Gareth Southgate says Jordan Henderson must explain his controversial decision to join Saudi Arabian club Al-Ettifaq amid accusations that he has betrayed his status as an ally to the LGBTQ+ community.

At the same time the England manager said he would be “stupid” to close the door on Henderson’s international career and confirmed that he had spoken to the midfielder before he decided to leave Liverpool.

Henderson, 33, wanted – and received – assurances that he would not be “automatically” ruled out of contention for England if he joined the inferior Saudi Pro-League.

In an interview with Talksport, Southgate was candid enough to admit that he would not dismiss the idea of coaching in Saudi Arabia once his time as England manager came to an end.

“I don’t think you can really answer that question until that scenario is in front of you. It would be easy for me to dismiss it and said no,” Southgate explained. “It wouldn’t be easy for me to say yes because there is so much you’d have to think about. I don’t think anyone in their right mind can honestly answer that until they are in that position. I might have a view now and I can give you an easy answer to get myself off the hook.”

Even so it would be a huge surprise if Southgate, given his own views, followed Henderson to Saudi Arabia with the now former Liverpool captain having signed a three-year deal worth a reputed £700,000-a-week.

Henderson has been a vocal supporter of the Premier League’s Rainbow Laces campaign that promotes LGBTQ+ inclusion within the game and has caused widespread dismay by his decision to move to a country where homosexuality is illegal and punishable by death.

Thomas Hitzlsperger, who announced he was gay in 2014 and is a former team-mate of Southgate’s at Aston Villa, has stated Henderson’s “brand” as an ally to the LGBTQ+ community is now dead.

“Is Henderson saying he doesn’t support that community anymore? Well, no he isn’t,” Southgate argued. “But of course people are going to say his actions are the reverse of that.

“In the end it is hard for me to answer. I am not the one who has taken that decision. He at some point I am sure needs to explain that decision and will be interviewed as to what he is thinking, how he feels about it.”

Speaking on Talksport’s “White & Jordan” show Southgate added: “I don’t think he [Henderson] is changing his view on what he believes in. Now we are in a really complex world where what are we saying? Nobody should go to [Saudi-owned] Newcastle? Or nobody should go to one of the many companies that the Saudis own in London? Or we should not buy oil from the Saudis? So I think it’s very complicated. I completely understand the argument. You supported the LGBTQ community and I can understand why they have a really strong view on it.”

Southgate said it was not for him to “judge” Henderson and added: “I’ve spoken with Jordan this summer. We know the qualities he has, we know how much playing for England means to him. The question he wanted to know was ‘if I move here are you going to automatically rule me out?’ Well, we would be stupid to do that. Why would we rule any player out just based on where they are playing? We have got to see how they are playing and what level they are playing and how they are physically and everything else.”

Southgate suggested that part of Henderson’s motivation for leaving Liverpool was doubt over how much he would play in the forthcoming season. “Of course when you are deciding as a football player what your next move is there are a lot of things that come into consideration and not least what was the role going to be at Liverpool?” Southgate said. “Was he going to be playing regularly or not at Liverpool? How long left on the contract? Maybe Liverpool getting a fee like they have for a player of his age is also good business in the long-term.

“The whole project [in Saudi Arabia] is fascinating to see where it is going to head and what it might look like in the next couple of years. But it isn’t the Premier League. We won’t see him playing in Champions League football which is the easiest assessment for us for the level he is playing at and he knows the players that he is competing with so that is the challenge for all of them.”