Matt, Macca & Johnny Foreigner

His dream of playing for his hometown club in ruins, Matt Derbyshire has done a very brave thing, effectively engineering a move to Olympiakos.

Ignored in Blackburn, adored in Athens, the promising 22-year-old is setting an example many other English footballers should follow – for their own good and the good of the game.

The narrative of Britain’s football industry in the 20th century bears certain similarities to the story of British shipbuilding and steel.

Where once we led the world, exporting to all four corners of the globe, we now rely on imports.

And our frustration at this state of affairs leaves us, too often, xenophobic and insular, an attitude brilliantly caught by Simon Barnes in The Times, commenting on Big Phil’s demise:

“You may be good enough for Brazil, but if you think you’re good enough for Chelsea, you got another think coming.

"You come here with your fancy talk about winning the World Cup, but what about the Carling Cup, eh? How many times have you won that?”

Greek god: Matt Derbyshire

Buccaneers and pioneers...

It wasn’t always like this. British sailors introduced football to countries as diverse as Brazil, Iran and Spain.

In the late 19th and early 20th century, a buccaneering, hardy breed of British coaches like William Garbutt, Jimmy Hogan, Fred Pentland and James Richardson Spensley popularised British methods on the continent.

Garbutt, a right-winger for Arsenal, managed abroad (mostly in Italy) for 35 years. His Genoa players called him “Mister” and the title stuck – for Garbutt and every coach in Italy.

Rejected by the English game, Hogan collaborated with Hugo Meisl to create the glory that was Austria’s Wunderteam in the 1930s and influenced the football played by the Hungary side that beat England 6-3 and 7-1 in 1953 and 1954 respectively.

The next two generations of coaches – men like Vic Buckingham, Dave Mackay, Gordon Milne and, later, Terry Venables and Bobby Robson – were happy to make their mark abroad, winning honours in Egypt, Holland, Portugal, Spain and Turkey.

Yet when Steve McClaren took on the Twente job, he was derided in the parochial British media, as if he had voluntarily gone into exile purely to escape the “wally with the brolly” jibes.

His move showed guts. Too many of McClaren’s contemporaries are content, after a setback, to scale down their ambitions to the pundit’s couch.

Hungary run riot in '53 

British players have not traditionally been terrifically adventurous.

But with, according to Fabio Capello, only 35 percent of Premier League players born in England, that attitude must change.

If this percentage remains constant, there will be over 300 squad places unavailable to English players who will face a stark choice: resign themselves to the fact that the Championship is the best they can hope for or move abroad. 

Model behaviour...

It’s not just about the players. Developing football nations and clubs usually adapt and adopt a strategy that has succeeded elsewhere.

Over the last 30 years, the most influential models have been:

Brazil (popular in Turkey, the Middle East, Japan, Russia, South Africa, Uzbekistan – and, briefly, Chelsea),

Germany (Greece, the Middle East, Kazakhstan and certain parts of Africa),

Holland (Austria, Barcelona, Germany, Russia, South Korea – and, briefly, Chelsea)

...and Italy (England, Ireland, Spain, Switzerland – and, now, Chelsea).

After les Bleus’ 1998 World Cup win, the French model was briefly in vogue, especially in England, but – apart from Arsene Wenger – the Gallic school remains only really influential in Africa.

Nobody follows the English model because there isn’t one anymore.

France batter the Samba Boys in '98 

The rest of Europe respects the Premier League’s wealth, profile and passion – but doesn’t look to England for ideas that will shape the future of the game.

Does this matter? For British players and coaches, it certainly does because it will affect their livelihood.

Besides, the British game is not so perfect that it couldn’t be improved with a few clever ideas from abroad.

And the best English players and coaches may learn from that trade in ideas. The Premier League may even benefit because, as Florentino Perez is showing, it cannot count on wealth as its competitive edge forever.

Even if England do win the 2010 World Cup, it will, sadly, be regarded as a victory for the Italian school of football.

When Capello’s home country appoints an Englishman to coach a top-flight club, the country that invented the modern game will, once again, be able to claim that it is influential as well as rich.

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