Since the inception of the Premier League, England has been fortunate enough to play host to some of the world’s finest foreign stars. Cristiano Ronaldo, Eric Cantona, Gianfranco Zola, Thierry Henry, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Jurgen Klinsmann and more recently Eden Hazard, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Alexis Sanchez – the list goes on.
All are men who have left the shores of their homeland to travel the globe and improve the level of their performance. Would Ronaldo be the player is he now had he opted to remain with Sporting Lisbon? The same could be said for van Nistelrooy at PSV Eindhoven and most certainly of Sanchez at Cobreloa.
However, for one reason or another England’s best always opt to remain in the Premier League, and it’s even the case for less-established players in the lower realms of the top flight and the Championship. At the height of their powers Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Wayne Rooney could have all left England, but opted to remain with Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester United respectively for the prime years of their careers.
Gerrard and Lampard departed to the MLS at the end of their time at the top, while Rooney has been linked with a switch to the Chinese Super League.
He resisted a move earlier this year in order to help Jose Mourinho’s men in their push for Champions League football, with United currently backed by Paddy Power at 9/5 to finish in the top four this term. Will the 31-year-old remains or not at Old Trafford…? His career has been symptomatic of English players since the inception of the Premier League to not move abroad.
Paul Gascoigne and David Platt made headlines when they moved to Italy during the 90s and both enjoyed relative success in Serie with Lazio and Sampdoria respectively. Gary Lineker was a vital player for Barcelona for three seasons at the peak of his career before moving back to England with Tottenham Hotspur.
The forward adapted to the playing style, culture and broke down the language barrier to thrive, while also enjoying his time with England, coming within striking distance of Sir Bobby Charlton’s all-time goalscoring record.
Although Rooney and Lampard along with Gerrard to a degree have had a great deal of success in the domestic game in this country, moving aboard may have taken their games to the next level.
Even more valuably, it would have given them experience of a different league and system to take into the England set-up – where the Three Lions underperformed massively on the big stage.
It’s unfair to lay the blame directly at star men – as hundreds of capable English players seem reluctant to move aboard. Whether it’s the lifestyle or fear of the language barrier there has not been an exodus of mid-level players.
Matt Derbyshire, who played for the England Under-21s, gave it a go at Olympiacos for two seasons before returning. The 30-year-old now plays for Cypriot side Omonia Nicosia and has performed well for the team since leaving Rotherham United at the end of last season.
Joe Hart’s move to Torino was refreshing, although he has had an inconsistent time in Serie A. Should he make the switch a permanent one and succeed, it could start a revolution of England players starting to embrace a potential switch abroad.
Real Madrid have been touted with a move for Dele Alli and considering how a move to the Bernabeu has taken Gareth Bale’s game to new heights – it makes an intriguing prospect of how the 20-year-old could thrive in La Liga.
It will not be easy to see English players drift away from the riches of the Premier League, especially in light of new television deals offering greater riches. However, it might just take one player to kickstart a refreshing trend.