Why Aren't There More English Footballers Playing Abroad?

I ask myself that question two or three times a year and rarely come up with a discernible answer. Is it the language, the culture, the food? Maybe it’s the pop music? Whatever the answer is, I wish it wasn’t so. I wish I could see English footballers deputizing or leading an attack for Real Madrid, Barcelona, Juventus, Roma, Lyon, Bordeaux or any of the clubs in the fantastic Bundesliga.

To my knowledge, the following English players are the few I could locate that currently apply their trade in a top flight European league somewhere in the world that’s not England.

  • Matt Derbyshire – former Blackburn now Olympiakos in Greece. Slowly becoming a cult hero.
  • Jermaine Pennant – former Birmingham City, Portsmouth and Liverpool now Real Zaragoza in Spain. Memory says he was quite the nuisance in the 2007 Champions League Final v AC Milan. If you don’t believe me, ask Marek Jankulovski.
  • David Beckham – former Manchester United now AC Milan on loan from LA Galaxy. We all know the story.
  • Darius Vassell – former England international and Manchester City now at Ankaragücü in Turkey. Reported that 3,000 fans awaited his arrival. Wow, shares a birthday with my brother and will only turn 30 this Summer.
  • Colin Kazim-Richards – former Sheffield United now Toulouse FC in France, on loan from Fenerbache in Turkey. Kazim-Richards does in fact represent Turkey at International level having gained eligibility through his Mother’s ethnicity but was born in London, England and came through the ranks at Bury.

So what gives? 

There’s four out of many that could test themselves against top European and South American talent across the globe. It can’t come down to talent, can it? One could look at the fact that the top English talent are safe and secure on incredible wages at some of the most revered and famous clubs in the world. Sure, that would definitely be a sound argument, why pick up and move, why learn another language, why put yourself at risk when you don’t have to? The money factor could be proof as to why so many South American players are able to make a successful move to top European leagues. They can make loads more and might see this as their only chance for a much better life.

Another Idea

It seems the media paint this picture of dumb, talentless English footballers who are too scared to play anywhere else. Are there really that many players from top footballing nations such as France, Germany, Italy and Spain playing abroad? At quick glance, most of those nation’s top players who play for the national team do in fact play at home for one of the top professional clubs just as the English do. Don’t believe me?

Italy – current squad is comprised of roughly 24 players with about 10-12 players having recent call ups or are on the fringe of the national team. Total number applying trade outside of Italy = 2. Alberto Aquilani at Liverpool and Giuseppe Rossi at Villarreal.

Germany and Spain are close to the exact same ratio of national team players playing abroad as that of Italy (about 2 or 3), with only France being the exception. The French seem to travel well, approximately 12 of the first team or senior squad players apply their trade throughout Europe’s best leagues with another 8 fringe players also playing outside France.

The point in all of this is that I’d love to see more English players playing outside of the comfy confines of the Premier League, but in comparison to other nationalities, and more specifically, the other widely recognized best club leagues in Europe (La Liga, Serie A, Bundesliga and Ligue 1), most top players due in fact stay at home.

Could this simply be another example of the English media over-blowing and exaggerating something that isn’t there to begin with?

32 thoughts on “Why Aren't There More English Footballers Playing Abroad?”

  1. “Could this simply be another example of the English media over-blowing and exaggerating something that isn’t there to begin with?”

    No way. Why would they do a thing like that? 😉

  2. Dude english players play in their own league cos one, its their home, two, its got heaps of money, in terms of their salaries, three, they sorta do need a place to start showcasing their talent and skill and moving overseas is a lot of money for an unknown trying to ply his trade somewhere outta home. there also comes the problems of adjusting into a new environment. also unlike the english clubs where they set up academies to recruit any possible future stars, other european clubs tend to find local kids who may become stars, as well as those from south africa, togo, that area.

  3. yeah no need for them plus English players that go overseas (unless it’s a big big club) get forgoten and are out of the limelight.

  4. You have to wonder if the sheer number of pro teams in England has something to do with it. Why would you head to say Turkey when you could play for a League One side instead?

    1. Dave B.

      Thanks for the feedback. A potential answer to that questions could be: Champions League. In Kazim-Richards’ case, Fenerbache usually make the CL and are competitive, have a huge fan base and I would guess a player could earn more in Turkey’s top flight as opposed to League One. I suppose though in his case, he’s just as much Turkish now as he is/was English having represented the senior team for Turkey.

      Another potential answer: Playing time. If a player is guaranteed to start and play often, they may not really care where they play in Europe. Also, there are some fine footballers coming out of Turkey. I really wish they would have made the World Cup – we shouldn’t soon forget their Euro 2008 run.

  5. Money? If you’re English, why go to Italy when you can earn just as much money at home, if not more. France is the only outlier, if only because high taxes make it hard for French teams to retain they’re top players. Which is why anytime a French player gets real good, he leaves for one of the top three (c.f. Zidane, Henry, more recently Ribery, Benzema-Gourcuff kind of the exception).

    Who knows. This may change soon. With the report about the Premier League’s debt load coming out, don’t be surprised if the financial incentives push top English players to other countries. I mean, the French football authorities have been complaining about the EPL’s “financial doping” and they had a point with Man U’s debt load almost much as the entire Spanish Liga, and more than the TOP 2 German leagues, the EPL may not be able to continue paying the money. The EPL may be in a bubble.

    Historically, have English players played in more international clubs?

    1. Historically, have English players played in more international clubs?

      There’s really only one era where a sizable number of English players were outside the country: the late ’80s and early ’90s. Gary Lineker at Barcelona, Glenn Hoddle at Monaco, David Platt at Juventus, Chris Waddle at Marseille, Paul Gascoigne at Lazio.

      The emigration happened because it gave the players the chance to 1) make more money and 2) get around the Heysel ban. With the end of the ban and the arrival of Sky, the outflow stopped.

    2. The taxes in England are pretty high, and many clubs in other European countries pay the players taxes for them. That’s not the case in England, which is why some players are reluctant to go there; see Arshavin.

      English teams have to pay their players much high salaries to equal the take home amount that the same player would get in other countries. I’m actually surprised more players aren’t leaving England to go to more tax friendly countries. Perhaps they only look at their gross salary and not what they net.

  6. French players are abroad more often because half of them aren’t even really French, but naturalized Africans. France isn’t their home country.

  7. As an American, I find some of the points made by this article interesting. Americans on the whole get a lot of a flak for not learning other languages, staying within their safe zone and so on. But this article makes it seem like English do the same. At least in footballing matters. Just an observation.

  8. In the late 80’s / early 90’s after the Heysel Ban brought an abrupt end to England’s dominance in Europe, just about every British player saw it as a bagde of honour if they got an offer to play on the continent, especially in Italy. Des Walker, Waddle, Hoddle, Gazza, Platt, Rush, Ince etc. etc.

    The standard of football was considered higher, they got the opportunity to play against some of the best players in the world, and quite simply, they were paid more – The economic dominance of the Premier League and the expansion on the Champion’s League turned that on its head. (Many) of the best foreign players now play in the Premier League, the wages are more than competitive, the exposure, the quality of the training, the stadia, have caught up with the continent. With the “top four” now playing at least 7 matches on average a year in Europe, the enigma of playing on the continent has mostly been erased. Outside of 3 clubs, Frank Lamapard would be taking a step down if he were to leave England, that wasn’t the case 17 years ago.

    For younger and “fringe” players, England has very solid 2nd and 3rd tier divisions to help them develop their trade. Saying that, it would be nice to see more of those players, especially goal keepers taking more opportunities to go abroad. Young British managers should as well.

  9. Something else that gets out there…is the lack of English national team success and the fact that virtually none of the national team have played abroad…adapting to other styles and systems of the game.

  10. No real incentive on either side. The EPL has enough money to hold onto players and almost all players regardless of origin would prefer to stay in a familiar culture all other things equal.

    On top of that, English players don’t represent value. Any team not at the very top of big Euro leagues is looking for the player that is relatively cheap compared to their skill level. An English players transfer fee is likely going to be much higher than a comparable African, Latin, (not including Argentina or Brazil), or American.

  11. If the MLS didn’t suck I could see alot more English players coming to the states and playing because the two countries’ cultures are so close compared to the rest of Europe.
    I would love to see young British managers come to the states and coach in the MLS because if they could make the garbage here winners image what they could do with good players.
    I also wish that the US national team or a MLS team could have gotten Guus Hidink to come and coach in the states.

    1. I think Hiddink and the US National Team would be a great match. The timing wasn’t quite right this time, but hopefully one day.

  12. I think it’s the language more than anything. Other international players generally speak English, while I doubt very few English players speak a different language. Why would they go someplace else, where they can’t communicate, unless they are being paid gobs of money (Beckham)?

  13. interesting thoughts all around. I guess to echo what many others have said, why leave if you can play in the best league at the best money? Like in Spain. A Champions League spot with a team from a smaller country would be appealing, but those smaller clubs may not be willing to dish out for our pricey imports. Still, you’re right, those in-between players who either need to get playing time to make the National Team or play on a CL team should be more adventurous.

  14. Crumbs – I’d have thought the answer to why there aren’t more Englishmen abroad is obvious – that godawful warm & dry climate they’d have to live in.

    No true Englishman could do it…


  15. yes, I have wondered why MLS isn’t full of English players who couldn’t get with a Championship club, say . . . seems like it might be an easy adjustment and worth a shot

  16. I would add Scott Sutter into the mix as he is playing for BSC Young Boys who top the Swiss Super League currently. A product of Manchester United’s youth system, Mark Howard is playing in the Danish top flight. Outside of Europe you have Andy Iro playing in the North American Champions League with Columbus Crew and Robbie Fowler is on the verge of joining Australian champions Sydney FC.

  17. Some of your views on other national leagues is dated who ever said the comment about playing for a league 1 side instead of a turkish club is a fool it`s this narrow minded view of are own supposed greatness thats got us to where we are now. We invented football so it`s are define right to conquer the world! how the are we supposed to improve with opionions like that when the world cup 1st started england declined to take part because they thought it was beneath them twenty years later they finally took part expected to win and got knocked out in the 1st round even losing to the then part timers from the usa and still 60 years on that mentality of we are greater than you still exists today we`ve learnt nothing at all. So yes are young players should try there luck with foriegn clubs otherwise there just gonna end spending the 1st 4 years of there careers on loan at clubs like yeovil imagine instead if a young player went to learn his trade at a team like anderlecht in belgium who have a great history in europe and are regulars in the champions league. And he performs well gets noticed by top clubs from either italy spain germany france holland or portugal and goes on to be a top performer in that country`s league now imagine if 15-30 young english players followed the same path and had simillar success and what a great benifit it would be to the national side if not only could we pick a squad from the best teams in england but the rest of europe as well and the addded advantage of these players having knowledge of different styles of coaching and tactics from around europe all coming together to benifit the national team! Now you wont get all that in league 1

  18. the answer is simple for non biased epl fanboys. it’s because english players are not good enough. in all departments england has nothing special. in defense england has no one worth buying, midfield no one worth spending the money liverpool or chels might be asking for gerard (gaydiver) or lampard (can’t score a pen). in attack there’s only rooney and he is too inconsistent. if you guys really had world class players than you guys would be doing better in WC tournaments. and the reason you guys don’t develop these types of players is because your league is not english. you guys are developing other countries players instead of your own. since i despise everything about english footy, i love this part of your league.

  19. The culture could be one thing, but I think money has a big
    part to play with. Premier League and English domestic wages are
    very high (that those other than Spain and Italy are going to
    struggle to outbid English wagesd), plus the transfer fees that are
    demanded for English players are very high. Think of Theo Walcott
    when he went from Southampton to Arsenal, having played half a
    season in the 2nd tier of English football he goes for a ridiculous
    sum! Jermaine Pennant is a good example too. Staying with expensive
    English signings for Arsenal, Richard Wright and Francis Jeffers
    weren’t cheap! I can’t blame teams abroad staying away from English

  20. People seem to forget that in recent times Beckham, Mcmanaman and Owen have all played for Real, Hargreaves for Bayern and Joe Cole was on loan to Lille. Tax rate in Spain was very beneficial to footballers with a special rate for players in their first 5 years but when they produce far better players in all positions then England and most of them stay at home why would they want todays crop. The other problem is that in nearly all cases, a player who leaves England is excluded from the team. Reports suggest Joe Cole had a brilliant seaon at PSG but he was not even considered for our squad but teams like Germany and Spain pick their better players regardless where they play their club football

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