English football has long-maligned players that ply their trade abroad. For whatever reason, we’re more than happy for leading players from other countries to come to the Premier League, but if our players do the reverse then they’re immediately treated with scepticism.
Continued proof of this is a fans’ survey published in The Athletic this week, which revealed Jadon Sancho is only the joint-sixth preferred attacker for England’s Euro 2020 squad this summer. That’s despite Sancho having more goal contributions for Dortmund this season (16 goals and 14 assists in 39 matches) than the attacking players the England fans preferred to him: Phil Foden (15 and 9 in 48), Marcus Rashford (21 and 9 in 56), Mason Mount (9 and 6 in 51) and Raheem Sterling (14 and 8 in 47).
Other than Harry Kane, the only player who comes close to Sancho’s figures this season is Jack Grealish, who has 7 goals and 10 assists in 26 appearances for Aston Villa – and he’s joint-sixth in the survey. Furthermore, Kane is the only Englishman to have created more goals than Sancho. While only six players in Europe – Thomas Muller, Kane, Filip Kostic, Ruslan Malinovskiy, Iago Aspas and Daichi Kamada – have more than his 11 league assists.
If Sancho was playing in England, would there be any doubt he’d be nailed on for the starting 11 at the Euros? That, of course, is a moot point, but the fact remains that we see less of him, so we naturally prefer home-based players.
A historical lack of Brits abroad
That’s pretty much par for the course when it comes to English players playing abroad. Only 24 English internationals have ever represented their country while playing for a team outside of England, and those that do are inevitably looked upon with discern by the English media and fans.
The most notable of these foreign exports is David Beckham, who won a record 55 of his 115 caps while playing for Real Madrid, LA Galaxy and AC Milan. The nearest to him is Owen Hargreaves, who won a record 92% of his caps (39 of 42) while playing abroad with Bayern Munich. However, Hargreaves’ selection while playing for the German side led to The Sun claiming he had “the public persona of a mass murderer” and the Daily Express described him as “a tour guide” for Sven-Goran Eriksson’s squad.
Another relatively recent example of English players going abroad is Michael Owen, who scored 6 goals in 11 games for England while he was a Real Madrid player. Other notable examples include David Platt at Bari, Juventus and Sampdoria (33 of 62 caps), Mark Hateley at AC Milan (27 of 32 caps), Kevin Keegan at Hamburg (25 of 63 caps), Gary Lineker at Barcelona (24 of 80 caps), Ray Wilkins at AC Milan (22 of 84 caps) and Trevor Francis at Detroit Express and Sampdoria (22 of 52 caps). The likes of Paul Gascoigne, Paul Ince, Steve McManaman, Des Walker and Glenn Hoddle also played a handful of games for England while not plying their trade in the country.
Is the tide turning?
Sancho isn’t the only English player currently playing abroad, and not even the only one playing for Dortmund. He was joned this season by Jude Bellingham, whose impressive efforts have him on the verge of being selected for the Euros. And, likewise, if he was playing for a top English side, is there any doubt he’d be selected?
There’s also Kieran Trippier, who’s enjoyed a solid turnaround in form since joining Atletico Madrid and yesterday became the first Englishman to lift La Liga – and any other European title for that matter – since Beckham in 2007.
Several more young English talents are looking to the continent to further their development. First, Jamal Musiala left Chelsea for Bayern before deciding to represent Germany then Valencia’s Yunus Musah, who started at Arsenal and represented England up to Under 18s, opted to play for the USA.
Aside from them, Demarai Gray, who’s still only 24, is currently at Bayer Leverkusen, Chelsea’s Fikayo Tomori has impressed on loan at AC Milan this season, and Fulham youth product Ryan Sessegnon is on loan at Hoffenheim from Spurs.
Another Spurs link is former FM wonderkid Marcus Edwards, who currently plays for Portuguese side Vitória SC, former Nottingham Forest attacker Arvin Appiah plays for Almeria, Chelsea academy product Jonathan Panzo plays for Dijon after leaving Monaco, and another previous FM wonderkid Reece Oxford now plays for Augsburg. And a special mention for former MK Dons striker Rhys Healey, now 26, who scored a hat-trick for Toulouse in Ligue 2 last week and has 11 goals in 21 games for the French side.
Whether any of these players will ever establish themselves as England players remains to be seen. But you have to think that the financial clout of the Premier League will probably restrict our top players moving abroad. For example, the chances of Harry Kane leaving for Europe seem slim as he wants the money that only the big English sides (and maybe PSG) can offer him.
Will English fans and media ever warm to players playing abroad? And will our top players ever end up playing for the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich again?