Ranked! The 15 greatest British footballing exports EVER
It is, apparently, a great time to be anywhere but England. Not since the early '90s have so many players left English football behind, and younger than ever before.
Ademola Lookman, Reece Oxford, Chris Willock – the list of under-21s with wanderlust last season grew alongside their opportunities. Teenager Marcus McGuane made his Barcelona debut a few weeks after leaving Arsenal’s academy. At Borussia Dortmund, Jadon Sancho turned the heads of fans, scouts and bewildered Bundesliga defenders before he could legally drink in the UK (although, conveniently, he could in Germany).
These youngsters are taking bold steps – but they’re not the first. Ever since Scottish textile worker Thomas Donohoe introduced the game to Brazil in 1894, where it was popularised by Brazil-born Anglo-Scot Charles Miller, British footballers have been playing abroad. The 15 we’re about to name are the pick of the bunch in terms of reputation overseas.
Football in the UK is comparatively insular, yet enough players have spread their wings for this countdown to omit some big names. In whittling it down, we lost Owen Hargreaves (a great success at Bayern Munich but not really a British export, having emigrated directly from Canada to Germany), Paul Gascoigne (who never got to show Lazio his true worth) and Bradley Wright-Phillips (one of the all-time top scorers in MLS; however, we’re focusing on elite leagues).
We begin with a man who proved it can take just one afternoon to become a club legend.
15. Mark Hateley
Detroit Express 1980, Milan 1984-87, Monaco 1987-90
If Rossoneri fans had to define the three English strikers in AC Milan’s history as The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, then Mark Hateley would lead the line.
Luther Blissett (Bad) and Jimmy Greaves (Ugly) both became infamous for off-field reasons: Greaves’ six-month stay brought eight goals in 10 Serie A games but primarily fallouts and boozing, while the lesser Blissett became an alter ego for underground social activists. Obviously.
Hateley, though, is remembered for something he did on the pitch. His arrival from second-tier strugglers Portsmouth indicates Milan’s level in 1984, and it had been six long years since they’d beaten arch-rivals Inter. Cue Hateley climbing to power a header past Walter Zenga for an iconic winner. Hateley still appears on the odd Curva Sud banner on derby day, sadly unaccompanied by his Milan team-mate, Ray Wilkins.
14. John Collins
Thierry Henry, Fabien Barthez, Emmanuel Petit, David Trezeguet… when Monaco reached the 1996/97 Champions League semi-finals and won Ligue 1 by 12 points, they set up the 1998 World Cup very nicely. Sure enough, Monaco’s John Collins scored in France 98’s opening game.
The Scot ran their midfield after leaving Celtic in Britain’s first major Bosman transfer. Celtic asked for compensation by saying Monaco isn’t a country, which Collins’ agent called “a nice try”.
13. Gerry Hitchens
Inter 1961-62, Torino 1962-65, Atalanta 1965-67, Cagliari 1967-69
A former coal miner called Gerald Archibald Hitchens doesn’t sound like someone who’d move to Italy. That’s what Alf Ramsey thought, anyway.
Hitchens swapped Aston Villa for Inter after scoring twice as England beat Italy 3-2 in Rome, then netted in the 1962 World Cup quarter-final, but never represented his nation again as Ramsey replaced Walter Winterbottom in charge. Serie A was the world’s strongest league, producing four of the 1960s’ 10 European Cup winners, but for Ramsey, the centre-forward with five goals in seven caps was out of sight and therefore out of mind. When Hitchens drove to meet a travelling Ramsey in Milan, the manager replied: “Oh yes, you’re playing in these parts.”
Unlike Jimmy Greaves, his secret drinking partner away from the eyes of Milan and Inter fans, Hitchens stuck it out in Italy and succeeded. Sadly, he ended his international career in doing so.
12. Paul Lambert
Borussia Dortmund 1996-97
One year… but what a year. Paul Lambert spent two decades playing in Scotland either side of a brief stint with Dortmund, in which BVB happened to win their only Champions League title.
Lambert would later admit to self-doubt upon arriving at Dortmund: “I saw the players… he’d won Serie A; he’d won the World Cup; he’d won the European Championship… and I’m coming on a free transfer from Motherwell. I was worth a bottle of Coke. Jesus!” But Lambert was no passenger. In the Champions League Final, he kept a tight leash on Zinedine Zidane of Juventus and set up Dortmund’s first goal in a 3-1 win. Then, job done, he returned to Scotland.
11. David Platt
Bari 1991-92, Juventus 1992-93, Sampdoria 1993-95
After two years in which you’ve won PFA Player of the Year, scored 38 league goals from Aston Villa’s midfield and starred in a World Cup, where else is there to go but Bari? Platt was immediately installed as captain, only to quickly learn why they’d been battling relegation. Bari didn’t win a game until January and went down with the midfielder scoring 11 of their 26 goals.
A move to Juventus didn’t work out, but after two years of Roberto Mancini straight-up stalking him (“He’d tracked my number from somewhere… every two weeks he’d be on the phone, pressing me”), Platt joined Sampdoria and excelled alongside Mancini, Ruud Gullit and Attilio Lombardo, finishing third and winning the Coppa Italia.
The club haven’t bettered that campaign in the 25 years since – especially not in 1998/99, when Platt returned as their unofficial manager, signed Lee Sharpe and quit before they were relegated. When Trevor Francis and Graeme Souness secured hero status a decade earlier by helping Samp to win their first silverware, they had the sense not to come back and ruin it.