"Who is best foreigner to have played in England other than myself? No, sorry, I canÃ¢ÂÂt think of anyone better than me. Only joking. There are so many. I couldnÃ¢ÂÂt pick one."
Gianfranco Zola may not want to put his neck on the line, but here at FourFourTwo we're only too happy to hold ourselves up to abuse and ridicule in the name of discussion. Which is why our new issue (on sale now) showcases our choice of the 100 Greatest Foreign Players in British football... ever.
Zola: "I canÃ¢ÂÂt think of anyone better than me"
From Kasey Keller (with the dubious distinction of being our No.100) via Shaun Goater, Ossie Ardiles and George Robledo (what do you mean, who?, he's No.16) all the way through to our No.1, there are enough talking points to fill up a year in Westminster (ideally with a similar amount of booze but rather less mumbled 'Here, heres').
But to whet your appetite, a few intriguing facts about foreigners in British football Ã¢ÂÂ starting with the answer posed in this month's editor's letter:
Q: Which 12 foreign footballers played in the first round of Premier League games in 1992?
A: Anders Limpar, John Jensen, Peter Schmeichel, Andrei Kanchelskis, Robert Warzycha, Craig Forrest, Eric Cantona, Ronnie Rosenthal, Michel Vonk, Gunnar Halle, Roland Nilsson and Hans Segers.
As a comparison, 127 foreign players appeared in the Premier League fixtures for the weekend of February 9-11 2008 with a further 28 unused substitutes. This season routinely nearly 60% of players starting Premier League matches on any particular weekend have been foreign.
Q: Can you name the first all-foreign XI to appear in the British football?
A: Not Arsene Wenger's Arsenal, but Gianluca Vialli's Chelsea for their game against Southampton at The Dell on December 26 1999. The starting XI was: De Goey, Petrescu, Thome, Leboeuf, Babayaro, Ferrer, Deschamps, Poyet, Di Matteo, Ambrosetti, Flo. Jody Morris and Jon Harley did come off the bench.
Q: How about the first all-foreign squad in British football?
A: This time it is Arsene Wenger's garcons. On February 14 2005 for Arsenal's match against Crystal Palace, he selected: Lehmann, Lauren, Toure, Cygan, Clichy, Pires (Fabregas), Vieira, Edu (Flamini), Reyes, Bergkamp (van Persie), Henry. Subs not used: Almunia, Senderos.
Q: When was the last time an all-English starting XI was fielded in a Premier League match?
A: As recently as May 7 2006, when Steve McClaren selected this (spectacularly unglamorous) side in his final Premier League game in charge of Middlesbrough: Turnbull, Davies, Bates, Wheater, Taylor, Morrison, Kennedy (Cooper 85), Cattermole, Christie (Walker 62), Graham (Craddock 81), Johnson. Subs Not Used: Knight, McMahon.
In fact 15 of the 16 players in the squad were born within 30 miles of the club (striker Malcolm Christie was the exception). Lest we give the Umbrella Man too much credit, however, it should be noted that Boro were resting players before the UEFA Cup Final three days later. The starting XI against Sevilla included five Englishmen: Southgate, Riggott, Morrison, Downing and Parnaby.
Middlesbrough's all-English XI against Fulham in 2006
The last side to regularly field an all-English XI were Aston Villa in the 1998/99 season. On February 27 1999, Villa named an all-English XI and used three English subs in a 4-1 home defeat to Coventry. That side was: Oakes, Wright, Southgate, Watson (Barry), Scimeca, Taylor (Draper, Collymore), Merson, Grayson, Hendrie, Dublin, Joachim.
The May issue of FourFourTwo is on sale now. Alongside the 100 Best Foreigners, it includes exclusive interviews with UEFA Big Cheese Michel Platini, Nani and Les Dennis, plus the story of Rochdale's 34-year wait for promotion or relegation, our dramatic re-telling of the FA Cup semi-finals of 1990 and Martin Allen on the joys of gardening.