membership’s head of bodily remedy.
After final summer season’s window shut, former Rangers and Swansea sporting director Mark Allen arrived changing Eelco Schattorie. And Ettifaq added Thomas Spring (head of scouting), John Hill (head of sports activities science), Richard Higgins (membership physician) and Darren Davies (first group coach); while extra lately, and simply after Henderson left, Dean Holden was appointed an Gerrard’s assistant supervisor.
Former Charlton boss Holden received the job after a Zoom and face-to-face interview in London with Allen and Gerrard. They have been impressed by his frankness and eye for element after being requested to analyse an Ettifaq match in actual time.
However regardless of these optimistic and bold backroom adjustments, within the construct as much as the January window Ettifaq would go on a nine-game winless run leaving them in mid-table and inflicting Henderson to query his future.
Henderson was additionally involved in regards to the mid-season break. Ettifaq’s final recreation earlier than it was a 1-1 draw with Al-Hazm on December 28 and their subsequent match takes place on February 15 at Al-Khaleej.
It’s understood Henderson feared the hole would possibly hamper his Euro 2024 probabilities. Though he was given ensures by England supervisor Gareth Southgate that he would nonetheless be thought-about for choice if he left Liverpool for Saudi, the type of ex-teammate Curtis Jones and Chelsea’s Conor Gallagher made him fear his place within the squad this summer season was in jeopardy if he stayed at Ettifaq.
Ettifaq have been planning long-term with Henderson and attempting to construct a group round him. That’s why once they discovered, first through the media, that Henderson was contemplating leaving they initially dismissed the tales as hearsay. When it was clear Henderson’s potential departure had substance to it, they made it clear if he was to depart he must inform the membership straight and nose to nose.
Ettifaq solely had the price range to discover three or 4 native signings in January, but when Henderson was to exit it could change their recruitment technique considerably.
With out informing Ettifaq to start with, Henderson began to discover choices. Ajax turned a transparent frontrunner, however he additionally approached Leverkusen, who confirmed little curiosity. There was no direct contact with Newcastle, regardless of solutions, however it’s truthful to say Henderson supplied himself round fairly extensively.
Whereas Tyler Alexander-Adams, the brother of Liverpool star Trent, lower the deal to carry Henderson to Saudi, the 33-year-old did much more self-representation this time round.
Henderson knew he needed to return to a mid-season coaching camp in Abu Dhabi in mid-January and communicate to the membership in particular person. And when he did so, an pressing assembly passed off led by Allen and Gerrard. Ettifaq have been shocked when Henderson verbally knowledgeable them he needed to go away.
The membership’s stance was that any exit would solely occur on their phrases – as a mortgage with a price and 100% wage protection, or for a everlasting switch with a price near €20m. No provide got here from Ajax, who didn’t want to take both method. So as a substitute, Henderson agreed to hitch them on a free switch and terminate his contract with Ettifaq.
Each Gerrard and Allen have been clear: they needed to let Henderson go if he was sad, which made the termination course of far smoother and amicable.
Henderson agreed to forgo round £4m in deferred wages (finished for tax functions) with Saudi sources mentioning this offsets the price paid for him. And by not having to pay Henderson for the second half of the season, Ettifaq additionally freed up price range. As well as, Henderson could straight owe Ettifaq additional ‘bonuses’ relying on what number of appearances he makes for Ajax.
Ettifaq nonetheless confronted an enormous problem attempting to exchange Henderson with so little time left within the window. Hatim held a three-hour recruitment assembly with Gerrard and new targets have been decided in mild of the funds accessible from Henderson’s departure.
Former Actual Madrid midfielder Alvaro Medran joined from Al-Taawoun – a deal the membership negotiated in simply 24 hours. And prime goal Seko Fofana – who might win the Africa Cup of Nations with Ivory Coast – was secured on mortgage from Al-Nassr with Ettifaq contributing 50% of his wages.
Ettifaq had different bold targets, together with Everton’s Abdoulaye Doucoure, however the Ministry’s centralised funding group refused sure potential acquisitions on budgetary grounds. Nevertheless, Ettifaq have been in a position so as to add former Fenerbahce defender Marcel Tisserand and ex-Flamengo attacker Vitinho from Saudi champions Al-Ittihad.
This allowed the membership to show Henderson’s departure right into a optimistic on the sector; and they’re now additionally exploring whether or not Liverpool’s Thiago Alcantara is concerned with agreeing a pre-contract together with a number of different suitors.
Similtaneously Henderson left, Gerrard was handed a brand new deal value over £6m-per-year. Ettifaq deliberately introduced this concurrently Henderson’s exit to make it clear the membership was secure.
Ettifaq’s goal is now to complete within the prime six of the Saudi Professional League. They begin the second-half of the season 4 factors adrift of this spot.
Ettifaq additionally lately opened a brand new 20,000-seater stadium and proceed to modernise and progress behind the scenes. The Damman-based membership are naturally unhappy to see Henderson go, however consider their undertaking and long-term success wasn’t contingent on him alone. They’re working arduous behind the scenes to implement a affected person long-term technique that may result in eventual and common qualification to the Asian Champions League – a key purpose given it can assist entice each younger Saudi expertise and extra international stars.