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.
“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.
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.
“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.”