Why Don't More British Footballers Play Abroad?

The transfer window closed amid a rash of chaotic transfer activity on Tuesday before attention turned to the home nations teams and the upcoming Euro 2016 qualifiers. Interestingly, none of the rumour mills, headlines or completed transfers saw a single British player of note make a move abroad (with the possible exception of Chelsea's Nathan Chalobah moving on loan to Napoli) and it raises the question of why more British-born players don't ply their trade outside of these shores?

The Success Stories

It is remarkable that more players haven't been lured away by the success stories of players like David Beckham, Gareth Bale, Paul Lambert, Steve McManaman, John Charles et al., who all enjoyed (or in Bale's case, enjoying) excellent spells at foreign clubs. The opportunity to test yourself away from England is something that is shunned by many of the top British players, who are either happy to milk the Premier League cow for all its worth or to move to the MLS or Australia when their powers are on the wane.

Supply And Demand

Perhaps there is not the demand from foreign clubs to sign British players, particularly if Micah Richards' and Ashley Cole's disappointing efforts in Italy last season are anything to go by, and it is not beyond the realms of possibility that the top German, Italian and Spanish clubs realise that too many English players are not willing to adapt to foreign conditions.

Imagine if Wayne Rooney had moved abroad when he was in his pomp - a chance to get away from the grandmothers, the kitchen-based punch-ups with mates and a woeful dietary regime. Instead, he could have learned a new language, widened his tactical and technical knowledge-base and perhaps reached levels that the early years of his career had promised. Instead, he stayed in Manchester while Cristiano Ronaldo moved to Madrid and progressed to become one of the greatest players in the world. The contrast between the two could not be greater.

The Greatest League In The World?

It is too easy to criticise only Rooney, who has still achieved many things in his career, but there is a wider malaise in British football where mediocrity is acceptable. British players can sit in the reserves at a club like Tottenham and earn £30,000 per week before looking back on a career that says "I finished sixth in the Premier League and played in the greatest league in the world".

For all of Sky Sports' tooting, the Premier League is not the best league in the world. The opening weeks of the season alone indicate we are looking at a tiring Chelsea side, a woefully imbalanced Manchester United and the same old Arsenal, with only Manchester City showing any signs of improvement from a 2014/15 campaign that saw none of the English representatives reach the quarter-finals of the Champions League.

The top British clubs are playing catch-up with the very best in Europe.

Opportunities Abroad

The sight of Thomas Ince turning down the chance to move to Inter Milan in favour of Derby County earlier this year is perhaps a case in point with regards to the British malaise, although it is heartening to see Ravel Morrison, for all of his past mistakes and deficiencies, making a genuine effort at improvement by playing for Lazio in Italy. Chalobah's decision to make the move to Serie A should also be applauded.

Martin Gleen, the new Chief Executive of the FA, might have been thinking of an unfulfilled young talent like Morrison and a potential rising star like Chalobah when he recently stated that young English players should pursue first team opportunities abroad.

Lack Of Premier League Opportunities

For Chalobah and Morrison, the stark reality is that there isn't the demand for British players in the Premier League anymore as the matches on the opening weekend of the season saw just 73 players who are eligible to play for England start for their respective teams. Just 33.2% of players were English during that opening round of matches, in comparison to the 69% who played during the 1992 campaign.

Admittedly, the increase in foreign players and the lack of opportunities for home-grown players at Premier League clubs alone cannot be blamed for the English national team's problems because the lack of success was enveloping these shores long before Sergio Aguero and co. but there is still a case to be made for players to want to better themselves in a foreign country.

Paul Lambert and Gareth Bale won the Champions League when playing abroad but will more British players be willing to take a chance on a new culture, a new country, a new set of teammates and, perhaps more importantly, do any of the top European teams want to take a chance on rising British talent?

Posted: Wednesday, 2nd September 2015
Author: Chris Knight

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