LIVERPOOL: Weeks after luring Liverpool great Steven Gerrard to join as manager, Saudi Arabian football club Al-Ettifaq signed Jordan Henderson on Thursday.
The England international, who was captain of Liverpool when the club won the Premier League and Champions League titles, is the latest star to head to the oil-rich kingdom. He will reportedly earn 700,000 pounds (USD 900,000) per week.
"Liverpool Football Club can confirm Jordan Henderson has completed a transfer to Al-Ettifaq," the team said in a statement. "The move to the Saudi Pro League side sees the midfielder bring an end to his 12-year Reds career, during which he lifted eight trophies, all but one of which as club captain."
The Saudi league has targeted a slew of leading players from Europe as part of an ambitious recruitment to raise the profile of football in the country. Cristiano Ronaldo moved to Al-Nassr in December and has been followed by stars like Karim Benzema, N'Golo Kante and Roberto Firmino during the offseason.
Henderson won every major club honour during his time at Liverpool, including the Champions League in 2019 and the Premier League title a year later. He still had two years to run on his current contract, but his move comes as Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp overhauls his midfield.
"We will miss you, you know that. You will miss us, I know that," Klopp said in a video posted online. "But it's life, and it's not forever. It's just a goodbye."
James Milner, Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain have all left the club, while Fabio Carvalho has joined Leipzig on a season-long loan.
Liverpool has signed Alexis Mac Allister and Dominik Szoboszlai during the transfer window and is expected to add another midfielder ahead of the new season.
Klopp's midfield revamp comes after the club endured a disappointing campaign last season, which saw it miss out on the Champions League for the first time in seven years and fail to win a trophy.
Saudi Arabia has sought in recent years to buy its way into international sports. Besides Ronaldo, whose contract reportedly earns him up to USD 200 million a year, Saudi-funded LIV Golf has shaken up professional golf.
The moves are part of efforts by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to leverage the kingdom's oil wealth to provide new jobs and opportunities for Saudi Arabia's youth. However, critics have dismissed the efforts as "sportswashing," attempting to leverage professional sports to clean up the kingdom's image as it remains one of the world's top executioners and waging a yearslong war in Yemen.