The England international, who was captain of Liverpool when the club won the Premier League and Champions League titles, is the latest star to head to the oil-rich kingdom. He signed a three-year contract and will reportedly earn 700,000 pounds ($900,000) per week.
Liverpool confirmed Henderson's transfer to Al-Ettifaq and noted that he “lifted eight trophies, all but one of which as club captain” during his 12-year spell at Anfield.
The Saudi league hopes to raise the profile of soccer in the country. Cristiano Ronaldo moved to Al-Nassr in December and has been followed by stars like Karim Benzema, N'Golo Kante and Roberto Firmino during the offseason.
Henderson won every major club honor during his time at Liverpool, including the Champions League in 2019 and the Premier League title a year later. He still had two years on his contract, but his move comes as Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp overhauls his midfield.
“We will miss you, you know that. You will miss us, I know that,” Klopp said in a video posted online. “But it’s life, and it’s not forever. It’s just a goodbye.”
James Milner, Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain have all left the club, while Fabio Carvalho has joined Leipzig on a season-long loan.
Liverpool has signed Alexis Mac Allister and Dominik Szoboszlai during the transfer window and is expected to add another midfielder ahead of the new season.
Klopp's midfield revamp comes after the club endured a disappointing campaign last season, which saw it miss out on the Champions League for the first time in seven years and fail to win a trophy.
The move to Saudi Arabia by an admired player who has been a strong ally of LGBTQ+ fans upset the Liverpool Football Club Supporters Board, which noted Henderson had “stood out as a principled footballer.”
“We are therefore very disappointed and disheartened by his decision and the hurt and division it has created,” the fan group said in a statement.
Saudi Arabia has sought in recent years to buy its way into international sports. Besides Ronaldo, whose contract reportedly earns him up to $200 million a year, Saudi-funded LIV Golf has shaken up professional golf.
The moves are part of efforts by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to leverage the kingdom’s oil wealth to provide new jobs and opportunities for Saudi Arabia’s youth. However, critics have dismissed the efforts as “sportswashing,” attempting to leverage professional sports to clean up the kingdom’s image as it remains one of the world’s top executioners and waging a yearslong war in Yemen.
U.S. intelligence agencies also believe Prince Mohammed ordered the killing and dismemberment of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.