Gareth Southgate has criticised England supporters who booed the captain, Jordan Henderson, on his first appearance at Wembley since his controversial move to Saudi Arabia and said their actions “defy logic”.
A second-half goal from Ollie Watkins helped a much-changed England side edge past Australia in a match where Levi Colwill and Eddie Nketiah were handed their senior debuts. But while Henderson had a mixed evening filling in for Harry Kane as captain, the former Liverpool midfielder was met with boos from a large section of supporters when he was substituted after the hour mark.
“I really don’t understand it,” said Southgate. “He’s a player who has won 79 caps for England and his commitment and what he has delivered for England is exceptional. His role in the group on and off the pitch is phenomenally important – he’s the one that has taken the likes of Jude Bellingham under his wing since he came into the squad. He’s a brilliant role model for all of the group in his professionalism and his approach. Some people deciding to boo I really don’t understand what that is for. Come on – we play Italy on Tuesday and let’s get behind this team.”
Henderson, who now plays for Al-Ettifaq in the Saudi Pro League, was one of several players who expressed support for Saudi Arabia’s bid to host the 2034 World Cup on social media last week. But asked whether that had been a contributing factor, Southgate insisted that it was counterproductive for his team.
He said: “What has that got to do with supporting a guy that is wearing an England shirt? I don’t really know where we are heading with everything. I’m hugely impressed with the impeccable values and decisions that everyone in our country is making now. I know what’s created it and it’s happened but it defies logic to me that you would give a player – who is putting his heart and soul into playing for England – why you would boo him? Is that going to help him or the team? I don’t understand it.”
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Southgate also dismissed a suggestion that Henderson had been off the pace before being withdrawn. “We are reviewing all of the games,” he said. “I think he knitted things and held things together quite a bit today. We didn’t have as many physically strong players on the pitch today, it was the team we needed to pick to preserve people and give people opportunities and so you need leadership. We didn’t have a lot of experienced leadership on the field or caps on the field so Hendo was influential before and during the game. It was hugely important. He helped other players to get through the game, no question about it.”