Alright, British football isn’t exactly well known for its foreign exports. These days it’s pretty rare for a home grown hero to be in high demand overseas, and with Premier league clubs offering their players hefty cash incentives those which are beckoned by foreign sides aren’t all that tempted to go. But this wasn’t always the case and some British sporting legends have managed to make a name for themselves both at home and away.
This is our pick of the best British expat footballers!
Although the Welsh striker saw significant success when playing for Liverpool in the 1980’s and 90’s his time with top Italian club Juventus was not so distinguished. During that era tight defences meant that strikers often scored fewer goals in Italy than in England, but in 29 games Rush scored a paltry 8 times. The most memorable thing to have come from his time abroad was a quote that has passed into legend. Rush found it hard to acclimatise when he lived in Turin and (although he now denies it) he was said to remark at the time ‘it’s like living in a foreign country.’
Yes, before he joined forces with Lionel Richie to sell crisps to the nation Gary Lineker was actually a footballer – and a pretty good one at that. After beginning his career with Leicester City Lineker built up a reputation as a phenomenal goal scorer. In 1984-85 he finished the season as the First Divisions joint top goal scorer and to this day only Bobby Charlton has ever scored more goals for England. After a spell with Everton Lineker swapped the UK for Spain and helped Barcelona win the Copa del Rey and the European Cup Winners Cup. He returned to England towards the close of the 1980’s and joined Tottenham Hotspur but played the final minutes of his sporting career as an expat with the Japanese side Nagoya Grampus.
This iconic footballer is often most remembered for his interesting hair and his time with UK teams Liverpool and Newcastle. However, many would argue that Keegan reached the pinnacle of his career when he joined West German giants Hamburger SV in 1977. At the time his fee of £500,000 was a German record and big things were expected of the man with the big hair. He didn’t disappoint. In his three years leading the forward line for the club Hamburger reached a European Cup Final and won their first Bundesliga title. Keegan was the only British player to ever win the Ballon d’Or Europe’s Best Player Award for two consecutive years. He was a huge hit with Hamburg fans and they christened the Brit ‘Mighty Mouse’.
In the 1990’s Serie A was considered by many to be the best football league in the world and top players in every nation were eager to be part of the action. Paul Ince was one Brit who saw success during this period. Ince began his sometimes controversial career with West Ham but to the intense anger of his fans he went on to sign with Manchester United. Although Ince was a key component in United’s 1994 double-winning side Alex Ferguson notoriously dubbed him a ‘big time Charlie’ when he transferred to Internazionale Milano FC. Although he initially found it difficult to settle in Italy his work ethic was commended and he really did impress. Although no trophies were won during his time in Milan they weren’t far off, his team famously lost on penalties in the UEFA Cup final against Schalke. On his return from Italy it appeared Ince still remembered the ‘big time Charlie’ comment as he joined Manchester United’s firm rivals Liverpool.
When it comes to British sporting legends Beckham’s up there with Sir Steve Redgrave and Johnny Wilkinson. Although there have been some significant lows in his eventful career Beckham’s four seasons with Real Madrid were a high point. He started out with Manchester United aged just 17 and during his time with the heavy weight club they won the UEFA Champions League, the FA Cup twice and the Premier League title six times. Beckham left Real Madrid a Spanish star after helping the team to the league title and his globetrotting didn’t end there. In 2007 he signed a five year contract with L.A. Galaxy. Recently Beckham’s exclusion from the English Olympic squad caused outcries from his fans who felt it would have been the ideal way for the renowned player to end his international career.