TEAMtalk take a look at five players who could follow Jordan Henderson’s lead in quitting the Saudi Pro League and potentially returning to Europe.
After leaving Liverpool in the summer to link up with former Reds captain Steven Gerrard, Henderson’s time in the Saudi sun has been cut short, with a move to Ajax now done and dusted.
Henderson has been unhappy with life in the Middle East and has now moved back to Europe just six months after initially making the switch to Saudi Arabia, with The Athletic’s David Ornstein breaking the news on Wednesday of the England star heading to Ajax.
The Dutch giants have struggled this campaign, racking up just two wins in their first ten Eredivisie matches, with comprehensive defeats to both PSV and Feyenoord meaning it was the worst start to a campaign they have made since 1964. They have, however, improved in recent weeks and managed to claw themselves up to fifth in the table.
The former Liverpool captain’s move to the Gulf nation wasn’t without its controversy. A strong advocate for LGBTQ+ rights, Saudi Arabia is known for its negative views towards the LGBTQ+ community, so naturally many felt a sense of betrayal following Henderson’s move.
The midfielder made just 19 appearances for Al-Ettifaq who average around 7,854 spectators a match and even suffered a defeat to Al-Riyadh in front of fewer than 700 supporters.
Henderson is now being tipped as the first of many who could leave the Middle East soon, but who are the others who could follow suit?
After winning the Ballon d’Or in 2022, Karim Benzema swapped the Bernabeu, where he spent 14 years and won 24 trophies including five Champions Leagues, for Saudi where he is said to be earning around £172million a year.
The Frenchman left Real Madrid as their second-highest goalscorer of all time, behind only Cristiano Ronaldo.
Since moving to the Gulf nation, Benzema has scored 12 goals and assisted on five occasions for Al-Ittihad but is said to be unhappy with how his time is going at the club.
Al-Ittihad is reluctant to allow the striker, who only joined last year, signing a three-year deal.
However, Benzema’s unhappiness has alerted the likes of Chelsea, Man United and Arsenal, who are all said to be interested in taking the 36-year-old on a short-term deal.
Chelsea’s current top scorer is Cole Palmer, who joined from Man City in the summer, though the Englishman is best from out wide. Nicolas Jackson has struggled to perform as the centre-forward at Stamford Bridge after joining from Villarreal in the summer, whilst Armando Broja has yet to score for the Blues this season.
Todd Boehly has not been afraid to spend money since his takeover of the west London club, so a move for Benzema should certainly not be ruled out.
Arsenal have been long-term admirers of the Frenchman ever since Arsene Wenger was in the dugout, with neither Gabriel Jesus nor Eddie Nketiah firing on all cylinders this campaign and Ivan Toney being too expensive, Benzema would represent a short-term fix for the Gunners.
Man United’s woes in front of goal continue, as Rasmus Hojlund has netted just twice in 16 Premier League matches this campaign. After Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s 25% acquisition of United, more money could become available for the Red Devils and Benzema would represent a statement of intent for the club.
Roberto Firmino spent over eight years at Anfield, helping Liverpool to a first-ever Premier League title and Champions League victory, forming a deadly trio with Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah.
The 32-year-old saw his game time slowly decrease following the arrivals of Diogo Jota and Luis Diaz and upon the expiry of his contract on Merseyside, he departed for Al-Alhi in the summer of last year, signing a three-year contract.
Despite scoring a hat-trick in his first game for the club, the Brazilian hasn’t netted since in what has been an extremely disappointing spell for the 2019 Ballon d’Or nominee.
He has since lost his spot in the starting XI for the Saudi club but could be offered a way out as Chelsea are reportedly interested in the attacker.
Considering his lucrative wages and with over two years left on his current deal, a switch to west London may be Firmino’s only route out of Asia.
Serbian talisman Aleksander Mitrovic made the lucrative switch to Saudi Arabia last year and has since scored 25 goals and assisted on five occasions in 26 appearances for Al-Hilal as they currently top the SPL table, remaining unbeaten.
Mitrovic broke the record for the highest-scoring English league season in the current 46 game format in 2021/22 by netting 43 times as Fulham fired themselves towards the Championship title.
With Chelsea on the hunt for a new number nine to replace the misfiring Nicolas Jackson, Mitrovic has apparently been offered to the Blues.
The Serbian has struggled to replicate his Championship form in the Premier League with either Newcastle or Fulham though Chelsea will hope that, should they purchase the striker, he can fix their goalscoring issues.
After becoming Porto’s youngest-ever captain in the Champions League at just 18-years-old, Ruben Neves spent over six years at Wolves, helping them reach the Premier League and the knockout stages of the Europa League where they succumbed to defeat to eventual winners Sevilla.
Following his £50million switch to Al-Hilal, Neves has appeared 24 times for the club, scoring three times and assisting on four occasions.
With the suspension to Sandro Tonali, Newcastle have been heavily linked with Neves in recent times, with their Saudi owners interested in taking the Portuguese international to Tyneside.
Neves still has over two years still left on his current deal in Asia, a fee similar to what Al-Hilal initially paid for him is likely what it will take for him to make a return to the Premier League.
Portuguese winger Jota has endured a tough spell in Saudi Arabia after making a club record £25million move to Al-Ittihad, appearing only five times in the league as they sit 25 points behind league leaders Al-Hilal.
The ex-Celtic star was left out of the squad list for the Saudi Pro League just two months after signing for the club to make way for another new signing.
Spurs manager Ange Postecoglou, who used to manage Jota whilst at Celtic, is still said to be keen on bringing the winger to London after it was revealed that he would be available on a cut-price fee.
Moves to West Ham and former club Celtic has also been discussed, though it would seem as though a move to north London is most likely at this stage, though his lucrative wages could be a stumbling block in any potential move.