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Jake Daniels says Jordan’s Henderson’s Saudi Arabia move a ‘slap in the face’

Jordan Henderson’s move to Saudi Arabian club Al-Ettifaq has left a bitter taste for Jake Daniels, the UK’s only openly gay active male professional footballer.

Henderson, who had previously expressed support for the LGBTQ+ community, now finds himself facing criticism for joining a league where same-sex sexual activity is illegal.

Daniels, 18, received a message of encouragement from Henderson after coming out last year but has expressed disappointment over the lack of communication since the midfielder’s transfer.

After Jake Daniels publicly revealed his sexuality in May 2022, Henderson reached out with a private message expressing pride in Daniels’ decision.

The gesture was significant for Daniels, who felt supported by a respected figure in the football community.

Henderson’s public endorsement of Stonewall’s Rainbow Laces campaign in November 2021 further solidified his stance as an ally to the LGBTQ+ cause.

However, Henderson’s transfer to Al-Ettifaq in July 2023, as part of a broader trend of top European players moving to the Saudi Pro League, has raised eyebrows and sparked criticism.

The move comes with controversy due to Saudi Arabia’s strict laws against same-sex relationships. This has led some LGBTQ+ campaigners to question Henderson’s commitment to the cause, given the stark contrast between his previous statements and the legal landscape of his new workplace.

In expressing his disappointment, Daniels voiced a sentiment shared by many in the LGBTQ+ community. He suggested that financial considerations might have played a significant role in Henderson’s decision, stating, “But I guess the money pays well, and money must mean more to people.”

This raises pertinent questions about the balance between personal principles and the financial incentives that come with playing in leagues backed by substantial state investments.

Jordan Henderson has defended his move, asserting that his intention has always been to support causes and communities.

In a piece for the Liverpool matchday programme in November 2021, he passionately advocated for inclusivity in football through initiatives like the Rainbow Laces campaign.

Henderson expressed feeling hurt by the criticism he received, emphasizing that he has not changed as a person.

Jake Daniels, who became a trailblazer by coming out in a sport where few male professionals openly identify as LGBTQ+, also expressed frustration over Steven Gerrard’s appointment as Al-Ettifaq’s manager in July.

Daniels had been assured of a connection with Gerrard, but the move to Saudi Arabia seemingly disrupted that potential support system.

The juxtaposition of these events raises concerns about the challenges faced by LGBTQ+ athletes in the football industry.