British players abroad remain relatively rare in club football and even fewer have flourished, however there are ten that took clubs across Europe by storm.
10. Glenn Hoddle- Monaco (1987-1991)
The most technically gifted English player of his generation left Tottenham for AS Monaco in 1987. Under the tutelage of Arsene Wenger, Hoddle found French football more suited to his creative play and was voted the best foreign player in France as he won the only league title of his career in 1988. Wenger reinvented Hoddle as a sweeper and another excellent season followed as Hoddle smashed 20 goals as Monaco made the European Cup quarter-finals.
Sadly a serious knee injury wrote off the last two years of his career in France and Hoddle returned to England as Swindon player manager. Like much of Hoddle’s career there’s an element of what might have been to his French adventure but he made a huge impression in France and would later face Wenger in the dug-out of the North London derby.
9. Paul Lambert- Borussia Dortmund (1996-97)
Dortmund manager Ottmar Hitzfeld raised plenty of eyebrows when he signed Motherwell midfielder Paul Lambert. The Scottish international had impressed the visionary manager in the previous season’s UEFA Cup and Hitzfeld deployed Lambert in a holding midfield role. Lambert proved pivotal as Dortmund progressed through the Champions League, shutting down Manchester United in the semi-final. In the final, Lambert shadowed and stopped the world’s best player in Zinedine Zidane; setting up Dortmund’s opening goal as Hitzfeld’s team pulled off a stunning 3-1 win.
Lambert retuned to Scotland the following November with his Champions League heroics earning him a move to Celtic. Lambert spent only 18 months with Dortmund but returned home the first British player to lift the European Cup with a foreign team and the first to win the trophy in the Champions League era.
8. Gary Lineker- Barcelona (1986-89) & Grampus 8 (1992-94)
After winning the Mexico ’86 golden boot Gary Lineker was hot property and his fellow Englishman Terry Venables won the race for his signature for Barcelona. Lineker was an instant hit at the Camp Nou, poaching a hat trick in the Classico and finished his debut season with 21 goals. He also put four past Barca keeper Andoni Zubizaretta as England beat Spain 4-2 in Madrid.
His second season saw Lineker’s penalty box instincts plunder another 20 goals as Barca won the Copa del Rey. However, his third season in Spain saw the arrival of Johan Cryuff and Lineker was moved to the right of midfield, but still won the European Cup Winners Cup and score another 11 goals. Seeing his opportunities at Barca limited, Lineker returned to England and it was Venables again who signed him, this for Tottenham. After another successful World Cup and spell in North London, Lineker decided to conclude his career in Japan with two seasons with Nagoya Grampus Eight.
7. Owen Hargreaves- Bayern Munich (1997-2007)
Hargreaves was talent spotted in Canada as a 16-year-old by Bayern Munich, who signed him to their under 19s. Three years later Hargreaves made his Bundesliga debut and as the 2000-01 season moved on he became increasingly prominent for Bayern. He started the 2001 Champions League final in addition to winning his first Bundesliga.
Hargreaves quickly established himself as a regular for the Bavarian giants, his work rate, pace and hard tackling winning appreciation amongst Bayern fans. The next four seasons saw Bayern win three Bundesliga and Pokal doubles with Hargreaves key in the midfield engine room. Scepticism in England saw protests at Hargreaves’ selection for the 2006 World Cup, but the midfielder responded with an excellent tournament and being named England’s player of the year. That finally opened the door to a move to Manchester United, although injuries curtailed his Premier League career. That’s not before he’d played and won a second Champions League final and claimed a Premier League winner’s medal.
6. Steve McManaman- Real Madrid (1999-2003)
When McManaman joined Real Madrid in the summer of 1999 almost every pundit tipped him to fail at a club riddled with debt and political infighting, exemplified by the manager who’d signed him being dismissed before McManaman had kicked a ball. However ‘Macca’ was an instant hit, setting up a late equaliser on his debut, scored on his home bow and was quickly established as a fans favourite and key dressing room presence.
His career defining match came in the 2000 Champions League final as he turned in a match winning performance and grabbed the crucial second goal in a 3-0 win over Valencia. As Real emabarked on the Galacticos era McManaman remained prominent in the team, a surprising versatility proving the key to his longevity at the Bernabeu as 2001 saw him win his first La Liga title. The following season saw a second Champions League win, although McManaman was only a substitute in the final. By the 2002-03 season, McManaman was a squad player, although he still turned in some memorable European performances and finally returned to England in the summer of 2003. Former manager Vincent Del Bosque has consistently stated his admiration for McManaman as Real fans consider a club legend.
5. Jadon Sancho- Borussia Dortmund (2017-Present)
Sancho started at Watford before moving to Manchester City’s academy side and first came to prominence as the stand out player at the Euro Under 17s of 2017, with his rare combination of electric pace and dazzling trickery. However, Sancho feared his pathway to first team football was blocked at City, and was signed by Dortmund for £7.5million.
His first season was interrupted by injury but before it concluded he’d broken into the first team and scored his first senior goal. At the start of last season Sancho quickly pushed Christian Pulisic out of the first eleven, finishing the season with 12 goals and a league high 18 assists as Dortmund pushed Bayern close for the title. He was quickly elevated to the England first team and has dispelled fears of a second season slump with 16 goals and 17 assists in all competitions. Major honours have so far eluded him, but aged just 20 Sancho has the world at his feet.
4. Gareth Bale- Real Madrid (2013- Present)
The most devicive player on this list is inevitably Bale. Having twice being voted footballer of the year in England, Bale moved to Real Madrid for a then record £85million fee. The start of his time at the Bernabeu was hampered by injury but by the end of his first season the B-B-C frontline was established. A successful first season was capped by lifting the Champions League and it seemed Bale was a success. Two more hugely impressive seasons followed as Bale amassed 58 goals in his first three years, adding another Champions League win and producing an outstanding tournament with Wales at Euro 2016.
Then the injury problems began to mount and despite winning a La Liga title and the Champions League final in his hometown, Bale wasn’t a key figure. The 2018-19 season saw improvements in Bale’s fitness and goalscoring but again he started the Champions League final on the bench. With the final delicately poised Bale was brought off the Madrid bench and within minutes struck the best goal in final history with a stunning bicycle kick before adding a fortunate third to secure the cup.
That goal should have cemented Bale’s legacy at the club, but his perceived lack of commitment and breakdown in relationship with Zidane has permanently soured his on/off relationship with Real fans. Statistically Bale has been a phenomenal success at the Bernabeu having scored over 100 goals and won 12 medals, but the breakdown in his relationship with the the club will also form part of his legacy.
3. Chris Waddle- Marseille (1989-92)
Marseille stated their ambitions when in the summer of 1989 they paid £4.5million for Tottenham winger Chris Waddle, a then record fee for a British player. Like his old Spurs teammate Glenn Hoddle, Waddle was far more appreciated in Lique 1 than the more prosaic English First Division. His vision and flair quickly earned him the nickname ‘Magic Chris’ as Marseille stormed to the Lique 1 crown in Waddle’s first season, their most potent weapon proving to be Waddle’s crosses and through balls for Jean-Pierre Papin.
After returning from the 1990 World Cup, Waddle enjoyed the best season of his career winning a place in FIFA’s World 11 as Marseille secured another league title and made it to the European Cup final. However despite dominating the final against Red Star Belgrade, Marseille were frustrated into a 0-0 and a year on from Turin, Waddle suffered another agonising defeat on penalties. He stayed for a third season, impressing again and winning a third league title, but by the summer the team was evolving and both Waddle and Papin left in the summer of 1992. Waddle returned to England with Sheffield Wednesday and was voted PFA player of the year aged 32. When Marseille fans voted for their player of the 20th century, Waddle polled second, testament to his impact in the South of France.
2. Kevin Keegan- SV Hamburg (1977-80)
Kevin Keegan shocked English football when he left all-conquering Liverpool for a new life with ambitious West German side SV Hamburg. Things didn’t start well for Keegan in the Bundesliga, his arrival pushing the popular Horst Blankenburg out of the side due to foreign player restrictions. Things got worse with a red card in a midseason friendly landing him an 8 week ban, but it proved a turning point. Keegan made the effort to integrate on and off the pitch and won over his teammates. Dubbed ‘Mighty Mouse’ Keegan’s form picked up and although Hamburg finished just tenth in 77-78 the Englishman picked up the Ballon d’Or.
In his second season the influence of new manager Branko Zebec proved vital as Keegan propelled Hamburg to their first Bundesliga title since 1960. Keegan scored 17 goals from midfield and won his second straight Ballon d’Or, making himself a club legend. In his third and final season with Hamburg, Keegan was again the key man as Hamburg fought out a close title race with Bayern Munich and made it to the European Cup Final. Bayern edged the title race and despite dominating the European Cup Final, Hamburg were beaten 1-0 in Keegan’s final game for the club. Keegan then shocked English football yet again by unexpectedly joining Southampton.
In his three years in Germany Keegan set the template for a successful spell abroad for British players, he remains the only British player to win the Ballon d’Or twice.
1. John Charles- Juventus (1957-62) & Roma (1962-63)
The greatest British player abroad is football’s ‘Gentle Giant’ John Charles. Charles came to prominence as Leeds United’s first great player and his exploits won him a move to Juventus for a British record £65,000. Charles’ initial impact in Serie A was sensational, he scored the winning goal in his first three games. His first season saw him win the golden boot with 28 goals and secure the Scudetto for Juventus. Charles’ combination of physical strength and skill was imposing yet his character remarkably cool, never retaliating to rogue tackling and the black arts, instead playing with a level of sportsmanship rarely seen before or since. In the Juve attack he established the ‘holy trident’ alongside Giampiero Boniperti and Omar Sivori, an almost unplayable trio.
Charles spent the summer playing for Wales at their only World Cup finals appearance, injury denying him a place in the quarter-final against Pele’s Brazil. Juventus suffered a poor start to the next season but Charles was again on form, scoring another 19 goals as Juventus won the Coppa Italia. With his contract running down, Charles was valued at a world record fee but opted to stay in Turin. It was a decision that paid dividends the next season as Charles and Sivori hit a combined 50 goals to reclaim the Serie A title. In the Coppa Italia final Charles hit a brace to take the match in extra time from where Juve clinched the domestic double.
A third title in four seasons followed in 1961 and Charles finished his Juventus career with 108 goals from 155 games, a remarkable strike rate in Italy. Charles made a brief return to Leeds and then had a short stint at Roma before playing on in the lower divisions. Charles is widely considered the best import in Juventus’ history ahead of Zidane, Platini and Ronaldo. More than half a century after his last game for the club and 16 years on from his death John Charles remains a Juventus icon.