Football has long been about money, but Saudi spending leaves game now seeped in blood
The beautiful game has long been a vessel for profit, but in an era where fans know everything it is one increasingly hard to enjoy.
Supporters know not just the names of the current players, but those linked with the club, the name of its chairman, and who the club is owned by.
Football is not a game without context where you watch 22 people run around for 90 minutes, we know exactly how the bloody sausage is made, but too many seem content to take the money and look the other way.
In 2018, the Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi was ambushed by a 15-member squad of Saudi assassins, who decapitated him then chopped up his body, all with the approval of, according to US intelligence agencies, Saudi Arabia’s prince, Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud.
The response from the world was total condemnation, followed by lining their pockets as fast as they could, with the Premier League deciding the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF), run by the prince, was a suitable vehicle to own Newcastle United.
As that sportswashing triumph gets an Amazon series that will ignore the Saudi state sentencing people to death on fake evidence, footballers are now going to the country direct, desperate to get their fill of blood money.
Those who’ve decided to look the other way this summer include Karim Benzema, N’Golo Kante, Ruben Neves, former Celtic forward, Jota, and most upsettingly of all, Jordan Henderson.
The former Liverpool captain has won the Champions League, the Premier League, and created enough of a legacy to be remembered as a club legend, but was also revered for his actions off the pitch.
In November 2021, he wrote a 900 word piece expressing his support for the LGBTQI+ community, writing he believes “when you see something that is clearly wrong and makes another human being feel excluded, you should stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them.” Less than two years later, he’s appearing in videos on the Al Ettifaq social media where they’ve blacked out his rainbow-coloured armband.
This is a man who spoke eloquently about homophobia and making football a safe space, who is now paid by and living in a state where proof of gay sex can be met with the death penalty.
Saudi Arabia is a country whose Government amputates and flogs suspected criminals, tortures protesters, has unfair trials, few rights for women, and same-sex sexual activity is illegal. It’s not that LGBTQIA+ rights are oppressed, they simply don’t have any.
This also isn’t limited to football. The PGA tour agreed to merge with the Saudi backed LIV tour, while wrestling company the WWE signed a ten year deal with the country.
Mr Henderson, like so many others, is a very, very rich man, who has put being even richer over any kind of legacy. Sure, when his career is over, he’ll be given a fawning return at Anfield, appearances on Sky Sports, and some will pretend this is normal.
But we will all know, when he applauds those still supporting him on his first appearance back, those hands are covered in blood he can’t wash off.