Henderson, a supporter of the LGBT+ community as Liverpool captain, has faced heavy criticism for making the switch to Saudi Arabia, where homosexuality is illegal, for a major uplift in wages. The 33-year-old had been a vocal advocate of the Rainbow Laces campaign and worked with fan groups to promote inclusivity before joining the Saudi Pro League.
‘I find the area really complicated because we have a lot of trade with Saudi Arabia,’ said the England manager. ‘We buy oil from Saudi Arabia, there’s Saudi Arabian investment across a lot of British industries and I don’t see any protests against any of that.
‘It does feel to me as if the involvement with Newcastle, and the decision for Jordan to go there, gets a different level of scrutiny.
‘It is interesting to me that it receives a different level from other industries. I don’t really know what the morality argument is because so many of our industries are wrapped up with Saudi investment. Given the situation with Russia we are reliant on Saudi Arabia for a lot of our oil.
Gareth Southgate has come to the defence of Jordan Henderson over his move to Saudi Arabia
Southgate claimed that footballers are held to a higher moral standard than others are
‘In the end, only Jordan can talk about the decision. There’s a lot wrapped up in it. He’s not naive.
‘I discussed it with him. His prospects of playing at Liverpool were probably a big factor in the move becoming more attractive than it might have been.’
Southgate said that the FA will fly out to make checks on Henderson during the season and does not expect any negativity towards the midfielder from England supporters when they face Ukraine in next week’s European Championship qualifier in Poland and friendly in Scotland.
‘There are lots of different ownership models of clubs in England, there are lots of players playing in countries where there are different religious beliefs,’ Southgate added. ‘I don’t really know why a player would receive an adverse reaction because of where he plays his football.
‘You try to talk about a squad announcement based on football decisions and increasingly we are navigating such complex political aspects that I’m not really trained to do. Forgive me if I am stumbling a little bit but I find it a really difficult scenario to try to get right.
‘I can follow the games as we do remotely. If I’m doing my job correctly then I should be visiting Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Saudi. If I’m advised that it’s not acceptable then I’d have to accept that.’
England have opted against recalling Raheem Sterling but kept both Harry Maguire and Kalvin Phillips in the squad despite neither featuring at all for the Manchester clubs this term.
Southgate said he remains ‘aware’ that the pair’s inclusions become harder to justify should neither be playing. ‘I can’t sit here and say that it’s an ideal situation with either,’ he said. ‘There is a lack of depth in certain areas. Left back is one and midfield pivot is definitely another.
Southgate said the FA will fly out to make checks on Henderson during the 2023-24 season
‘With Harry Maguire, we’ve lost a lot of experienced players in terms of caps at centre half, so we’re giving some less experienced players the opportunity to come into the squad. Unfortunately it looks like Tyrone Mings is out for most of the season. John Stones is out for this camp. Eric Dier hasn’t appeared in Tottenham’s squad.
‘If I’m looking at all the players we’ve given caps to in the last few years, Conor Coady is also out and playing in the Championship now so there is a space there.
‘For these two games, it’s important we have some experience in that area of the pitch.
‘Clearly with Harry and with Kalvin Phillips, it’s far from ideal that they’re not playing football. But similarly with Kalvin, Declan Rice was the only English player to start at the weekend as a single pivot and Kalvin is the next best positioned to do that.
‘Hendo can play there, Conor Gallagher could play there, but it’s not the best position.
‘We’ve got players playing in the league who are playing in a double pivot. Someone like Angel Gomes is doing that but it’s a different sort of role.’
Arsenal’s Eddie Nketiah is a surprise call-up although he has scored twice in three games in the Premier League this season.Uncapped Chelsea defender Levi Colwill has also been called up.
‘Two young players who are doing very well, who have done well with our junior teams,’ said Southgate. ‘Levi, of course, had some time with us in the summer anyway. Eddie is coming in because it’s an area where we’d like to have a look at him. He’s a young player with a really good pedigree, very good finisher and it’s good for him to have some time with us.’
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