Al Ettifaq defender Jack Hendry believes facing world-class attackers in the Roshn Saudi League has sharpened his game at international level, as the Scotland international eagerly anticipates Euro 24 next summer.
Hendry, an ever-present for Steven Gerrard’s team this season, has also been a key part of Scotland’s Euro 24 qualifying campaign, which saw them seal a spot in Germany during the October international break with two matches to spare.
Having joined Al Ettifaq in summer, Hendry has already challenged attackers of the calibre of Al Nassr’s Sadio Mane, Al Ahli’s Riyad Mahrez and Roberto Firmino, and Al Hilal’s Aleksandar Mitrovic this season – and has relished the test.
“Saudi Arabia has a great pool of talent in the league, and I want to play against the best players in the world,” says Hendry. “I played in the Champions League (with former team Club Brugge) and with top quality attackers and strikers coming to the Saudi league it’s near enough a great test for me week in, week out. That can only help you play on the international stage.”
The 6ft5 ball-playing centre-back adds: “You need to get into good habits when playing against players of that standard. You have to be fully aware – you can’t lose concentration – and you need to keep track of their movement. You try to be the best defender possible and get the better of them. It’s beneficial for my development as a defender that they are in this league.”
Gerrard may be a former England captain, but the Liverpool legend is effusive in his praise of the 28-year-old Scottish international.
“Jack has been really positive for me,” comments Gerrard. “I think he has done tremendously for Scotland and off the back of those performances is the reason that we brought him to the club,” adds the ex-Rangers manager of the former Celtic defender.
“He gives us profile, speed, and obviously he can play football as well. I like his hunger and I like his desire to win football matches, so Jack has been a positive for me and Al Ettifaq. There have been one or two little moments within his performances that he knows he could have done better but more often than not he has put in consistent, positive performances.”
With global interest in Saudi Arabia and the Roshn Saudi League growing exponentially, Hendry revealed Scottish international teammates have been really intrigued about his experiences of the Kingdom both on and off the pitch.
“I’ve given a lot of compliments about playing in Saudi Arabia,” says Hendry. “Everyone in Saudi has been extremely welcoming. There’s a lot of interest about Saudi Arabia and any time anyone has spoken to me about it I’ve been highly complementary.
“I’ve enjoyed my time here so far. Ettifaq could be a bit higher up in the table with more points, so on that aspect I’m a bit disappointed but from a playing point of view it’s been good to be playing every week and I’ve been enjoying my football.
“You can tell there’s a real excitement about the league right now.”
Hendry’s arrival in Saudi Arabia marked the fifth country that Al Ettifaq’s well-travelled No.4 has played club football – he has also performed in Scotland, England, Australia, Belgium, and in Serie A in Italy with Cremonese.
“I’ve been used to going out of my comfort zone and playing in different countries with different languages,” says Hendry. “Just like any other country I’ve been, when the opportunity arose to come to Saudi Arabia, I looked into it and did my homework. Speaking to people about Saudi Arabia – and speaking to the manager about it too – was highly positive. I had a good, gut feeling about it and felt it was a good fit.”
While Hendry’s immediate priority is Al Ettifaq and the Roshn Saudi League, he is eagerly anticipating December 2 when the draw for Euro 24 is made, and the Scots find out who they face in the summer.
“Brilliant”, is how Hendry proudly describes Scotland’s success in qualifying for back-to-back Euro tournaments – which notably included a famous victory over Spain in the Euro 24 qualifying campaign.
“We’re a nation now that wants to go to major tournaments and to go to the Euros twice in a row is a great achievement,” says Hendry “And a great achievement in the way that we’ve done it also,” he adds of Scotland’s five victories from their six matches so far.
Prior to joining Al Ettifaq, Hendry spoke to the Scotland manager Steve Clarke about moving to play in Saudi Arabia.
“I have a huge amount of respect for Steve Clarke – he’s done a lot for me in my career and played me for the international team, so it was only the right thing to have a chat with the manager,” says Hendry.
“The move has helped me at an international level. I now look forward to the rest of the season with Al Ettifaq knowing that I have Euro 24 with Scotland at the end of it. That’s such a positive feeling.”