Over the weekend I read an interview with Steve McClaren who discussed his time as a manager in Holland and Germany. I could never really take him seriously after hearing his fake Dutch accent, while manager of FC Twente. But his interview got me thinking about the benefits of playing abroad, and it is something that English footballers scarcely do. I think it is time that rather than playing on the bench for an English side, or at a lower standard in English football, players should start to look abroad in order to secure first team football at a top level.
The benefits of first team football are undeniable. This is obvious looking at a player like Scott Parker, who struggled on the bench at Chelsea, but is now playing every week at West Ham and looking really good. The same can be said to a lesser extent about players like David Bentley or Steve Sidwell.
There are currently many foreign players in England who could not get first team football at their previous club and have flourished given a run in an English first team. I think of Cesc Fabregas, who might have been picked out of Barcelona’s youth side, but has made a name for himself outside of Spain and is now wanted back at the Nou Camp. This year Rafael van der Vaart, who wasn’t playing at Madrid, has looked in a class of his own at Tottenham.
Xabi Alonso and Pepe Reina came to Liverpool as nobodies and are now some of the best players in the world. Less famously Arteta and Pienaar are other players who have come to England as relatively unknown quantities and established themselves as top rate professionals. How good would it be to find out, as Spain must have done with Fabregas, that the next wonder kid of Spanish football was in fact English?
In general the English players who have moved abroad were already established players, and did not move to gain more first team football. I think of McManaman, Owen and Woodgate who all moved after successful periods at their English clubs. Jermaine Pennant stands alone as a player who could not get in a team (Liverpool) so moved to Zaragoza for a season where he got fit and played regularly. Now he plays every week for Stoke.
The majority of young players in England, who cannot get into a first team, go on loan, but it is almost always internally and to a lower league. However, intra Premier League loans are becoming more common, for example Sturridge, Onuoha, Welbeck and Diouf are all currently playing for Premier League clubs and last year we saw Jack Wilshere play at Bolton. But a move abroad for a year has almost never been established. It seems that managers think the Premier League so physical and so different that a player needs experience in this league specifically.
With some English clubs being too rich to sell to rival clubs there are a few people that spring to mind that would be wise to look abroad for a club to play first team football. At Manchester City alone there are players like Michael Johnson and Shaun Wright-Phillips who do not play as regularly as they should do, or could be for a top flight team abroad.
One point that McClaren makes repeatedly is that you can learn so much from playing abroad. Football may be of a different style abroad but that is not to say that English players cannot handle it and cannot improve their game by playing there. If Spain are the best football playing nation in the world, should clubs not be looking to send younger players on loan there? And if a footballer had genuine ambitions of improving his game would he not be wise to learn, playing every week, for a team in another country?
If you have the answers to any of these questions, or can think of any other wasted British talents, get in touch with me directly on twitter @joeaustin8