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Rediff.com  » Sports » Can Beckham end the myth of the Brit abroad?

Can Beckham end the myth of the Brit abroad?

June 13, 2003 13:27 IST
England captain David Beckham's potential move to Spain or Italy could be the biggest risk of his career.

Some of the most successful players in British football, such as 1960s striker Jimmy Greaves, the prolific Liverpool forward Ian Rush and former Manchester United favourite Denis Law, were unable to make the transition to the continent.

David BeckhamThe liberalisation of the transfer market in Europe has meant players have chosen to take advantage of higher wages outside their own countries with record numbers of foreign players in the major leagues.

But while there have been Dutch colonies in Barcelona and Milan, Frenchmen have set up camp at Liverpool and Arsenal and South Americans can be found at all levels of Spanish and Italian football, the English have stayed at home.

Paul Ince was the last England international to move to Italy's Serie A back in 1995 and Steve McManaman the most recent to try his luck in Spain when he joined Real Madrid four years ago.

The view that Premier League footballers, like the country's real ales, do not travel well appeared to be confirmed by Irish international Robbie Keane's brief and unsuccessful spell with Inter Milan three years ago which echoed former England defender Des Walker's disappointment at Sampdoria.

The popular view is that as well as struggling with different tactical approaches to the game, British players are unable to cope with the change of lifestyle and language when they move abroad.

Rush's often mocked comment that life in Italy was "foreign" and Paul Gascoigne's infamous burp into a microphone while a Lazio player are highlighted as examples of how unsuited British players are to the supposedly more sophisticated demands of continental life.

LANGUAGE SKILLS

But there have been plenty of others players for whom a move abroad proved to be a positive and defining moment in their lives.

When England's under-21 side played their Italian counterparts last season, English coach David Platt relished the post-match interview as a chance to show off his language skills.

He may not have been his country's greatest export but he was so respected after his spells with Bari, Juventus and Sampdoria that he was even offered the chance to coach the Genoa side.

Former England striker Luther Blisset is likely to finish high in any poll on AC Milan's worst foreign players but Ray Wilkins, Joe Jordan and Mark Hateley were considered worthwhile acquisitions by the club and adapted well to life on the peninsular.

Ex-Arsenal and Ireland midfielder Liam Brady, Scot Graeme Souness and former England striker Trevor Francis are all remembered with fondness by Sampdoria fans and Welshman John Charles would command a place in a Juventus 'Hall of Fame'.

Charles was the first big British export when he moved to Juventus in 1957 and he scored 93 goals in 155 games, helping the club to win three Serie A titles.

Beckham's most likely destination is Spain though, with Barcelona and Real Madrid the clubs reported to be chasing his signature.

While there have been fewer precedents, the Spanish experience of British players is not all negative.

Welshman Mark Hughes never settled at Barcelona but Englishman Gary Lineker scored 44 goals in 99 games during his three seasons with the club in the late 1980s after replacing Scottish striker Steve Archibald who had helped the club to the title.

CULTURE CRITICAL

Lineker recently offered some advice to Beckham, based on his own experience.

"Immersing yourself in the culture is critical to making it work abroad," he wrote in the Sunday Telegraph.

"The language is important because a football dressing-room can be a lonely place if you cannot communicate with team mates."

Some players have immersed themselves so far that they have never managed to return to their homeland.

After injury ended his career with Spanish club Osasuna, former Liverpool forward Michael Robinson became one of the country's leading television pundits -- a role he still enjoys.

But if Beckham is looking for an example of a player of similar status to himself, who dominated the headlines and the sponsorship deals in England yet still managed to cope with a move abroad, he need only visit United's rivals Manchester City.

Current City manager Kevin Keegan was the Beckham of his era, one of the first 'soccer superstars' in the 1970s, and there was scepticism about his wisdom in leaving Liverpool in 1977 for Bundesliga club Hamburg.

But Keegan was twice voted European Player of the Year during his time with Hamburg -- an honour he was unable to claim while at Anfield.

What better incentive could there be for Beckham, who has won everything that counts with United, to take a step to debunk the myth of the English footballer abroad?

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