Real Madrid's Welsh striker Gareth Bale lifts the trophy after Real Madrid won the UEFA Champions League
Britain is the birthplace of the beautiful game and the country has had an excellent footballing pedigree for over a century, producing many fine players and challenging on both club and international fronts, yet British players are notoriously poor travellers. Whilst German, Spanish and Brazilian players grace leagues across the globe and do so with relative ease, British players seem to find this task a little trickier.
Herbert Kilpin was the first Brit to play professionally outside of the country, when he began playing in Turin in 1899, before going on to found Italian outfit AC Milan. Kilpin won three Italian titles in the early 1900's, but sadly didn't set the tone, and it would take half a century before another Brit would have that kind of impact outside of the UK.
The entries and their ordering is ranked in accordance to their ability, achievements and impact abroad. World class British players such as George Best and Gordon Banks may have played abroad, but their impact outside of Britain was not as great as those who make our seven. Here are our top 7 British footballers to play abroad:
7. Gary Lineker
England’s third highest scorer of all-time, and their top scorer at World Cups, Gary Lineker was a clinical poacher of a forward. After winning the Golden Boot at the 1986 World Cup, Lineker had proven himself on the grandest of stages, and Barcelona signed the Englishman from Everton that summer. He went on to spend three years at the Camp Nou, where he scored 42 goals in 103 games. Lineker won a European Cup Winners Cup and a Copa del Rey with the Catalan club, most memorably scoring a hat-trick in a 3-2 win over Real Madrid in the El Classico derby. Lineker also played briefly in Japan, where he ended his career, playing only 18 times for Nagoya Grampus Eight.
6. Glenn Hoddle
Considered one of the most technically gifted players England have ever produced, many believe former Tottenham man Glenn Hoddle was never fully appreciated or utilised by England. He spent 12 years with Spurs before joining Monaco, claiming he would have regressed as a player had he remained with the North Londoners. Hoddle spent four years playing in the French league with Monaco, under the guidance of a young Arsene Wenger, and won both the league title and the French Cup during his time there. He was named French football’s Foreign Player of the Year for the 1987-88 season.
5. Gareth Bale
The only active player in this seven, Gareth Bale has come in for some stick at times since joining Real Madrid. The most expensive footballer in history at the time of the move, it’s easy to see why there was a lot of pressure on the Welshman to produce, but 68 goals in 155 games suggests that he's done alright when he's been fit at the Bernabeu. Bale has won ten trophies, including three Champions League's, in his four years at Real Madrid, scoring crucial goals in two major finals.
4. Chris Waddle
Former England midfielder Chris Waddle had already proven what a quality player he was with Sheffield Wednesday and Tottenham, but failed to win any silverware with either club. He rectified that upon leaving the country though, joining Marseille in 1989. Waddle spent a hugely successful three seasons with Marseille, winning three league titles and reaching the final of the European Cup. Despite spending only three years with the club, Waddle has since been voted the club’s second greatest player of all time, behind only Jean-Pierre Papin.
3. Steve McManaman
Part of Liverpool’s highly talented ‘Spice Boys’ that emerged in the 1990s, Steve McManaman was possibly the most gifted of the lot. Like with the others, questions remained over his attitude, and he failed to win a league title at Anfield. The Englishman left Liverpool in 1999, when he joined Real Madrid on a free transfer.
Los Blancos were undergoing something of a mini-crisis, and for much of his time there, McManaman was one of the club’s star players. He won the Champions League in his first season, being named man of the match in the final, and won a total of two La Liga titles, two Champions Leagues and four other trophies during his four seasons in Madrid.
2. Kevin Keegan
Kevin Keegan became the best paid player in German football when Rudi Gutendorf prized him to Hamburg from Liverpool in 1977. The England international had a shaky start in Germany, punching a player in a pre-season and his signing effectively costing Gutendorf his job. He turned it around though, winning the Ballon d’Or in both 1978 and 1979. Hamburg won the Bundesliga in the 78-79 season, finished as runners-up the following season and also reached the final of the 1980 European Cup, where they lost to Nottingham Forest. Keegan returned to England after three years in Germany, joining Southampton in 1980.
1. John Charles
The most successful British player outside of Britain has to be John Charles. One of the most complete players the game has ever seen, Charles was capable of playing as both a central defender and as a centre-forward. It was sometimes joked that Charles would start a game up front, score, and then be moved to defence to ensure a win; and it was only partly a joke. After 157 goals in 297 games for Leeds United, Charles joined Juventus for a British record transfer fee, almost doubling the previous record. He scored the winner in every one of his first three games for Juventus, and this set the tone for his time with the club.
In his first season, he was named the club’s Player of the Year, won the league title and was the top scorer in Serie A. In total, Charles spent five seasons with Juventus, scoring 108 goals in 155 games and winning three Serie A titles and two Coppa Italias. He later spent a brief period of time with Roma, scoring four goals in 10 games. He was nominated for the Ballon d’Or in 1959, and was later voted Juventus’ greatest ever foreign player, seeing off the likes of Zinedine Zidane, Michel Platini and Pavel Nedved.