After only a six-month spell in Saudi Arabia, Jordan Henderson has cut ties with Al-Ettifaq and is currently on the cusp of a move to Ajax.
It comes after the former Liverpool captain signed a £350,000-per-week deal to join his old team-mate Steven Gerrard at the Saudi club last summer.
But it now looks as though he will be making a U-turn on his decision to move to the Middle East, a move that could cost him millions in tax after he opted to walk away from his three-year deal with the club.
While Al-Ettifaq were desperate for him to stay, it appears he is very close to moving to Ajax, but would that be a good move for both the former Liverpool defender and the Dutch outfit?
Perhaps yes. For Ajax, Henderson brings a wealth of experience playing at the top level at a time when the Eredivisie side may be in great need of leadership in midfield. Equally, the England midfielder gets a move closer to home and can ply his trade in the Dutch first division.
Jordan Henderson terminated his contract with Al-Ettifaq and is on the verge of a move to Ajax
Henderson now looks poised to make a move to the Dutch side after six months in Saudi Arabia
But he’ll join an Ajax side who have endured a difficult 12 months, with the club currently on their third manager of the season already
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The deal might weigh more in Ajax’s favour, though. The Dutch giants have really struggled to live up to their reputation as being a dominant force in the Eredivisie in the last 12 months. They’ve had several different managers, crashed out of the Europa League and the Dutch Cup and have also dropped to fifth in the league table.
The acquisition of Henderson, an experienced former Premier League midfielder who has won multiple major honours and has represented England at three World Cups, could be a massive coup for the John van’t Schip’s side – especially considering he will arrive on a free transfer.
But after a calamitous start to the season, what could Henderson be walking at the Eredivise club and could he help them kick on in the second-half of the season?
Ajax’s worst start to the sesason?
In the last 20 years, the 36-time Dutch champions have failed to finish outside of the top four, with Ajax having won the Eredivisie eight times during that period.
But things haven’t been looking so good for the Amsterdam outfit in recent months with the side falling to fifth in the Eredivisie, having lost five games this season.
What’s more worrying for Van’t Schip’s side is that they’re currently 23 points adrift of PSV Eindhoven who are streaks ahead at the top of the table on 51 points.
At present, Ajax currently sit outside the European qualification places. While their slump in October even saw them briefly drop into the relegation zone after losing five matches in six games.
During that time they suffered two devastating losses to league rivals Feyenoord (4-0) and PSV Eindhoven (5-2), which were both indicative of their slow start to the season.
Fans had even protested their poor form and had hit out at the club’s decision to sack their manager, Maurice Steijn.
Despite that, Ajax have steadied the ship in recent months, having gone on a seven-match unbeaten run. Despite that, they’re still five points off a Europa League qualification spot and have conceded the joint-most goals, 32, of any team in the top half of the table, alongside Heerenveen.
Maurice Steijn took over at the Dutch outfit at the start of the season but was subsequently sacked after they fell into the relegation zone
Ajax have slumped to fifth in the Eredivisie table and are currently 23 points off leaders PSV
Poor cup form
One thing that Henderson certainly has experience of doing is winning cup competitions.
During his time with Liverpool, the 33-year-old won three domestic cups, the Champions League and a Club World Cup.
Speaking back in 2022 to The Guardian, Henderson opened up on his experience winning trophies, claiming that it fuelled his hunger to win more.
‘I think when you do become successful and win trophies it makes you want to get back there even more and do it all over again,’ he said. ‘You learn that it’s about the journey and all the memorable games it takes to get there.’
And Ajax could certainly use some of his experience, having endured a tough time in Europe and in domestic cup competitions this season.
Back in December, Van’t Schip’s were knocked out of the Dutch Cup, suffering a shock upset to fourth-tier side USV Hercules.
Ajax went 2-0 down in the match, before mounting a late comeback with Brian Brobbey and Chuba Akpom scoring in the 83rd and 89th minute of the match, before Hercules would score in third minute of injury time to seal the victory.
They also failed to qualify for the knockout stages of the Europa League, winning just one of their group games, a 3-1 victory against AEK Athens.
Admittedly they were in a tough group, that also included Brighton and Marseille, but considering their experience playing in the Champions League in the past 13 seasons, it was a big shock to see a club like Ajax crash out of the tournament.
They’ll now hope to qualify for the Europa Conference League, by beating Bodo/Glimt in February.
Ajax failed to qualify for the knockout stages of the Europa League after winning just one group-stage match
The 36-time Dutch champions also crashed out of the Dutch Cup, suffering a shock defeat by USV Hercules in December
Ajax will now hope to qualify for the Europa Conference League in February as they take on Bodo/Glimt
Perhaps one of the biggest problems in the past year for Ajax has been their decision to chop and change managers.
The Dutch outfit had begun 2023 with Alfred Screuder, Erik ten Hag’s sucessor, but he had failed to push Ajax to the top of the Dutch first division, with the club announcing his departure at a time when Ajax had dropped to fifth in the Eredivisie – seven points off then league leaders Feyenoord.
In fact, six different coaches have technically managed Ajax last year (both in an interim and permanent capacity), with former Everton defender, Johnny Heitinga taking the reins for the remainder of the 2022-23 season.
He would be replaced by Steijn at the start of July, but his tenure at Ajax was abruptly cut short after their shocking start to the season that had left the Dutch giants languishing in the relegation zone. It was a controversial sacking, with Rafael van der Vaart blaming ‘so many s*** players’ for the manager’s dismissal.
In his wake, the club would appoint assistant coach Hedwiges Maduro as their interim boss before handing the reins to former player Van’t Schip. In recent months, Schip has managed to help Ajax return to winning ways, with the club having now gone seven games unbeaten in the Eredivisie.
At the end of 2023 he handed control over to his assistant Michael Valkanis for two games after the head coach travelled to Australia for his son’s wedding – the sixth coach to lead the side in 2023.
Their recent struggles in form may have been down to the changes in coaching staff over the past 12 months. But under Van’t Schip, the Dutch side seem to be back on an upwards trajectory.
Johnny Heitinga (pictured) took over from Alfred Screuder who was axed at the start of 2023
Steijn subsequently took over from the ex-Everton man in July, before leaving the club in October
John van’t Ship subsequently took over and has steadied the ship for Ajax in recent months, helping them go seven games unbeaten in the Eredivisie
Henderson’s arrival could come at a very good time for Ajax who have been blighted by injuries to their midfield in recent months.
Defensive midfielder Sivert Mannsverk has been sidelined for an extended period with a foot injury. His last appearance for the club came back in September.
Branco van den Boomen has also been out of action for several weeks with a knee injury and fellow midfielder Silvano Vos has also been struggling with an injury too.
The ex-Liverpool captain’s arrival could come at a good time for Ajax, who could be without all three midfielders until the end of January.
It’s an interesting move if you look at it from both parties. From Ajax’s perspective, it is a shrewd move. Henderson brings a wealth of experience and plenty of knowledge to impart on some of Ajax’s emerging young talents.
For the midfielder, it’s a chance to move closer to home to play again in European competitions and in a more competitive league.
If Ajax can build a platform from their recent results, there’s no reason why we can’t see Henderson help guide them to a top four finish in 2024.