With Gareth Bale this week overtaking Gary Lineker’s La Liga goalscoring record, the question has again been asked about why more British players don’t play outside of the comfortable confines of the various British divisions.
In the past there have been players who have lit up European leagues (Lineker at Barca, Glenn Hoddle at Monaco, David Beckham at Real Madrid and Paul Lambert at Borussia Dortmund to name a few), and those that have not (Ashley Cole at Roma, David Bentley at FC Rostov), but these players, good or bad, have been few and far between.
However, the focus seems to always be on the high profile players that make the leap, and very rarely are the smaller names who make the decision to move abroad ever lauded for bucking the trend. It is surely, after all, much more of a challenge to move yourself and your family abroad when the prize is playing for, say, Dinamo Zagreb, than it is to move to one of the bigger clubs.
So today I am going to try and put the focus on some English/British talent that currently play abroad and who never get mentioned when the traditional press trot out the easy line that British players don’t play (or succeed) abroad.
Luke Steele – Panathinikos, Greece
Luke Steele is a goalkeeper who will be a familiar name to Barnsley fans, having made over 200 appearances for the club between 2008 and 2014. Possibly his most notable performance for the Tykes was his first. After being drafted in on an emergency loan for an FA Cup fifth round tie with Liverpool, he performed man-of-the-match heroics as Barnsley knocked out the Merseysiders to reach the quarterfinals of the cup, where Steele then kept a clean sheet as Barnsley also dumped out Chelsea.
Following Barnsley’s relegation to League One in 2014, Steele left the club and moved to Greek giants Panathinikos in the Greek SuperLeague. Here he had a strong season, making 29 league appearances as the Greens finished second behind perennial champions Olympiakos. This led to Steele signing a new deal that will keep him at the club until 2018.
Having gone from battling against relegation to the English third tier on a regular basis, Steele is now the regular keeper for a team that is battling it out to qualify for European football. If that is not a successful move abroad, then I don’t know what is.
Liam Ridgewell – Portland Timbers, USA
Like Luke Steele, Liam Ridgewell moved to play his football abroad in 2014. After having made over 300 league appearances in England’s top two divisions whilst playing for Aston Villa, Birmingham City and West Bromwich Albion, Ridgewell was released at the end of the 2013-14 season. He quickly signed for MLS side Portland Timbers, where he has since made nearly 50 appearances in two seasons, helping the Timbers to victory in the MLS Cup in 2015.
Ridgewell, like many Europeans playing in the USA, has made loan moves to European clubs during the MLS off-season. He has used these periods to join both Wigan Athletic and Brighton and Hove Albion in the Championship, proving that he still has what it takes to make a contribution in England.
Jay Bothroyd – Júbilo Iwata, Japan
One-cap-wonder Jay Bothroyd has had a number of stints abroad during his career. Early on in his career he spent two seasons at Perugia in Italy’s Serie A, although during this time he also spent time on loan at Blackburn Rovers. After playing for a string of clubs in England’s top two divisions, and earning himself a single England cap in the process, Bothroyd signed for Thai Premier League side Muangthong United in 2014.
After 16 appearances and six goals in Thailand, Bothroyd was on the move again, this time landing at Japanese J2 League team Júbilo Iwata. In his first season, Bothroyd was the league’s top goalscorer with 20 goals, and Iwata were promoted to the J-League after finishing runners up. Recently Bothroyd made headlines back in England by becoming the first Englishman to score in the J-League for 20 years – and the first to score since Gary Lineker.
John Bostock – OH Leuven, Belgium
Former Tottenham Hotspur youngster and lower-league loanee regular, John Bostock’s first spell playing abroad came in 2013 when he spent seven games on loan at Toronto FC from parent club Tottenham. After being released in the summer of 2013, Bostock signed for Royal Antwerp in Belgium. He spent a very successful year at Antwerp, who nearly reached the end of season play-offs, before singing for OH Leuven in 2014.
Bostock has since built on the experience at Antwerp and has benefitted from extended spells in a settled team. At Leuven, Bostock ended his first season with 13 goals and 19 assists to his name, leading the team to promotion back to the top flight of Belgian football.
Clearly there is some British talent that is willing to make the big step and play abroad. Moreover, it is clearly not the case that modern British footballers must necessarily be failures – for every Ashley Cole who gives off the distinct impression of not being bothered, there is a young and hungry British player willing to put in the hard yards to get their break in the game. Perhaps more young players should take the plunge and move abroad, rather than sitting on a bench every Saturday and making a handful of appearances a season.