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Have the tides changed? British players head overseas

Over the latest transfer window it has been noticeable to me that there has been a surprising influx of British players deciding to pack their suitcases, drop their fish ‘n’ chips and ply their trade abroad.

Moves like Joe Cole (pictured) to Lille, Michael Mancienne to HSV and the shock move of Dale Jennings to Bayern has led me to believe the tides are changing and the old charge that British players ‘can’t play abroad’ is crumbling.

The old adage that English players are too technically inept and too stuck in their ways to emerge themselves in the local culture meant that buying English was a bad idea.

An unfair declaration too I hear you cry, but history is not on our side; Ian Rush’s infamous quote after a less than enjoyable stint at Juventus was that “playing in Italy was like being in a foreign country”, Jonathan Woodgate was voted the worst La Liga signing of the 21st century (probably more down to injuries than performances), and Stan Collymore leaving Oviedo after three games after refusing to adapt to the same style of play or new culture are prime examples of British failings abroad.

There are of course exceptions such as the Beckhams, Keegans and Waddles, but sadly these are just that, ‘exceptions’ and are vastly outweighed by the Collymores, Vassels, Hughes’ (who was loaned out to Bayern after just one forgettable season at Barca) et al.

I believe British players tendency to wither abroad has been down to a lack of patience and a homesickness deriving from a refusal to immerse themselves into the local culture. In our English leagues where the pace is fast and hard work and determination are held in just as high regard by the fans as a beautiful butter slicing through pass or a delightful flick to beat an opposing defender.

Space and time to think 

This is not reciprocated on the continent; technique and goals are the emphasis and often the pace of the game is much slower. Consequently the players who make their move abroad who are so used to having no time on the ball and playing a lot on instinct now have space and time to think, which instead of being beneficial leads to poor decision making.

This is not because they are worse players than their foreign counterparts it’s just that often English players have given up and headed homewards before having enough time to adapt. The same happens in the reverse; Evra, Vidic and more recently Dzeko have all shown it often takes time to adapt and struggled with the pace of the Premier League in the early months then shown their true quality. I believe if more English players had given it more than a season abroad, there would be a lot more successes.

Finally now I feel that Bob Dylan was right and The Times They Are A-Changin' and players are wishing more than ever to go abroad and stay there, as it will develop them as a player. It is now at last being considered a better career move to switch abroad rather than being a squad player in a top Premier League club or going for mid-table clubs.

Joe Cole quite rightly felt for him it’s a better move to go to the French champions than to head to Spurs and not play week in week out or go for a relegation fighting QPR where he wouldn’t have much chance to show off his talents, Mancienne clearly preferred HSV to Wolves, and Max Gradel believed St. Etienne a stronger move than staying at Leeds.

Going abroad is more and more becoming an option, this is a great thing for these players and they will only improve because of it, and there is always a hope that these skills will be transferred onto the international scene and England may still reap the rewards of it.

By Charlie Houghton


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