Top 10 Brits abroad: From David Beckham to Gareth Bale and Bradley Wright-Phillips (yes, really!) the stars who paved the way for likes of Jadon Sancho to shine in foreign leagues
- British players are starting to feature more regularly in foreign leagues again
- Kids like Jadon Sancho and Reiss Nelson are going in search of opportunities
- They are following in the paths of Brits such as John Charles and Ray Wilkins
- Some Brits players have enjoyed big success on the Continent and further afield
From Jadon Sancho to Wayne Rooney, British players are starting to flourish overseas again, following in the fine tradition of men like John Charles, Kevin Keegan and Gary Lineker, who became hugely popular abroad.
With Gareth Bale having won four Champions League titles at Real Madrid, the next generation are becoming attractive to European clubs and now Arsenal youngster Reiss Nelson is starting to shine in the Bundesliga for Hoffenheim.
Sancho, 18, has already featured for Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League and is expected to make his first England start against USA.
As a 21st-Century baby, he might not know all the names that have made up Britain’s successful foreign legion down the years – but Sportsmail counts down who we believe are the top 10.
Gareth Bale’s haul of Champions League trophies makes him a very successful Brit abroad
10: GARY LINEKER
Barcelona 1986-89, Nagoya Grampus Eight 1992-94
Honours: Copa Del Rey x1, European Cup Winners’ Cup x1
Lineker had just won the World Cup Golden Boot when he signed for Barcelona from Everton. In three seasons at the Nou Camp, he won the Copa del Rey and European Cup Winners’ Cup but is possibly best known for a hat-trick in El Clasico against Real Madrid in a 3-2 Barca win at the Nou Camp.
Just as importantly, the fresh-faced and diplomatic Lineker performed an important ambassadorial role for English football abroad at a time when the country’s reputation was on its knees due to hooliganism. Lineker and Brazilian defender Aloisio were the only overseas players when Johan Cruyff’s Barca’s beat Sampdoria 2-0 to win the Cup Winners’ Cup.
Though a foot injury prevented Lineker from ending his career with much success in Japan, his arrival in the country gave football an increased profile and helped lay the ground for them to successfully co-host the 2002 World Cup with South Korea.
Gary Lineker excelled at Barcelona (left) and also played in Japan with Grampus Eight
9: BRADLEY WRIGHT-PHILLIPS
New York Red Bulls 2013-present
Honours: MLS Supporters’ Shield x2
Ian Wright’s son never hit the heights in England with Manchester City, Southampton, Plymouth and Charlton but it’s been a different story Stateside in the Big Apple.
Wright-Phillips has scored an impressive 106 goals in 169 MLS games for New York, at one time playing up front with Thierry Henry, and recently made MLS history by becoming the first player to score 20 goals in three different seasons.
Now 33, the striker will be hopeful Red Bulls can win the MLS Cup. He has already been voted into this year’s MLS All-Star team ahead of the likes of Spain legend David Villa.
New York Red Bulls forward Bradley Wright-Phillips (left) speaks with Wayne Rooney recently
Wright-Phillips has enjoyed a brilliant career in the MLS, surprising many back in England
8: DAVID BECKHAM
Real Madrid 2003-07, Los Angeles Galaxy 2007-12, AC Milan (loan) 2009/10, PSG (loan) 2013
Honours: La Liga x1, MLS Cup x2, MLS Supporters’ Shield x2, Ligue 1 x1
Though few would disagree the peak of Beckham’s career came at Manchester United, the former England captain proved a lot of people wrong by spending a full decade abroad, winning La Liga with Real Madrid and becoming pivotal in ‘soccer’ becoming a boom sport in the USA.
Initially signed by Madrid for his marketing potential as a Galactico, Beckham bounced back from being written off to become a regular under Fabio Capello at the end of the 2006/07 season when Real became champions. Indicative of the Beckham brand, celebrity pals Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes were in the Bernabeu to see them lift the trophy.
Beckham’s spell in America started slowly and he was criticised for flying over to Europe to play for England but he bounced back to help LA Galaxy win the MLS Cup in 2011 and 2012.
Fittingly, Beckham finished as a league winner with PSG. Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy was in the crowd to see his final game against Brest, when an emotional Beckham signed off by saying: ‘I feel that I achieved everything I could in my career. I wanted to go out as a champion.’
David Beckham was one of Real Madrid’s Galacticos – their superstar signings in the 2000s
He also tasted glory with PSG (left) and is a legend in the MLS after his spell at LA Galaxy
7: RAY WILKINS
AC Milan 1984-87, PSG 1987-89
The late, great Ray Wilkins played for two of Europe’s biggest clubs in the 1980s with a particularly memorable spell in Milan seeing him line up alongside legends Franco Baresi and Paolo Maldini at the start of the Silvio Berlusconi era.
While Wilkins was sometimes mocked in England because he based his game on keeping possession – he was referred to as The Crab if he passed sideways – continental Europe was full of admiration for his technique and game awareness.
‘It was a privilege to go there when I did. The ground was always full with 85,000 people,’ he said. Milan’s enduring respect for Wilkins was underlined after his death earlier this year when Baresi held up a shirt with his name and number before the derby against Inter.
Ray Wilkins was a British midfielder of rare poise and was adored during his time at AC Milan
‘Butch’ also showed his talents on the ball during a two-year spell in France with PSG
6: STEVE McMANAMAN
Real Madrid 1999-2003
Honours: La Liga x2, Champions League x2, UEFA Super Cup x1
The first high-profile player to take advantage of the new Bosman ruling that allowed players to run down their contracts and join another club on a free transfer.
McManaman controversially decided to leave his hometown club Liverpool for the Bernabeu in 1999 and at the end of his first season became the first Englishman to win the Champions League with a ‘foreign’ club. Not only that, he scored Madrid’s second goal in a 3-0 final win against Valencia.
The curly-haired winger adapted to life in Spain, spoke the language, and collected two La Liga titles and a second Champions League in 2002, when he came on as a substitute against Bayer Leverkusen in a match best-known for Zinedine Zidane’s stunning volleyed winner. He had booked Real’s place in that final with a goal in the Nou Camp against arch-rivals Barcelona, a quite brilliant chip from the edge of the area.
Steve McManaman rubbed shoulders with the likes of Zinedine Zidane at Real Madrid
His brilliant goal in the Nou Camp in a Champions League semi-final was just one highlight
5: STEVE ARCHIBALD
Honours: La Liga x1
There were eyebrows raised when new Barcelona manager Terry Venables sold Diego Maradona to Napoli and signed Tottenham striker Steve Archibald instead. He had an inkling that Archibald would settle well in Spain. And he was right.
The Scotland forward took Maradona’s No 10 shirt but made it clear immediately he wouldn’t be replicating the Argentine’s tricks and flicks. ‘I am sorry to disappoint you. I am not here to substitute Maradona. Maradona has gone and I have arrived,’ he said at his unveiling.
Instead, he provided goals. Archibald scored on his debut against Real Madrid and was Barcelona’s top scorer with 15 as they won La Liga. The following season he scored the winner against Juventus en route to the European Cup final, which they infamously lost on penalties to Steaua Bucharest.
Steve Archibald had the tall order of replacing Diego Maradona as Barcelona’s No 10
Yet he achieved notable success at the Nou Camp, his goals inspiring a La Liga title win
4: DAVID PLATT
Bari 1991-92, Juventus 1992-93, Sampdoria 1993-95
Honours: UEFA Cup x1, Coppa Italia x1
Became an overnight sensation at the 1990 World Cup when he came in late for the injured Bryan Robson and scored three goals against Belgium, Cameroon and Italy, also netting in the semi-final penalty shoot-out against Germany.
Italian clubs took note and the following year he was snapped up from Aston Villa by modest Bari. He did so well that Juventus signed him the following season, and he won the UEFA Cup.
Platt’s interest in Italian culture and his willingness to learn the language fluently undoubtedly helped his performances on the pitch. Perhaps his greatest success came at his third and final Italian club, Sampdoria. They won the Coppa Italia with a great team that included Ruud Gullit, Roberto Mancini and Attilio Lombardo.
David Platt headed to Bari in 1991, not long after lighting up Italia 90 with his goals for England
His success in Italy continued and he earned a move to giants Juventus after one season
He chats with the legendary Ruud Gullit, a team-mate in a very strong Sampdoria side
3: GARETH BALE
Real Madrid 2013 – present
Honours: La Liga x1, Copa del Rey x1, Champions League x4, UEFA Super Cup x2, FIFA Club World Cup x2
Signed for Real Madrid from Tottenham for a world-record £86million and has not only survived for five years in the Bernabeu madness – outlasting Cristiano Ronaldo – he’s also won the Champions League four times, and other trophies including La Liga and the FIFA World Club Cup.
While Ronaldo often didn’t seem happy to have a rival at Madrid, Bale ignored constant gossip about him returning to the Premier League and enjoyed his finest moment in May when he came off the bench to score a spectacular overhead kick in the Champions League final against Liverpool, later following up with a second goal.
That’s not been the Welshman’s only highlight though. He also scored in the 2014 final, while his stunning goal against Barcelona in the 2014 Copa del Rey final, when he sprinted off the pitch to beat defender Marc Bartra to the ball before scoring, has achieved legendary status in Spain. ‘I don’t think I’ve seen anything like it,’ said team-mate Xabi Alonso.
Bale’s finest moment at Real came with his overhead kick goal against Liverpool last season
2: KEVIN KEEGAN
Honours: Bundesliga x1, Ballon d’Or x2
Keegan was the posterboy of English football when he did the unthinkable and left the newly-crowned European champions Liverpool to go abroad at the peak of his career.
Liverpool thrived without him after signing Kenny Dalglish as his replacement but Keegan too moved to an even greater level of superstardom. He remains the only British player to be voted European Player of the Year (now known as the Ballon D’Or) playing for a foreign club. And he achieved it twice in a row, in 1978 and 1979.
Keegan’s impact was similar to Maradona’s at Napoli, lifting a relatively modest club to the pinnacle of German club football. In 1979, Hamburg won the Bundesliga title, in an era dominated then as now by Bayern Munich.
His fame in England grew even though he played in Germany, a prototype David Beckham. In 1979, he released a record, Head over Heels, that reached the top 40 when the chart was dominated by Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive.
Keegan helped Hamburg reach their first European Cup final in 1980, where they were defeated 1-0 by Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest, and he returned to England with his reputation enhanced to sign for Southampton, even though Juventus wanted him.
Kevin Keegan became Europe’s finest footballer after leaving England to play at Hamburg
Keegan reached a level of stardom that even saw him record a song that reached the top 40
1: JOHN CHARLES
Juventus 1957-62, Roma 1962-63
Honours: Serie A x3, Coppa Italia x2
Regarded as the best foreign import in Juventus’ history, no mean feat as they later won European finals with Michel Platini and Zinedine Zidane.
Charles, a member of the Wales team which reached the World Cup quarter-finals, was dubbed the Gentle Giant and equally proficient as a centre half or centre forward.
He moved to Serie A from Leeds United because the maximum wage in England was capped at £18 per week. In contrast, Juve gave him a £10,000 signing-on fee – and he proved to be worth every penny.
Italian fans called him Il Gigante and he was voted Italy’s Player of the Year after scoring 28 goals in his debut season. Juventus won the league, the first of five major trophies Charles led them to – three Serie A titles and two Coppa Italias.
He scored more than a hundred goals for Juventus and was the first overseas player to be inducted into Italian football’s Hall of Fame, ahead of Diego Maradona.
‘John’s name would be mentioned by everyone I spoke to there,’ said Ian Rush, another Welshman who beat the path to Turin but with less success 30 years later.
John Charles is still spoken of in revered tones in Italy after his stunning success at Juventus
The Welsh striker – who also played at the back – is known in Turin as Il Gigante (The Giant)
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