Mark Clattenburg quit his role as a Premier League referee to take a senior position in Saudi Arabia on this day in 2017.

The Durham official had previously refereed high-profile events including the Euro 2016 final, as well as Champions League and FA Cup finals.

The 41-year-old’s move to the Middle East saw him take over from fellow Englishman and former Premier League referee Howard Webb as head of refereeing in Saudi Arabia.

Clattenburg told the Saudi Arabia Football Federation: “This is an important move forward. We have professional referees in the country that I am leaving, which has been a big positive.

“One thing I’d like to do is work with the refereeing team and the president to make this happen so that it will be successful for many, many years to come.”

The Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL), who provide and train officials for the Premier League, English Football League and Football Association, paid tribute to Clattenburg.

The PGMOL said: “Mark is a talented referee, he has been a great asset to the English game and hopefully an inspiration to those who want to get into refereeing at the grass roots of the game.

“We understand this is an exciting opportunity for Mark as well as further underlining what high esteem English match officials are held throughout the world game.”

Clattenburg held the role for 18 months before returning to refereeing with a move to China in the Chinese Super League.

He was later appointed president of the Egyptian Referees Committee, but resigned in January 2023 after just five months in the role.

What the papers say

Raphael Varane is reportedly the latest big name attracting a wealth of interest from Saudi Arabia. The Daily Star says Saudi Pro League side Al-Nassr are hoping to reunite the Manchester United defender with his former Real Madrid and Red Devils team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo, with an offer believed to be in the region of £50million a year.

The Independent reports Kylian Mbappe‘s contract negotiations with Real Madrid have hit a stumbling block. According to the paper, the two parties are yet to come to terms on the 25-year-old striker’s wage package, with an agreement believed to be a way off. However, there is belief amongst all involved – including Mbappe’s current club Paris St Germain – that a deal to take the France captain to Spain will eventually be made.

And The Telegraph reports Aston Villa has reached a verbal agreement on a new long-term contract for Jamaica winger Leon Bailey.

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Raphinha: Journalist Paul O’Keefe says on X the Barcelona attacker is being carefully monitored by Tottenham.

Hwang Ui-jo: The Nottingham Forest striker has agreed terms to spend the rest of the season on loan at Turkish side Alanyaspor, reports Turkish outlet Sports Digitale.

What the papers say

Saudi Pro League side Al Hilal are reportedly considering a second attempt to poach Manchester United midfielder Bruno Fernandes. The Daily Mail, citing Portuguese outlet Record, says the Saudi side could make another run at luring the 29-year-old in the summer after failing to sign him in January.

Elsewhere, The Guardian reports Roy Hodgson is nearing the Crystal Palace exit following his side’s 4-1 loss to Brighton on Saturday. Chairman Steve Parish is said to be sounding out replacements to take over as manager, but is struggling to find a replacement willing to take over at this stage of the season.

The Liverpool Echo reports Bayer Leverkusen boss Xabi Alonso is the clear frontrunner to take over as Liverpool manager at the end of the season.

Social media round-upPlayers to watch

Michael Olise: The Daily Mirror says Manchester United boss Erik ten Hag views the Crystal Palace midfielder as the club’s next marquee signing.

Benjamin Sesko: According to footballtransfers.com, Chelsea and AC Milan could target the RB Leipzig and Slovenia forward in the summer.

Jordan Henderson hinted at regrets over his move to Saudi Arabia as he was formally unveiled as an Ajax player on Friday.

The former Liverpool captain quit Saudi Pro League outfit Al-Ettifaq this week less than six months into a lucrative three-year deal.

The 33-year-old has faced fierce criticism over his career choices since last summer and, for the first time, he came close to admitting an error as he was presented at a press conference in Amsterdam.

“In life if you want to call them regrets or mistakes, you can call them that,” Henderson said at a press conference in Amsterdam. “But, at the same time, they’re only mistakes if you don’t learn from them.

“Looking back, at the time, obviously it was a big decision. It was a decision I felt was right for me and my family at the time, but things happen. Things change quickly in football.

“I had to make another decision and this is the one I felt was right decision for me. I felt the opportunity was too big to turn down, playing at this great football club.”

The failure of Henderson’s move to Saudi Arabia has not only negatively affected his reputation but also that of the country’s football league.

Henderson did not criticise the standard of the competition or the lifestyle he has experienced in recent months, but neither did he offer a ringing endorsement to any other players weighing up a switch.

Henderson, who has signed a two-and-a-half year deal at Ajax, said: “I would definitely not sit here and speak badly of the league or the clubs or anything like that. I’ve got full respect for the opportunity that I was given to go there.

“But everyone’s different. You look at people who are there, big players who are there now, who are loving every second of it, staying there for a long period of time.

“But you might get others that don’t settle or something happens in their private life, whatever it may be, and things change quickly.”

On his decision to leave, he added: “It had nothing to do with anything else other than a football decision. I felt it was a perfect opportunity for me to come to such a huge club.”

Having previously been a strong advocate of LGBTQ+ rights, Henderson was widely condemned for moving to Saudi Arabia, where same-sex relationships are illegal.

The huge wages he was reportedly offered also brought criticism he was putting money before morals.

He was booed by England supporters when he returned home to play for the international side last autumn.

The midfielder concedes that whole experience has been a bruising one.

“I’m not going to say I haven’t been hurt,” he said. “I understand it, but I do care. People might think I don’t but I actually do care about other people.

“I do think a lot about football and how I treat other people and have respect for other people. So it does hurt, of course, but at the same time I totally respect their opinions and how they view me as a person.

“I just had to obviously take it on the chin and that’s all I’ve continued to do. I’ve never tried to hurt anybody. That was never my intention, ever.

“If people feel a type of way towards me then all I can do is apologise for that. I’m hurt but it’s part and parcel of life and football.

“It makes you stronger and I just want to concentrate on getting back to playing football with Ajax and doing my best for this football club.”

Henderson will not be eligible to make his Ajax debut at home to RKC Waalwijk this weekend as he awaits a work permit but he is eager to get started.

He said: “I’ll eat, breathe and sleep Ajax and dedicate myself every single day, every single session to try to be better and help this team and this club be better.”

Jordan Henderson apologised for any hurt felt by the LBGT community over his move to Saudi Arabia outfit Al-Ettifaq at his Ajax welcome press conference in Amsterdam.

Henderson moved to Al-Ettifaq from Liverpool on a three-year contract last summer, and his decision to go to Saudi Arabia, where same-sex relationships are illegal, caused controversy in the UK as he had previously been a high-profile supporter of LGBTQ+ rights.

“If any people from that community feel let down or hurt I apologise,” said Henderson.

“If anyone was offended or feel as though I upset them, that’s on me, that was my decision and I apologise for that. It was never my intention.

“I just want to look forward now and concentrate on being the best player I can for Ajax. My beliefs have never changed and never will. Again I can only apologise if people feel let down.”

Henderson, 33, has signed a two-and-a-half year deal with the Eredivisie club after failing to settle at Saudi side Al-Ettifaq, who he joined six months ago and he described his move to Ajax as the “perfect opportunity” after cutting short his spell in Saudi Arabai.

“(Ajax) is one of the biggest clubs in the world, the biggest club in Holland and I felt as though it’s a great opportunity for me personally to come to a huge club, to try and help this club go forward and be as successful as possible.”

Henderson denied that there was a financial element to his decision to move to a Dutch club rather than return to England, and said he wanted to help Ajax – struggling by their standards in fifth place – return to the top.

“Don’t believe what you read in the press,” he said. “It had nothing to do with anything but football. I felt it was the perfect opportunity to come to such a huge club and showcase what I’ve tried to do my whole life – to dedicate myself to football.

“The welcome here has been incredible and I’m overwhelmed to be given the opportunity at a great football club and to repay the faith shown in me.

“Over the next two-and-a-half years I will give everything to get the club back on track and to be as successful as possible.”

Jordan Henderson has described his move to Ajax as the “perfect opportunity” after cutting short his spell in Saudi Arabia.

Henderson, 33, has signed a two-and-a-half year deal with the Eredivisie club after failing to settle at Saudi side Al-Ettifaq, who he joined six months ago.

“(Ajax) is one of the biggest clubs in the world, the biggest club in Holland and I felt as though it’s a great opportunity for me personally to come to a huge club, to try and help this club go forward and be as successful as possible.”

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has defended Jordan Henderson’s right to make his own career choices even if they are not always “perfect”.

Klopp’s former Champions League and Premier League-winning captain has left Saudi Arabian club Al-Ettifaq just six months after departing Anfield to return to Europe with Ajax.

Henderson’s lucrative move to a country where same-sex relationships are illegal was heavily criticised in the UK as he had previously been a high-profile supporter of LGBTQ+ rights.

And while Klopp avoided the controversy which surrounded that, he said the 33-year-old was entitled to go where he felt it benefited him the most.

“People are really critical of Hendo about the move, first there and now coming back,” said Klopp.

“I don’t know how we dare, always judging these kind things. We have one life and we have to make decisions and sometimes our decisions are perfect in the first case and sometimes it is different after you made them.

“He was there and it was 100 per cent an interesting experience and I spoke to him and 99 per cent of football things there were absolutely fine.

“There are many things to develop in the future but (he was) never really critical or saying: ‘It’s not possible that that’s not there’, but then he thought it is better for him and the family to come back to Europe and now he is at Ajax Amsterdam, a sensational club in a difficult moment.

“I’m happy for him as it looks like he is happy and that is the most important thing to me.

“He is going to Holland where he can enjoy his football definitely again. The family will feel wonderful because the city is absolutely outstanding.

“I will definitely talk to him in these few days but he has a few things to do which are more important.”

Jordan Henderson admitted the past six months have been difficult for him as he joined Ajax after Saudi club Al-Ettifaq agreed to terminate his contract.

Henderson moved to Al-Ettifaq from Liverpool on a three-year contract last summer, and his decision to go to Saudi Arabia, where same-sex relationships are illegal, caused controversy in the UK as he had previously been a high-profile supporter of LGBTQ+ rights.

He subsequently apologised for any hurt caused, but was booed off the pitch at Wembley during an England friendly against Australia in October.

Al-Ettifaq, who are managed by Steven Gerrard, confirmed they had reached an amicable settlement with the 33-year-old to leave the club, and Ajax announced on Thursday the England midfielder had signed a two-and-a-half-year deal with the Amsterdam outfit.

He is set to be unveiled on Friday at 13:00 (GMT).

Henderson, who captained Liverpool to Champions League and Premier League success, hopes the move to Ajax proves beneficial for both himself and the club.

He told the official Ajax website: “It’s been a difficult year or so for the club, both on and off the field, but that’s the same for me in the past six months.

“So hopefully we can help each other come together and help each other go forward and try and be as successful as possible in the near future.

“It’s been a bit of a whirlwind, crazy few days, but I’m just so excited now to be here, to start a new chapter, a new journey in my life and my career and I’m just so excited to be here and part of this club.

“Once I knew that there was an opportunity, I was overexcited and really overwhelmed that this opportunity was there for me. It was something that I wanted to try and make happen.”

 

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A post shared by Jordan Henderson (@jordanhenderson)

 

Henderson added on Instagram: “I’m sad to say that I will be leaving Al-Ettifaq with immediate effect. It wasn’t an easy decision but one that I feel is best for me and my family.”

The move to Ajax was completed after Henderson, who has 81 England caps, finalised terms and underwent a medical on Thursday.

A statement from the Dutch club read: “Ajax has reached an agreement with Jordan Henderson on his transfer to Amsterdam.

“The free agent, former Sunderland and Liverpool player, signed a contract at Ajax lasting two-and-a-half years, until June 30, 2026.”

Henderson is unlikely to be able to make his Ajax debut against RKC Waalwijk as he is still awaiting international clearance.

Ajax are currently fifth in the Eredivisie, having recovered from a poor start to the new domestic campaign which saw previous head coach Maurice Steijn depart after just 11 games in charge.

The move could enhance Henderson’s hopes of securing a place in the England squad for Euro 2024 this summer.

Ajax coach John van’t Schip told the club’s website: “We wanted an experienced midfielder with leadership qualities.

“Partially due to injuries in the team, we were looking for someone who could step in immediately. Jordan Henderson is that type of player.

“His arrival means a huge enhancement for our squad. Both on and off the pitch, a football player of this calibre is important for our many young players.

“He’s an English international player and has won the Champions League and many other prizes with Liverpool. I am happy he’s here.”

Jordan Henderson has completed his move from Al-Ettifaq to Ajax, the Dutch club have confirmed.

It comes after the Saudi Pro League club agreed to terminate the England midfielder’s contract.

Henderson, 33, joined Al-Ettifaq from Liverpool last summer but has decided to cut his stay in the Middle East short. He has signed a two-and-a-half year deal with the Amsterdam outfit.

A statement from the Dutch club read: “Ajax has reached an agreement with Jordan Henderson on his transfer to Amsterdam.

“The free agent, former Sunderland and Liverpool player, signed a contract at Ajax lasting two-and-a-half years, until June 30, 2026.”

What the papers say

Mohamed Salah remains a target for clubs in the Saudi Pro League but they will have to wait beyond January, according to the Daily Mirror. Liverpool are not expected to agree to a mid-season sale for the 31-year-old forward with bids expected to come in the summer.

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta is likely to concentrate on loan deals in January, reports the Daily Mirror. The club needs to offload players before making any signings with reinforcements on the cards after a string of injuries.

Steve Cooper has emerged as a potential option as manager at Crystal Palace after his sacking at Nottingham Forest, according to The Daily Telegraph. Roy Hodgson’s future in charge of the club is uncertain.

Crystal Palace are interested in Paris St Germain striker Hugo Ekitike, 21, reports the Evening Standard. Palace have also been linked with Sunderland’s 21-year-old French midfielder Pierre Ekwah.

Social media round-upPlayers to watch

Dan Gore: Borussia Dortmund are keen on Manchester United’s 19-year-old English winger, reports Football Insider.

Serhou Guirassy: Manchester United, Tottenham and AC Milan are interested in the Guinea striker, 27, who is preparing to leave Stuttgart in January, according to Gazzetta dello Sport in Italy.

Blackpool forward Jake Daniels has said it was a slap in the face when Jordan Henderson moved to play in Saudi Arabia.

Daniels last year became the first openly gay active British male professional footballer since Justin Fashanu in 1990.

Former Liverpool captain Henderson had been a vocal supporter of the LGBTQ+ community before his decision to join Saudi club Al-Ettifaq from Liverpool in the summer.

Homosexuality is illegal in the Gulf state, leading some to accuse the England midfielder of turning his back on the community.

Speaking to the BBC’s Newsbeat, Daniels said: “He (Henderson) messaged me when I came out. He was backing me and said: ‘We’re proud of what you’ve done.’ And seeing him move to Saudi, it kind of like, slaps me in my face really.

“Obviously it was frustrating. But I guess the money pays well, and money must mean more to people.”

Henderson’s former Liverpool and England team-mate Steven Gerrard is currently his manager in the Saudi Pro League.

 

Daniels, who made his senior debut for Blackpool in May 2022, said Gerrard had personally reached out out to him following his decision to come out.

He added: “I met him in person and he said: ‘If you ever want to get in contact then message me’. But he moved over (to Saudi Arabia). It was frustrating”

Saudi Arabia is the sole bidder to host the 2034 men’s World Cup, 12 years after Qatar – where homosexuality is also illegal – staged the global tournament.

Daniels said he “wouldn’t feel safe” travelling to such places.

He said: “The World Cup that happened in Qatar, the one that is going to happen in Saudi Arabia, for me if I was there I wouldn’t feel safe, so that’s just putting your football in jeopardy.”

Daniels believes his decision to come out 18 months ago has helped his career.

“It has been crazy since coming out,” he added.

“I didn’t think it would blow up as much as it did. The reception I’ve had, the people I’ve met, it’s been a crazy experience.

“Coming out was the best thing I’ve ever done. I’m playing better now.”

The Saudi Pro League will target players “of the highest level” in future transfer windows, its head of recruitment has said.

Top-flight Saudi Arabian clubs spent £701million to bring in talent from overseas in the summer,’ according to FIFA.

That figure could have been even bigger if bids from Saudi teams for Paris St Germain striker Kylian Mbappe and Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah had been accepted.

Michael Emenalo, the league’s director of football and the man in charge of the country’s Player Acquisition Centre for Excellence (PACE), admitted the Saudi league had “competed aggressively” in the summer window and that the focus was now on top-quality additions.

“I’m hoping (the January transfer window) is not very busy, because I think the job that was done has been quite interesting and aggressive, and most of the clubs, I believe, have what they need,” the former Chelsea technical director said in an interview with the league’s in-house media team.

“And hopefully the attention will now turn to work within the training facilities to improve these players and to allow the time to adapt and perform.

“Now, whatever additional improvement that we need to do for any club, with time on our hands and preparation, we believe will be additions of the highest level.

“We will continue to support and to see every opportunity we have to bring more talented individuals that want to come to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia that is open for business.”

Saudi clubs have always traditionally been one of the top recruiters of talent in Asia but Al Nassr’s signing of Cristiano Ronaldo in January of this year marked a gear shift and paved the way for other superstars to join the league.

Neymar, Karim Benzema, Riyad Mahrez, Ruben Neves and Sadio Mane are among the big names who subsequently moved to the kingdom in the summer.

Emenalo added: “These guys have been the best performers for a very long time in our industry. We’re very, very lucky to have them.

“I’ve always explained, privately and publicly, that top-level footballers are incredible and unique artists, and what they can do, you can only dream of until you try to do it, when you realise how difficult it is.

“Those guys are exceptional artists, and the artists as time goes on will be greatly appreciated and copied by youngsters in the country and that will be for the good of everyone.”

Reggae Boyz winger Demarai Gray scored the winner as Al-Ettifaq secured a 3-2 victory over Al-Wehda in the Saudi Pro League on Saturday.

Dutch former Liverpool and Newcastle midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum gave Al-Ettifaq the lead in the 18th minute before Craig Goodwin equalized for Al-Wehda in the 37th minute to ensure the teams went into halftime locked at 1-1.

Six minutes after the restart, Goodwin got his second to give Al-Wehda a 2-1 lead. With nine minutes left, Wijnaldum got Al-Ettifaq’s equalizer.

The game seemed to be heading for a draw before, in the eighth minute of added time, Gray cut inside on his right foot and unleashed a fierce strike from just outside the box into the bottom left corner of the goal to give Al-Ettifaq the 3-2 win.

Al-Ettifaq are now seventh in the league standings with 20 points from 11 games.

What the papers say

Dominic Calvert-Lewin has become the latest Premier League star to attract the attention of Saudi Arabia. According to The Sun, the Everton and England striker, 26, will be offered a lucrative deal by Steven Gerrard’s Al-Ettifaq.

Bayern Munich are keeping an eye on Chelsea defender Trevoh Chalobah, 24, reports the Daily Mirror. The centre-back is out of favour at Stamford Bridge under Mauricio Pochettino.

Luton will have to find at least £5.5 million to land Ecuadorian midfielder Oscar Zambrano, according to The Sun. The 19-year-old’s club LDU Quito are holding out for the best offer.

Sandro Tonali’s lawyers are meeting with prosecutors in Rome this week in a bid to halve the Newcastle United midfielder’s ban for gambling. According to the Daily Mirror, via Gazzetta dello Sport, Tonali’s co-operation could see any ban cut from a potential three years.

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Kalvin Phillips: Manchester City are expected to sanction a January exit for the England midfielder, 27.

Lucas Paqueta: West Ham’s Brazilian midfielder, 26, remains a target for Manchester City.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic says he would face no moral issues playing in Saudi Arabia, but questioned why players would not want to end their career on the big stage.

Cristiano Ronaldo, Brazil striker Neymar, Karim Benzema and England midfielder Jordan Henderson are among players to have made the switch to the Saudi Pro League, along with former Manchester City forward Riyad Mahrez and Ruben Neves.

Ibrahimovic, who retired from football in June, has played for some of the leading clubs in Europe, including Juventus, AC Milan, Inter Milan, Barcelona, Paris St Germain and Manchester United, while also having a successful spell in America with LA Galaxy later in his career.

The 42-year-old former Sweden international revealed in an interview with Piers Morgan Uncensored he had received an offer from Saudi Arabia as well as China, but feels the level of competition must always be top of any footballer’s list.

“I had an offer also from China, I had an offer also from Saudi,” he said. “But the situation is, what do you want? What objectives do you have? I said before we started, like certain players need to finish their career on the big stage because that is the high end of your career.

“You have to be remembered for your talent, not for what you earned. Because if you were remembered in the opposite way, what we are training every day for, what we are being recognised for is our talent and that is what you want to be remembered for.

“So I think certain players that reach a certain level, they have to stop at a certain stage and that’s the big stage.

“You cannot go in a lower stage and finish your career in a different way, but some players needed the situations where you can earn a lot of money because they didn’t earn enough.”

When asked about whether he would have a moral problem playing in Saudi Arabia, Ibrahimovic said: “No, absolutely not.

“You have the golf situation now. They came together and they made it one, so I am just sorry for the (golf) players that didn’t go before because they didn’t get the money that the (other) players got.

“Listen, wherever you play football, it’s football. Football connects people. It’s a dream we share, both of us.

“As a professional football player, as long as you play football – and Saudi is growing, MLS is growing. China had a peak and then I don’t know the situation changed there.

“But a moral thing? No. We do things for ourself and our family. Who will judge you in five or 10 years when you have a wealthy, healthy life and have a good life?

“Nothing is for free – you (Morgan) don’t work for free, I don’t work for free. I don’t need money, but I am very expensive.”

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