How many British players can you name that currently play outside of the Premier League? Exactly. Maybe this is testament to the standard of the game back home, why play abroad when players are perfectly catered for at British clubs? Of course money is a big factor in this nowadays, I remember the days of Channel 4 Italian football when Serie A was the best league around. Foreign owners and investment has meant the English game has become the most sought after league to play in, and the most watched, possibly to the detriment of our national team.
I must admit, the proposition of playing abroad has always appealed to me. I remember buying the kits of different club sides and imagining plying my trade against the giants of Europe. It takes you out of your comfort zone and is a true test of your footballing ability and character. When I look back on my career I will be able to look myself in the eye and know I had a go at continental football, hopefully making a real success of it. So this got me thinking, who are the guys who have truly made a success of themselves abroad, I guess I can certainly learn from them as I embark on my latest challenge….
As one of the few British players currently playing outside of the Premier and Football League, I was curious to discover where it all began and who was the first Brit to succeed overseas. The player was Herbert Kilpin, the first British footballer to play abroad professionally – in 1891, seven years before the introduction of Serie A, Kilpin began his spell in Italy with FC Torinense. That’s not the only achievement of Kilpin’s career, he was also responsible for founding a certain AC Milan, fair play to him on that one!
60 years after Kilpin’s success in Italy, the gentle John Charles, an ex-Leeds United player, caught the eye of Juventus following a barren spell where they were about to finish ninth in the table for the second season running. The club president decided he had to save his club, purchasing Charles for £65,000 after impressing since turning professional at 17. Charles helped Juve to the Scudetto in his first season, and although he was voted Juventus’ best ever-foreign player, beating the likes of Zidane and Platini – he casually admitted “I went to Italy for the money”, a true legend, just a little before my time.
There were many others, but I have decided to focus on the players that crossed the channel during my generation, players I admire and pros that made a real impact overseas. I am interested to know yours, here is my take on our top exports, please comment anybody you think I have missed and I’ll work on compiling a poll next week, to find who you think was the ultimate export of British football.
Following his Golden Boot acquisition at the 1986 World Cup, Terry Venables brought Lineker to the Camp Nou for £2.8 million and he made his mark on the club – grabbing a hat-trick in a 3-2 win against arch rivals Real Madrid. Lineker scored 21 goals in his first season, collecting the Copa del Rey and European Cup Winners’ Cup along the way all from right wing. I was a big blue as a kid, and remember my dad being gutted that Lineker left after the season he had at Everton but you cannot blame him for plying his trade in Catalunia.
The cleanest man to ever have graced the football pitch, successfully completed 16 years of his career without collecting a yellow or red card – wow how things have changed since I started playing!?
There was an influx of English players around the late 80’s and early 90’s that influenced the game overseas, Hoddle scored 27 in 69 games during his time at Monaco, winning the title and player of the season award in his first season. Although Hoddle’s flair was well received in France, it was often untrusted for England. I would have happily done Glenn’s donkey work to let him get on the ball and provide those ingenious moments on the pitch when you have to sit back and applaud.
Not many players can say they’ve succeeded in France, both Hoddle and Waddle were exceptions to the rule – I too, hope to be an exception.
I guess Waddle is the man I look to for inspiration. Having won three championships with my current club Marseille (how I’d love for just one!) he’s become a full-on legend down here and yet like Hoddle, he struggled to make a stance on his international career. But that didn’t stop ‘Magic Chris’ being voted the fans’ second best player in the clubs history. I hope to emulate just a fraction of his success and I draw the line at success, he can keep the mullet!
Man City’s first team coach caught the eye of Bari whilst on duty for England during the Italy 1990 World Cup. Signing for £5.5 million and playing 29 games, Platt netted 11 times which was seen as a success in Serie A, particularly from midfield. Platt then jumped from Sampdoria and Juventus before heading back home to join Arsenal. I always admired Platt, he gave me my chance with England U21s and was truly a top midfielder in his time.
It’s rare for a British player to jump to various European clubs, normally they’ll get a taster at one then race home – I respect Platt’s determination to succeed in Italy.
I played with Macca at Man City and he remains a good friend of mine. He was an integral part of the 90′s Liverpool side alongside Bob Fowler, a proper winger who gave defenders nightmares. Macca was one of the first names to take advantage of the Bosman ruling, when he left for free in 1999, eventually playing alongside the likes of Figo, Zidane and Ronaldo and earning their admiration in the process. He went on to win two Champions League as well as two league titles and who can forget that volley he scored against Valencia in the 2000 final.
McManaman is a prime example of just how short a British players career is abroad – I’d be thrilled if I achieved just a slice of his success.
Arguably the most famous English export of recent years. Beckham left for Madrid back in 2003 for £25m from his beloved Manchester United and although he only claimed two pieces of silverware with Real, he was a consistent performer at the Bernabeu. He used that trademark right peg to great effect and was part of the famous Real Madrid galacticos.
Either way Beckham’s been a great servant to the English game and a top pro.
It seems as though the British players of recent years, are only lured away from the Premier League when the Spanish giants come calling. Like Macca and Beckham, my old pal Owen’s time at the Bernabeu was in fact a success. Although he made a slow start to his campaign, he remained professional throughout, ending his only season with the highest ratio of goals to minutes played. Owen was eventually snubbed in favour Robinho and Baptista, yet he managed a respectable 18 goals from 41 games – only 15 of those were starts.
I played for Kevin both at Man City and at Newcastle, and he stood by me during a real testing time in my career. He was also a top player, after playing in one of the strongest Liverpool sides of all time he headed off to Hamburg. He scored 32 goals in 90 games for the Germans, winning consecutive European footballer of the year trophies in the process and for that I do not think you can look much past him as our most successful export.
Keegan’s brand of management style of attacking, attractive football was no doubt derived from his direct, attacking style as a player.
One thing I’ve learned from this blog is the lack of British players currently playing abroad is startling – do they lack the technical ability required for European football? Do we prefer the British lifestyle? I’m hopeful I’ll uncover a lot of these unanswered questions during my time with Marseille, but for the mean time which players would you have listed?