JORDAN HENDERSON is at pains to stress he is not a politician, and yet he sounds an awful lot like one.

Just one of many head-scratching contradictions in an already infamous interview from a man who is seemingly coming to be defined by them. If you’ve missed it: the former Liverpool captain spoke to The Athletic this week about his controversial move to Saudi Arabia, attempting to explain his reasons and addressing the perception that he has betrayed the LGBTQ+ community - to which he had previously been a vocal ally - by accepting a lucrative contract to play his football in a state where homosexuality is punishable by death.

If, without reading what he said, you’ve already concluded there is no feasible way to reconcile Henderson’s proclaimed values with his latest career choice, you’re not wrong. It's hardly surprising, then, that in trying to do so, the England captainhas only managed to provoke further dismay among those he claims to stand shoulder to shoulder with.

The hope will have been that a sit down with journalists David Ornstein and Adam Crafton, whose questioning is brilliantly unyielding, would paint a clearer picture of Henderson’s motivations, yet that picture is more undecipherable than ever under a huge dollop of obfuscation, muddied logic and some downright nonsensical statements.

The immediate assumption when it emerged the 33-year-old was leaving Anfield to join Steven Gerrard at Al-Ettifaq was that the money on offer in the Saudi Pro League was too irresistible. The summer transfer window was dominated by reports of outrageous fees and wages being used to lure top talents to the Middle East, and Henderson’s most ferocious backers – of which there were plenty – were insistent that the financial rewards were ‘too good to turn down’. They asserted with smug certainty that if you or I were offered such riches we’d be on a plane to Jeddah faster than you can say sportswashing.

READ MORE: Brendan Rodgers says Jordan Henderson criticism coming from morality officers

It was an odd hill to die on, vociferously defending the honour of an already mega-rich footballer who will never even know they exist, as his bank balance swells even further via the coffers of an oppressive regime. I won’t, therefore, pretend I didn’t laugh when Henderson steadfastly claimed it absolutely, definitely wasn’t about the cash.

Hope that was worth it lads, honestly.

In the same sentence, though, the contradictions begin to take over. Henderson states he has never, ever been motivated by finance, then concedes ‘money is a part of that’, before finally concluding ‘money wasn’t the sole reason’. As plenty have already observed, he may have at least garnered a degree of grudging respect if he’d just said, ‘you know what, I did go for the money’.

It’s a theme that continues throughout. Henderson insists his presence in Saudi Arabia can be a positive thing, contending that you cannot foster change simply by criticising ‘from afar’. And yet he soon follows up with: “It’s basically, ‘You have your values and your beliefs, which we will respect, but you respect our values and our beliefs’, and surely that’s the way it should be.” Sounds an awful lot like tacit admission you don’t plan on changing anything.

The closest Henderson comes to nailing down why he chose this move is some very wishy-washy sentiment about helping Al-Ettifaq, and the SPL, grow and flourish. But that begs the question as to why he is so keen to enhance the reputation of football in a place which is so at odds with the values he still claims to hold dear.  There does eventually come an apology to the people in the LGBTQ+ community who feel badly let down, but again he sounds rather like a floundering politician: ‘I’m sorry if they feel like that.’

There may be a genuine, if misguided, belief within Henderson that some good can come from him being in Saudi Arabia, but as he suggests he will not do anything to rock the boat in his new home, it all rings a bit hollow. As it stands, his presence looks like nothing other than a victory for sportswashing, and he appears none the wiser to it.

What’s most disheartening in the long-term is the potential knock-on effect of this saga. Henderson had long been one of football’s good guys, having done genuinely good work off the pitch throughout his career for charitable causes, and just generally coming across as honest and decent. Without absolving him of responsibility, it would perhaps be overly cynical to suggest that the backlash to this has not genuinely pained Henderson - he is not evil incarnate but he has created a depressing mess. Despite insisting he listened to external voices when weighing up his decision, he seems to have been wholly unprepared for the storm which has since erupted.

The obvious question there is, why? Judging by how Henderson tied himself in knots attempting to answer questions this week, there appears to be a mix of naivety and bad advice. When he first spoke out in support of LGBT rights, he could scarcely have imagined it would lead to this, but there seems to have been a lack of understanding that throwing weight behind a cause only really means something when that support withstands a test, one he has now failed.

There is no doubt that navigating the often murky world of elite football can be a moral minefield for players, such is the scale at which it has been infiltrated by nefarious entities. It would be a great shame if Henderson’s compatriots take one look at his self-made shambles and decide social issues are simply not worth trifling with.

Elite footballers do not live in the same world as the rest of us. Their public image is largely cultivated by PR teams, they are constantly flanked by communications officers and there’s no shortage of ‘be here at this time, stand there, say this, don’t say that’ in their lives.

Henderson appeared a welcome exception to the robotic stereotype which is so often levelled at them on account of being so highly trained in the art of speaking without saying anything at all. But when daring to stick heads above the parapet, they can be so influential, as demonstrated by the likes of Marcus Rashford. This is not to say that Henderson should not be held to account, just that an inevitable consequence of his actions could feasibly be making others think twice about speaking out on important issues.

Of course, a foolproof strategy for not ending up like Henderson is simply not to go back on everything you’ve said and done in support of a marginalised group, but many will think not getting involved in the first place is the safest course of action. The furore around Henderson will fade, but its legacy could be far-reaching. His own could have been so much more.