In the modern era David Beckham, Steve McManaman and Michael Owen all had mixed fortunes when they represented Real Madrid. Whilst a lot of England’s current players have all had relative success at club level, going all the way at international level is something that has eluded the national team for too long now- playing in a different league would surely improve their all-round game, and take it to international class.
Irrespective of whether it will make England better, I would hope that there’s no inhibition to play in a different culture, lifestyle and learning a new language which is holding back today’s stars. For too long players have lived and played in their own comfort zones here and we would find out more about them if they played abroad for a sufficient amount of time.
In my mind there is no doubting that the Premier League still remains the no.1 domestic league in Europe, if not the world, and even though there is suddenly panic amongst punters for the fact that no English team made it in to this year’s Champions League semi-finals, this is because the Spanish and Italian leagues have improved- English football’s top league hasn’t diminished in quality; the others look to be catching up. The German Bundesliga and France’s Ligue 1, to some extent, have shown that they can compete with the Premiership’s finest. A lot gets mentioned about how the Italian league consists of teams who play the game slowly, and more defensively, and how Spain’s La Liga only has two top teams in it but it’s not as if our top players would go their to play for mid-table clubs surely? I feel that we can sometimes be ignorant in our study of the Italian league especially. Inter Milan’s display at Stamford Bridge in the last-16 second leg to knock Chelsea out was something to behold- Jose Mourinho’s men had more attempts on target against a team that had to win the match.
Many will say that money is the biggest influence considering that the Premier League is the most lucrative in football but if that was the case then why would someone like Kaka turn down Manchester City? There are pampered stars in Europe’s best domestic leagues as well, so the English stars would still have their luxuries and the drop down of wages wouldn’t be that less to what they are currently used to. However, out of the footballers that are playing purely for the love of the game, thus striving to be the best in their position, they could make a name for themselves in England and then a club like Barcelona would come knocking on the door. The free flowing football played in Spain, which makes the beautiful game so good to watch, would enhance the knowledge and skills of the country’s best English players. It would give others a chance to prove themselves a good player in all conditions when it seems that Jermaine Pennant has failed to do so. This would considerably develop the technical side of the English players- something which we are still behind on in comparison to the continent’s other top leagues.
The current generation of English players would probably be ill-advised to move now, if they so had the desire to do so, because many are either at the peak of their careers or moving ever closer to their 30s. However, seeing that the game is ever changing then it would make sense if the next batch of English players attempting to get in to the national side gave consideration to the idea of learning their trade in the Premiership before being open to the idea of a career abroad. I think of players like David Bentley, someone who has an excellent dead-ball delivery and a touch of flair about him, Micah Richards – who is out of favour with the national set-up – and Joe Cole who has all the attributes to fit in to the standards of La Liga, and is a different example due to his contractual situation. When fully fit and firing Cole’s creative game is probably unlike any English player in his position.
I think we can become too drawn on the negatives and look at the failings of English players abroad, but just look at Gary Lineker and Kevin Keegan’s impact at Barcelona and Hamburg respectively. There can be no questioning the talents and ability of the current players at domestic level, and you only have to look at how many successful foreigners there have been since the introduction of the Premiership- some of them have gone down as legends at the clubs they played at. If players are keen to do well for England then the experience can only benefit them and the team in the long run, and if it doesn’t work out there is always a way back, e.g. Michael Owen.
Fabio Capello may have taken the fear of failure out of the current crop, and they should welcome the opportunity, if and when it’s given to them, to appreciate that there is plenty to accomplish in other leagues outside England. The weather isn’t the only great thing.
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