The Spanish forward thinks England suffer from not exporting talent.
Fernando Torres has reportedly declared that the England national side are not as good as they could be simply because home-grown players don’t experience playing abroad.
It’s a bold statement from the Spaniard, but does it hold some truth? Let’s investigate.
Every member of England’s 23-man World Cup squad plays in Britain. This is quite a contrast to the four tournament favourites: Brazil, Argentina, Spain and Germany.
Brazil’s squad boasts 83% overseas based players with Argentina at 85%. That’s only 15% plying their trade at home! For Spain and Germany – countries with comparable league league to England – the former has 40% players based abroad, while the latter has 23% – or a quarter.
Those figures are interesting in their own right, but when, according to Eurorivals.net, only 35 English footballers currently ply their trade overseas, it becomes even more telling.
The list of 35 is an obscure read, with famous names Jermaine Defoe (Canada, MLS), Emile Heskey (Australia), Anton Ferdinand (Turkey), Michael Mancienne (Germany) and Bradley Wright-Phillips (USA) leading the way. An interesting comparison with the likes of foreign stars David Silva, Messi, Özil and Neymar all playing away from home.
The English selection are players, with the exception of ex-Chelsea defender Mancienne, at the tail-end of their careers, or never quite good enough to make it big in England. The foreign players mentioned, by comparison, are some of the best on the planet.
So why don’t English footballers traditionally travel overseas?
In part, it is perhaps economical. England pays players high wages resulting in a lack of need to look overseas for a better deal. Some might seek a final bumper salary from Australia or the US towards the end of their career, but, traditionally, England pays well so people don’t leave.
Other European leagues, Germany and Spain for instance, also pay well, but, as we can see above, players still head abroad.
Perhaps then, as Torres alludes to in the interview with French magazine So Foot, a culturally ingrained fear plays a part, too.
The striker said: “If it took a long time [for Spain] to export players, it was because we were scared – scared of the unknown. But the day when it is the English who go abroad, a lot will follow.”
I think Torres’s assertion is correct. Exploration, in general, broadens an individual’s perspectives. It exposes one to previously unimagined cultures, systems and relations that irreversibly change a person. One is challenged to step outside their comfort zone and positively develops for it. As Torres said, it is naturally frightening for a moment but, ultimately, proves extremely rewarding.
For footballers specifically, they would be affected by the general enhancement in perspective, but also become exposed to novel tactics, characters and rivalries. After the initial discomfort that comes from abandoning familiar comforts, they would thrive – much like the Spanish, Germans, Brazilians and Argentines.
Torres added: “This could be for the best for the England team.”
I argue that it could be good for England in general.
A lot of airtime is given to England’s perceived mass workforce immigration in football and in wider society. Perhaps those perturbed by the influx of foreign workers should cut the apron strings and try it themselves. They will certainly evolve for it, no matter their occupation.
It worked for some English footballing greats, too. Keegan, Beckham, Waddle, Platt, McManaman and others famously spent time in foreign leagues, all to the enhancement of their careers.
Perhaps it is from these greats that the new batch should learn. Shun tradition and cut their own path. Who knows? Like Torres said, others might find it impossible not to follow.
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