Al Ettifaq have extended Steven Gerrard's contract until 2027 despite a winless run dating back to October; he originally joined the Saudi Pro League team in the summer; Al Etiffaq are eighth in the table, 28 points shy of leaders Al Hilal
Thursday 18 January 2024 21:11, UK
Al Ettifaq head coach Steven Gerrard has signed a new contract extension until 2027 despite a winless run dating back to October.
Gerrard's new deal was announced within an hour of Jordan Henderson's exit from Al Ettifaq being confirmed as the England international joined Ajax on a free transfer after his contract was mutually terminated just six months after signing for the Saudi Pro League side.
Gerrard, though, has reaffirmed his commitment to Al Ettifaq by agreeing a two-year extension to his deal with an option to renew in 2027.
Gerrard initially signed a two-year deal last summer that ran until 2025, but Al Ettifaq have extended his stay despite his side currently enduring a nine-match winless run stretching back to October 28 leaving them eighth in the table, 28 points shy of leaders Al Hilal.
The 43-year-old said of his contract extension: "This is very pleasing for myself and my family and feels like recognition for a lot of hard work and commitment.
"We knew at the beginning this was a big job and a challenging job. We had to put in place new infrastructure like building a new training ground in phases and building a new stadium. But a lot has been achieved.
"It's a relationship with me and the management team above me, that's growing, that's building, it's getting stronger, and I'm really looking forward to the future.
"In football the priority is always the short term. But importantly, Samer (Al Misehal), the new President, came in at the same time as me, and we share a vision. We all know it's not going to be an overnight fix. But it's really exciting in terms of where we believe we can get the club to. We want to build a special club and build an elite culture around the team and squad.
"I also understand my position, it's a results business. I never take that for granted. I understand where we are in the league, but I am very confident we will improve.
"The window is open at the moment, and we're working to try and identify players who could come and support the current group of players to make us more competitive at the top end of the table. There will need to be an element of patience as there is still a lot to do on and off the pitch."
Before joining Al Ettifaq, Gerrard managed at Villa and enjoyed a three-year spell in charge of Rangers, who he led to the Scottish Premiership title in 2021.
Speaking about his time working in Saudi Arabia so far, Gerrard said: "Before taking the job I'd never been to Saudi Arabia before, and it's been the complete opposite of the perception that I had before.
"Since I've arrived, I've had an incredible welcome. The people have been outstanding. They've gone above and beyond to help us settle. My family has been all in, in terms of embracing the new adventure, a new challenge. We wanted to make the most of this and the family have settled extremely well. I'm happy. I'm excited. And that's why I'm pleased to extend because we're all enjoying the journey so far.
"The easy decision would be to stay in Liverpool, to wait for jobs. But as a family we decided we wanted something a little bit outside the box. I've learnt about adapting to a new culture, a new league, making new friends, facing new challenges. I think that has made a better person and a better coach and also made me mature a bit more as well.
"Of course, I am going to have challenges in front of me. But I am willing to take them on, embrace it and do the best job I can do for this club and try to payback this recognition for the extension to the contract as they didn't have to do that. But there is recognition of the work that's gone in to improve the whole club."
During the winter break Al Ettifaq will play three friendly fixtures while in camp in the UAE before returning to competitive action in the Saudi Pro League (SPL) with a fixture against Al Khaleej on February 15.
Al Ettifaq president Samer Al Misehal said: "As a club we know where we want to go and we know we want Steven to lead us on the journey ahead.
"There are no shortcuts to success and Steven's personal work ethic, his leadership qualities and his commitment to the project has shown everyone at the club just what it will take to compete at the highest level.
"We have a proud history and I believe we are now on the right path to return to former glories. We just have to keep going step by step. Steven will be given time and resources to continue on this journey and build something special."
Sky Sports News chief reporter Kaveh Solhekol:
"Earlier this week we were told there would be some interesting news coming out of Al Ettifaq - Jordan Henderson will leave, but Steven Gerrard will sign a contract extension.
"One of the reasons why Al Ettifaq wanted a Henderson resolution quickly is so they had time in the window to make some signings. They've already been active.
"It would be fair to say it's been quite challenging for Gerrard - as far as he's concerned, Al Ettifaq are not one of the big four clubs owned by the sovereign wealth fund in Saudi.
"They don't get the marquee signings - Karim Benzema or Neymar - they don't have the money. But obviously if Gerrard is going to sign an extension he's enjoying life and work in Saudi Arabia.
"Of course it's a challenge - crowds aren't as big, but Saudi football is growing. Attendances are up but there's a lot more to do. It would be a good PR story for the Saudi Pro League if Gerrard commits."