Simon Sheldon says the money in our game is stopping players spreading their wings…
When our players travelled
WITH the summer transfer window approaching the end and millions being spent on players, it looks like there won’t be any of our top players moving abroad to play for any of the biggest clubs in Europe.
Now, of course, the argument will be that we have the biggest league, with the most money thanks to the huge TV deals and so there is no reason to move.
I agree that we have the most exciting league and the clubs pay amazing wages to the players.
But playing overseas, testing your ability and learning to live in another country and deal with the language and diverse cultures should be more appealing.
Also, it says a lot that the big clubs like Real Madrid, Barcelona, Juventus and Bayern Munich are not chasing British talent.
In the past, money would have played a part but it wouldn’t have been the only reason to attract players to go abroad.
Most of the following players mentioned would be the first to say how they came back to this country as better people for the experience, even for those who had a disappointing time.
The very first English footballer to play overseas goes back further than you think. In 1891, Herbert Kiplin began his journey in Italy by playing for FC Torinense.
Not only did Kiplin play professionally in Italy until 1907, he was also a founding member of one of the most famous clubs in the world today – AC Milan.
The first major player to go was John Charles, the gentle giant of Leeds and Wales. In April 1957, Juventus paid what was then a staggering £65,000 to take Charles to Turin.
He played for Juventus for five years in which he scored 108 goals in 155 matches, winning the league three times and the cup twice.
Leeds paid a record fee of £53,000 to secure his return, but things did not work out and Roma paid £70,000 to take him back to Italy.
Two other players tried their luck in Italy around the same time – Jimmy Greaves joined AC Milan and Denis Law went to Torino.
Both failed to settle and returned to England (Greaves to Tottenham and Law to Manchester United) with enormous success.
After playing for Aston Villa and just breaking into the England squad, Gerry Hitchens joined Inter in 1961. He played in the 1962 World Cup finals in Chile and scored five goals in seven appearances (he became the first Englishman to represent his country while on the books of a foreign club).
In an eight-year career in Italy, Hitchens also played for Torino, Atalanta and Cagliari, but missed out on the ’66 World Cup squad because Sir Alf told him he preferred to pick homebased players. During the Seventies, it became fashionable for slightly fading stars to join the new American League (the NASL). Rodney Marsh joined the Tampa Bay Rowdies and George Best played for LA Aztecs, Fort Lauderdale and San Jose. Then in 1977, after helping Liverpool win the European Cup, Kevin Keegan joined Hamburg in Germany. His all-action style won over the fans who were a bit unsure of him at first. He was nicknamed ‘Mighty Mouse’ and became a cult hero, win- ning two European Footballer of the Year awards.
Tony Woodcock also won the European Cup for Nottingham Forest in 1979 and joined Cologne, where he scored 28 goals in 81 matches. He returned home to join Arsenal in 1982. He had a successful four years before going back to finish his career in Germany.
West Brom’s Laurie Cunningham turned on a dazzling display against Valencia in a UEFA Cup tie and clinched a dream transfer to Real Madrid in 1979 for £950,000.
Although he won a domestic double, injuries took their toll. He stayed overseas and played for Sporting Gijon, Marseilles and Rayo Vallecano. Sadly, he died in a car crash in Madrid at the age of just 33.
Playing overseas, testing your ability and learning to live in another country should be more appealing
Italy was a popular destination for some in the early 1980s.
Liam Brady, the darling of the Arsenal fans, joined Juventus for £600,000 and spent two seasons with them, winning the Italian Championship both years.
In 1982, he moved to Sampdoria (where he teamed up with Trevor Francis) and also played for Inter and Ascoli.
AC Milan signed various British players - Ray Wilkins, Luther Blissett, Joe Jordan and Mark Hateley – with mixed results.
Other players who tried their luck in Serie A were Graeme Souness, Gordon Cowans, Paul Rideout, Ian Rush, Paul Ince, Des Walker, Paul Gascoigne and, last season, Joe Hart at Torino.
In France, Glenn Hoddle and Chris Waddle shone along the south coast at Monaco under Arsene Wenger and at Marseille respectively.
Both won titles, with Waddle winning three consecutive league crowns and reaching the 1991 European Cup final.
Gerry Armstrong was one of the Northern Ireland heroes in the 1982 World Cup, scoring the winning goal against host nation Spain.
It earned the likeable Irishman a move to Real Mallorca and, after playing, a lucrative career in the media covering Spanish football.
Terry Venables had gained a good reputation as a manager with his successes at Crystal Palace and Queens Park Rangers. This attracted offers from some of Europe’s most prestigious clubs.
In 1984,Venables took over as manager of Barcelona, earning the nickname ‘El Tel’.
During his three seasons in Spain, Barca won the title in 1985 (their first title since 1974) and reached the 1986 European Cup final, although they lost to Steaua Bucharest in a penalty shootout.
Venables signed British strikers Steve Archibald, Mark Hughes and Gary Lineker. The latter was the most successful at the Camp Nou, scoring 21 goals in his first season, including a hat-trick in a 3-2 win over rivals Real Madrid.
Real Madrid themselves have had their share of British stars in recent years with David Beckham, Jonathan Woodgate, Michael Owen and Steve McManaman plying their trade at the Bernabeu.
McManaman enjoyed the most productive time there – winning eight trophies that included two Champions Leagues. Currently, Gareth Bale is starring in the all-white strip since signing in 2013.
British managers have also worked abroad, as mentioned already, Terry Venables.
Others who had success with foreign clubs include Bobby Robson, Roy Hodgson and John Toshack, while some who have struggled and not lasted long include David Moyes, John Gregory and, last season, Gary Neville at Valencia.
Steve McClaren is an example of a mixed time abroad with a title win in Holland and failure in Germany.
Now, consider these names: Ashley Cole, Ravel Morrison, Joey Barton, Joe Cole, Micah Richards and Jermaine Pennant.
What these players have in common is that they have all recently played for clubs in Europe and, despite any issues they may have had, they deserve some credit for leaving home – or is it that some of them had burned their bridges here and went because they were not wanted by Premier League clubs?
But with the national team underperforming and our players being criticised, it would be fascinating to see how our top players would fare in Germany, Italy and Spain.
Going abroad is nothing new for British players as they have played all over the world.
Now, though, it is more about extending a playing career (in the US again or in India) than enhancing one, as they slow down and usually ensure a final payday.
But, ultimately, we live in the era of the English football bubble of Premier League, mega-money TV and sponsorship deals, foreign owners and all their riches.
If you’re constantly being told that we have the best league in the world, then why go anywhere else?
Pioneer: Herbert Kiplin Italian job: John Charles
Madrid mission: David Beckham
Monaco master: Glenn Hoddle
Going German: Tony Woodcock