Jordan Henderson, Karim Benzema, Firmino: Why Stars Want Out of Saudi Pro League Abruptly

Jordan Henderson, Karim Benzema, Firmino: Why Stars Want Out of Saudi Pro League Abruptly

Martin Moses
updated at February 13, 2024 at 11:54 AM
In this article:
Jordan Henderson logo
AFC Ajax logoMEngland logo
Cristiano Ronaldo logo
C. Ronaldo
Al Nassr FC logoFPortugal logo
Karim Benzema logo
Al-Ittihad Club logoFFrance logo
Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior logo
Al-Hilal Saudi FC logoFBrazil logo
Roberto Firmino logo
R. Firmino
Al-Ahli SFC logoFBrazil logo
Saudi Professional League logo
KSA Professional League
Saudi Arabia
  • Jordan Henderson's move to rip up his contract in Saudi Arabia has raised eyebrows
  • A couple of stars appear unsettled in Saudi Arabia after only six months in the Middle East
  • Karim Benzema and Roberto Firmino are the other players said to be looking to move away

Cristiano Ronaldo's move to Al-Nassr in January 2023 after his public fallout with Erik ten Hag set the stage for a massive exodus of European-based stars.

Saudi Arabia's government, through the Public Investment Fund (PIF), took over four of the country's top-flight clubs in a detailed bid to market itself as a true sports destination.

Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, Jordan Henderson, Roberto Firmino, Saudi Pro League
Cristiano Ronaldo in action for Al-Nassr in the Saudi Pro League on December 30. Photo by Yasser Bakhsh.
Source: Getty Images

The plan started by offering attractive wages to high-profile players to ditch their European clubs and move to the East. The plan was highly successful, with 2022 Ballon d'Or winner Karim Benzema, World Cup winner N'Golo Kante and the most expensive player ever, Neymar, joining Ronaldo in the Gulf state.

But less than six months later, there have been growing signs of disquiet of some of the stars wanting out. It started with Benzema missing a couple of training sessions before news broke out that Jordan Henderson had ripped up his three-year contract at Al-Ettifaq. He is set to be unveiled as a new Ajax player, according to transfer guru Fabrizio Romano.

Why are stars quitting Saudi Pro League?

What has gone fundamentally wrong in Saudi Arabia that some of the top stars are quitting less than a year into the contracts? Sports Brief breaks down some of the possible reasons.

1. Harsh weather conditions

Henderson and his family are said to have struggled to settle in Dammam due to the searing hot weather conditions. The matches are held at temperatures of up to 40 degrees Celsius. Weather and climate reports that the average maximum temperature is 31 degrees.

Ronaldo complained of the same heat problems in June last year.

"The biggest difference I have found in Saudi is obviously the heat and adapting schedules to train later in the day when it is cooler," as quoted by GOAL.

2. Different cultures

Saudi Arabia has been in the spotlight countless times due to its approach to women and LGBTQ rights. Compared to Europe, social life has seemingly been tough for most players to adapt to.

It is frowned upon for women to be in public places alone. Additionally, the sale of alcohol to foreigners is strictly prohibited. Possible punishments, if found, include flogging and deportation.

3. Lack of fans

Despite the heavy investment in recent times by the state, fans have failed to attend the Saudi Pro League matches in huge numbers.

In December, the Economic Times reported that only, wait for this, 144 people attended a match between Al-Riyadh and Al-Khaleej. The report further claimed that Saudi Arabia remained the fifth-most supported league in Asia despite having world-class stars in their teams.

The poor numbers, compared to what Benzema experienced at Santiago Bernabeu or what Henderson and Firmino experienced at a raucous Anfield stadium, might have changed the players' stance about the league.

It remains to be seen how the league, through its football director, former Chelsea legend Michael Emenalo, will deal with its latest setback. The league is still interested in signing Kevin De Bruyne and Mohamed Salah, who have been discussed in recent times.

Why Jordan Henderson risks not getting paid

Sports Brief has also reported that Jordan Henderson risks missing out on his wages after he ended his contract in Saudi Arabia.

The former Liverpool captain is said to have deferred his payments to avoid UK tax but now stands to miss them entirely after ending his contract prematurely.

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Martin Moses
Martin Moses is a sports journalist with over five years of experience in media. He graduated from Multimedia University of Kenya (Bachelor of Journalism, 2017-2021)