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Ex-Premier League global travellers

The glitz and the glamour of playing in the Premier League, the pinnacle of league football worldwide, is enough to make most footballers weak at the knees.

For others however, the journey to the Premier League is but a stepping stone to a group of jet-setters hungry for a more illustrious, adventurous career spanning across the globe.

Former England captain David Beckham created a media frenzy after his move to Major League Soccer side LA Galaxy was announced in January 2007 and this has proved to be his stomping ground for the last five years.

His intentions questioned, with experience, fitness, money and fame all raised as potential reasons for his signature, Beckham’s influence at the club has seen them catapulted as one of the most recognised foreign clubs in the world.

His signing has no doubt raised the profile of American-based MLS too and Beckham’s move to the Galaxy outfit wasn’t wholly funded by his new club.

In a PR stunt managed by Beckham’s agency, figures of around $250m were being thrown around the press as to the transfer’s worth. In reality, the figure was far lower, with ‘Becks’ signing a contract worth a reported $32.5m (£21m) over five years.

Not only this but his transfer was funded by every club of the MLS – not just parent club LA Galaxy – with scope of raising MLS’ profile on the world stage.

The stunt worked, with Beckham’s elevated celebrity status drawing in sell-out crowds, increased merchandise sales figures and an influx of interest from owners and sponsors throughout the league.

Breaking into America

This experiment is just one highlight of a fleet of talent searching for new challenges away from the UK, with several Premier League players flocking across the Atlantic to grasp newfound stardom in America.

Beckham’s arrival at LA Galaxy paired him up with former Everton player Landon Donovan, whilst the capture of Spurs Irish striker Robbie Keane means he became the third player departing the British Isles to continue his footballing legacy Stateside.

Thierry Henry also joined the list of Premier League talent heading west in July 2010, prompting New York Red Bulls General Manager Erik Soler to declare his transfer will “help [Red Bulls] vision of making our organisation the premium franchise in Major League Soccer” after securing the ex-Gunner on a multi-year contract.

The move emphasised the business-minded venture MLS is taking in boosting their global profile, fuelled through the fame of their celebrity-esque players.


Chelsea talisman Didier Drogba is to begin a similar venture this coming season, targeting a new life in Asia after signing for Chinese outfit Shanghai Shenhua under similar circumstances, a hefty transfer fee and a handsome contract proposal in hope that a player of Drogba’s calibre will also come attached with an established world following, something which can bring the Chinese Super League to the forefront of world football.

Drogba isn’t the only ex-Premier League star to flock to China for further football stardom. Having only planned to arrive in Shanghai on July 14, the Ivorian striker may be forced to watch from the stands as his new club take on league rival Beijing Guoan, led by ex-West Ham and Tottenham striker Frederic Kanoute, after the club pried the Frenchman from Sevilla earlier this month.

A week later, Drogba could make his full debut against Guangzhou Fuli. Another club in the news, Fuli have also captured an ex-Premier League player in the form of Everton and Blackburn’s Yakubu, only days before announcement of Kanoute’s transfer filtered through.

Attraction to the East

Flocking to Russia after failing to settle in at Chelsea, Yuri Zhirkov joined the list of departures after accepting a four-year contract at Russian Premier League club Anzhi Makhachkala last season for a fee of £13.2m.

He joined global footballing icons Samuel Eto’o, Mbark Boussoufa and Roberto Carlos after Anzhi experienced a cash injection last year, following the purchase of the club by billionaire Suleyman Kerimov and has helped cement Anzhi Mahachkala in becoming one of the most recognisable teams in Eastern Europe since.

Following a playing career at the likes of Liverpool, Leeds United and Manchester City, Robbie Fowler was one of the earliest big-name Premier League stars to seek a playing career in a niche club abroad.

However, his move never materialised in heightening the stature of his consequent clubs and it wasn’t long until media reports of Fowler’s loss of fame surfaced.

In 2009, the Liverpudlian joined Australian A-League side North Queensland Fury, yet after enduring a drama-filled season at the club he soon departed to fellow A-League outfit Perth Glory, where he remained for a further year after being offered contracts with a string of other teams.

After a second remarkable season, he joined Thai football club Muangthong United, playing 13 times during a spell which saw him step up as player manager before returning to England to seek a career outside of football.

Albeit for money, fame or fitness, a fleet of Premier League talent have flocked elsewhere to continue playing football.

Mutually advantageous for all parties, keeping players fit and financially stable whilst promoting the team and league in which they play, the mass exodus over the recent seasons of players seeking football across the world will continue to be a popular change in career path for many seasons to come.

By James Hartnett – Follow me on Twitter @JamesHartnett_

Follow Total Football on Twitter: @TotalFootball12

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