The Premier League is littered with clubs supporting bulging squads thanks to an overzealous approach in the transfer market. Competition for places is at such an intense level that one fatal mistake at the back or a glaring miss in front of goal, can often cast players into the reserves, never to grace the first-team again. With this in mind, should more players seek to resurrect their career with a move abroad?
Last season saw Kenny Dalglish put Joe Cole and his hefty wage bill on the Eurostar bound for Lille. It was a move that caught many by surprise but sparked an impressive season that saw the 30-year-old share the plaudits with young starlet Eden Hazard.
The former England international returned to our shores with his reputation revitalised to such an extent, there were rumours Roy Hodgson was tempted to take him to the European Championships. Despite the fact he has been unable to penetrate Liverpool’s starting XI under the new tiki-taka regime, he will have considerably more suitors thanks to his time in France, should he decide to leave.
David Bentley has perhaps sought to emulate Cole’s success story by opting to venture out to Russia with FC Rostov. The one time Beckham successor played a prominent role in Tottenham’s pre-season schedule but fell foul of the somewhat ruthless man management skills of Andre Villas-Boas. Despite several offers from clubs up and down the country, the lure of being the first Englishman to play on Russian soil proved irresistible.
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Bentley has so far failed to find the net in his first seven appearances, but he claims the mere fact he’s playing regularly again has seen him rediscover the rich form he displayed at Blackburn. He also insists that all of the natural fears concerning playing abroad were quickly alleviated and the language barrier is a small and often insignificant obstacle.
The Russian Premier League boasts an array of incredibly diverse teams thanks to the growing influence from around Europe. Dinamo Moscow have former Chelsea defender Dan Petrescu at the helm and rely on a direct approach using the height of Kevin Kuranyi, whereas ex-Valencia boss Unai Emery has injected the Spanish mentality into his Spartak Moscow side. Bentley’s time in Russia will therefore not only help him regain full fitness but also expose him to a wealth of new playing styles.
Perhaps the biggest indication as to whether more players will follow in such footsteps will surround the outcome of ‘reformed’ Joseph Barton’s time across the channel. The disgraced QPR midfielder has been handed a golden lifeline by the French giants but has only been able to appear in the Europa League, due to his ongoing domestic ban.
Barton is an accomplished if hardly exceptional midfielder, but if he displays his infamous tenacity – without going overboard – he could be big hit with the fans. However, as former Marseille maestro Chris Waddle highlighted, the consequences of failure could be catastrophic, in more ways than one.
“It’s a fantastic club with fanatical support and if he upsets the supporters he might as well leave town.” (Independent)
Manchester United appear to have benefited profusely from their affiliation with Royal Antwerp. Rather than a rejuvenation clinic, the Belgium side have acted as a teaching environment for a number of recognisable names including Ryan Shawcross, Jonny Evans and Darron Gibson. However, having endured a number of demoralising experiences of late, Sir Alex Ferguson has decided to focus solely on domestic loan arrangements.
“We had Federico Macheda go to Sampdoria and he was only there a week and they sacked the coach. It ended up being a nightmare for him and he never got a game.
“I think it’s better that the ones that go on loan go to the Barclays Premier League or the Championship. By doing that, we can have regular contact and see them every week. We get them watched all the time. That’s the process by which we work under.” (manutd.com)
In my opinion, a few months on the continent could be the answer for players on both ends of the age spectrum. The tiresome criticism that English players lack the technical expertise of their European brethren is unlikely to be rectified if we don’t allow our players to experience new cultures.
It could also help the growing number of stars who have fallen foul of the big money move. Imagine Jordan Henderson, a boy deprived of every ounce of confidence he’s ever had, playing in La Liga or Serie A. He would benefit from having far more time on the ball, without the glare of British media constantly bearing down on him.
England’s dismal performance in recent international tournaments can perhaps be attributed to the fact we are one of the only nations that doesn’t have players across a variety of different leagues. Loan spells abroad could be the start of a transitional period that sees players – whether in their early twenties or indeed thirties – spread their wings, mature and feast of a world on untapped knowledge.