CURRENT NO. OF ENGLISH PLAYERS: 8
UEFA COEFFICIENT: 6th – 47.349 points
A lack of maturity, a penchant for causing trouble and the inability to adapt. There are a myriad of attributes English footballers are labelled with to account an apparent reluctance to move abroad. The following article is the first segment of a series of articles that detail the stories, development and relationship between English footballers, currently and formerly plying their trade outside of the British Isles.
An egregious red card decision followed by an The Office-esque wink into the camera. English faces redder than Cristiano Ronaldo’s 2006 Portugal Jersey. Many an Englishman and English woman could recall the two year spell in which bound Portugal and England together in footballing history.
A familiar scythe would glisten and swing through England’s merriment during Euro 2004; The penalty shoot-out. A convoluted 2-2 draw reduced to 12 yard spot-kicks was only heading towards one outcome for England fans. Sudden death. Tears. While many struggle to recall David Beckham’s ballooning wayward penalty, it would be a young Darius Vassell that became fates victim. Portugal goalkeeper, Ricardo, decided to go gloveless for the first penalty of sudden death. Lauded by many as the height of confidence, for others, a besmirchment to the game as an act of treacherous sportsmanship. No prizes for guessing the side of England fans, as the ball left Vassell’s laces, flying through the air of inevitability, before it was palmed away by the barehanded chancer. What wasn’t quite so inevitable, was Ricardo then slotting away a sudden death winner with aplomb. As one can imagine, this caused quite a furore on English shores.
Wayne Rooney’s controversial red card two years later at the 2006 World Cup, several hard faced managers and the Portuguese Colony of Wolverhampton; Other potential intertwining links between the two countries are tenuous. However, with the number of young English players taking international voyage in search for playing time, several have chosen Portugal as their destination.
Between the years 1982 and 2020, a total of 13 Englishmen, other than those today, have made the switch over to the Iberian Peninsula. However, a mere two of these moved post 1998, feeding in to the fabled stereotype of British home-birds.
A fair trade. In return for the folklore of Cristiano Ronaldo, Bernado Silva and Bruno Fernandes, when looking for a an English equivalent one can turn to … Eric Dier, and well. Thats it. The most capped England international to play in Portugal, after Eric Dier’s 45, is Brian Deane with a meagre, yet respectable 3.
BENFICA’S BRITISH REVOLUTION
Deane swapped Yorkshire for Lisbon, moving from Sheffield United to Benfica in 1998 joining what was dubbed the ‘British Revolution‘. In an unlikely marriage, manager, Graeme Sounnes sought after a number of British names as well as Deane. Gary Charles, Dean Saunders, Mark Pembridge, Michael Thomas and Steve Harkness joined in what was a pittance of a ‘revolution’. A cluster of messes; at a time when Harkness donned just ‘Steve’ on the back of his shirt, Graeme Souness would deem a 21 year-old Deco not good enough, even after a successful loan spell with Alverica. Deco would subsequently make his way to Salguieros in a swap deal for Portuguese winger, Nandinho. Deco then signed for arch-rivals FC Porto, won 3 Primera Liga titles, and a Champions League in which he provided the highest number of assists. Nanindho would play for Benfica 4 times.
The Benfiquista’s were not happy with regular jeers drowning out the announcement of team sheets, particularly towards the journeying Brits. The club had diverged away from their usual footballing philosophy. The product was more a Four-Pack-of-Carling than champagne football; ‘We’re not in Brazil now!’, lambasted Souness towards a young Nuno Gomes for using the outside of his foot.
In summary, A trophyless one-and-a-half years saw Souness’ waved out of the Estadio da Luz with thousands of handkerchiefs, in mockery.
CURRENT ENGLISH PLAYERS
THE VITORIA GUIMARAES GANG: Vitoria Guimaraes lead the way in terms of English recruitment. The club have the second youngest average age in the Primera Liga behind Familicao at 24.4 years old. With 71% of the squad being made up by foreign imports, the strategy is clear; target young talented English players with no pathway into the first team.
Impressively, one wing is flanked by the once-prodigious Portuguese enigma Ricardo Quaresma, while adjacently one can find former Golden Boy nominee, Marcus Edwards. Both players rotate with another of Vitoria’s standouts, Rochina. All three players are versatile enough to play and rotate in any of the front three positions
Edwards, 22, left Tottenham in 2019 after amassing a grand total of 0 league minutes for Mauricio Pochettino’s side, despite the Argentine likening him to a young Lionel Messi due to his dribbling trickery and low centre of gravity. He did, although, play 7 minutes for Norwich in the Championship. Edwards has been somewhat of a coup for the Northern Portuguese side, having represented England at every youth level up until the u20’s, arriving at The Conquerors on a free transfer. Edwards has since monstered his minutes garnered in England with an impressive 2893 minutes in a season and half.
The Enfield born winger has only just turned 22, and is for the first time in his career, getting regular minutes as one the main protagonists in a team. One can’t help but think that with the way Gareth Bale’s season has gone, his minutes may have been better used elsewhere. There is still every chance that Marcus Edwards will take his maverick and trickery to Europe’s top 5 leagues. Joao Henrique’s 4-3-3 with emphasis on wing play, provides a kind environment for Edwards to develop, as Edwards leads the way for dribbles this season for Vitoria at 2.3 a game, while placing only 11th for key passes at 0.4.
Fast forward 4 months to the January transfer window and fellow Englishman, centreback Easah Suliman, 22, joined Edwards. Suliman found himself in a similar position of frustration having played 0 minutes in the league for Aston Villa. Coincidentally, the pair have played together throughout the England set ups, up from U16’s to U20’s. Arriving for an undisclosed fee, it took a long bedding in process for Suliman to assert himself in to the Vitoria team, making debut some 4 months after he joined, and becoming the first player Pakistani decent to feature in the Primera Liga. Already improvement. Already development. Suliman has already played 576 Primera Liga minutes this turn, after a debut 417 Minutes. Precious minutes that are increasingly hard to mine in England.
England U19, Euro 2017 winners are becoming a commodity in Northern Portugal. Jacob Maddox joins from churning machine that is the Chelsea academy without a taste of senior football. Perhaps suffering from his versatility, yet to find a ‘home’ on the football field. A period of climatization is in order, as we draw parallels with Suliman, minutes have been scarce. It is right wing where Maddox has occupied when given game time though, playing a sincere 107 minutes of football. With the player also able to play in the centre of midfield, more minutes are expected over the course of the season.
FC PORTO (KIND OF): FC Porto’s English experiments are significantly more ambitious. Danny Loader, 20, signed for FC Porto in Summer 2020, joining up with FC Porto B. A curious pathway for a young English talent, trading one youth team, for another after successive seasons of significant minutes for Reading. Over 1000 minutes of Championship football with a solitary goal; There was a clear pathway to senior football for Loader, only reinforced by the introduction of other young players like Omar Richards and Michael Olise. This was a coup. This was a giant Portuguese club ripping a homegrown talent from the talons of British sides. Joining FC Porto B, Loader has the chance to immerse himself in Portuguese culture, club philosophy and grow with his team-mates. A club title-chasing European side cannot afford to let a rookie learn on the job. With a 3 year contract signed, the following season is where one expect to see Loader make his mark on the Primera League. Although, if targets are met earlier, a potential English debut may be on the cards. At the time of writing Loader has player 15 times in the Portuguese second tier, netting 6 times.
2 days later and FC Porto (kind of) had doubled their English quota. Benicio Baker Boaitey, 16, is the gem of the article. FC Porto fended away interest from Bayern Munich, and RB Leipzig to sign the West Ham youngster. Primarily playing on the left wing triple B is seen as a 1v1 speciliast. When the ball is at Baker’s feet, it does not seem to effect the speed he can move at all, jinking between opponents, with the confidence to match his speed and tempo. A real livewire. It is speculated that contract talks broke down with The Hammers, affirmed by the recent failings to renew contracts with Diangana and Ngakia. With Brexit taking hold, and the youngster playing outside Europe’s top 5 leagues, with homegrown status, any success is destined to lead to a host of interested club. BBB is to ply his trade in the u17 team for the time being,
SC BRAGA: The most recent British export, is former free agent, Dion McGhee. McGhee, 20, was unfortunate to see his 14 year affiliation with Manchester United end this Summer as the club trim down their academy. A move sure to be welcomed by McGhee who spoke out about the difficulty for free agents during the pandemic. Difficultly in keeping fit and meeting clubs representatives proved to be a stumbling block for the utility man. Interest came from Sporting and AZ Aalkmar but it was Braga who managed to secure the versatile Mancunian’s signature. Having played as a right back, winger, and striker at youth levels, Mcghee does not have a single minute of football at any senior level, but that is set to change as the Primera Liga continues to pay dividends for young English talent.
*For the sake of article length, Angel Gomes will be featured on the Ligue un segment.