Jordan Henderson apologised for any hurt felt by the LGBT community over his move to Saudi Arabia outfit Al-Ettifaq at his Ajax welcome press conference in Amsterdam.
Henderson moved to Al-Ettifaq from Liverpool on a three-year contract last summer, and his decision to go to Saudi Arabia, where same-sex relationships are illegal, caused controversy in the UK as he had previously been a high-profile supporter of LGBTQ+ rights.
“If any people from that community feel let down or hurt I apologise,” said Henderson.
“If anyone was offended or feel as though I upset them, that’s on me, that was my decision and I apologise for that. It was never my intention.
“I just want to look forward now and concentrate on being the best player I can for Ajax. My beliefs have never changed and never will. Again I can only apologise if people feel let down.”
Henderson, 33, has signed a two-and-a-half year deal with the Eredivisie club after failing to settle at Al-Ettifaq, who he joined six months ago and he described his move to Ajax as the “perfect opportunity” after cutting short his spell in Saudi Arabia.
“(Ajax) is one of the biggest clubs in the world, the biggest club in Holland and I felt as though it’s a great opportunity for me personally to come to a huge club, to try and help this club go forward and be as successful as possible.”
Henderson denied that there was a financial element to his decision to move to a Dutch club rather than return to England, and said he wanted to help Ajax – struggling by their standards in fifth place – return to the top.
“It had nothing to do with anything but football. I felt it was the perfect opportunity to come to such a huge club and showcase what I’ve tried to do my whole life – to dedicate myself to football.
“The welcome here has been incredible and I’m overwhelmed to be given the opportunity at a great football club and to repay the faith shown in me.
“Over the next two-and-a-half years I will give everything to get the club back on track and to be as successful as possible.”
Henderson said his decision to move to Ajax was purely a footballing one, but that he had to do what was best for him and his family.
“I think a lot of people would like me to sit here and criticise the Saudi League and everything that went along with it but that’s not something I’m going to do. I have full respect for the league, for the club and for the people over there.
“They made me feel welcome but unfortunately sometimes these things don’t work out in football and in life.
“I made the decision as soon as I knew the opportunity was there and the decision was that this is the best move for me and my family at this time.”
Asked if he was motivated by a desire to return to top level football, Henderson said: “(The Saudi League) is still competitive but I just felt as though this opportunity was a huge one, the right move for my career and that’s what I wanted to do.
“Obviously it’s a big decision with how long I’d been out in Saudi but they fully respected it and I’m thankful it was handled in the right way. Everybody shook hands and we moved on.”
And asked if he had regrets over making the move in the first place, Henderson added: “In life, if you want to call them regrets or mistakes, you call them that. But they’re only mistakes if you don’t learn from them.
“`I learned a lot over there. I haven’t got a bad word to say about anybody over there. I’ll have friends I’ll speak to forever.
“There were positives to come out of it. In the end it didn’t turn out the way we both wanted it but we ended it on great terms. We shake hands and move forward.”
Henderson said he remained in regular contact with England manager Gareth Southgate as he targets a place in the squad for this summer’s Euros.
“I’m in contact with Gareth regularly as I have been many years and that hasn’t changed, like he is with all the players, you know how close he is to the lads. He understands the situation.”
Henderson was booed while playing for England following his move to Saudi Arabia, and admitted he had been hurt by the experience.
“I’m not going to sit here and say I haven’t been hurt but at the same time I understand it,” he said.
“I do care. People might think I don’t but I actually do care about other people. I do think a lot about how I treat people, I have respect for people and it does hurt.
“I totally respect their opinion and how they view me as a person so I had to take it on the chin. I never tried to hurt anybody, it was never my intention.
“If people feel a type of way towards me. All I can do is apologise. I’ve never done anything to hurt anybody.”
Henderson thanked manager Steven Gerrard for how he handled the situation regarding his departure from Saudi Arabia.
“I’ve got a really good relationship with Stevie, he’s been brilliant over the six months. Our relationship has always been strong and always will be strong.”