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?


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