AN ENGLISHMAN ABROAD: FRANCE

CURRENT NO. OF ENGLISH PLAYERS: 4

UEFA COEFICIENT: 5th, 54.915 points

A lack of maturity, a penchant for causing trouble with no room for adaptation. There are a myriad of attributes English footballers are labelled with to reason an accused inability to move abroad. The following article is the second segment of a series of pieces that detail the stories, development and relationship between English footballers currently and formerly plying their trade outside of the British Isles.

Separated by just a single stretch of water, the juxtaposition of English and French culture could not be more polarising. A sexy ambience follows most things French; The music, the architecture, even the accent. Compare the media portrayal of the two city capitals. Paris, the city of love and romance. London, the home of Boris Johnson. Little wonder since the turn of the 21st century only a handful of players have crossed the English channel from Britain.

The French have contributed significantly to English football, though. The paradigms of monsieur Wenger are etched in to his very own pillar of British football history. Advances in medicine, diet, and recovery not only accelerated player conditioning in the Premier League, but his football helped breathe life in to it. Wenger’s football was more than pass and move with pacy runners, it was more of a dance with with an acquired seductive lull towards the goal. Eye-catching.

One of the greatest teams of all time contained a strong French core. Thierry Henry, Patrick Viera, Robert Pires and Lauren were Invincible regulars. Thiery Henry was already on his way to becoming a staple of English football before ‘Va Va Voom’ rang through British homes during the 2002 Renault advert. Sounds awful with an English accent. The French lineage of footballing superstars in England continues today, with the likes of Paul Pogba and Ngolo Kante considered some of the leagues superstars.

According to FBref, of the 549 registered players in the English Premier League 33 are French. By my math this means the French make up 6,01% of all registered players, higher than any other nation that isn’t English

“I have to be more powerful and be quicker in my decision making,” [..] “It’s harder in England than in France, so I have to take in information quicker and be more powerful.”

– Alexander Lacazette on the differences between England and France

VIVA LA FRANCE

A significant total of 71 footballers have swapped their frothy pints for shimmering wine that do not already play in the country today. A cluster of said players switched during the 1980’s which perhaps directly correlates with the Heysel Disaster that saw English clubs banned from European competition from 1985 up until 1990 as English players left to be able to compete in Europe’s premier competition.

It is true of arguably the most recognisable name to move in Glenn Hoddle. And who signed him? That’s right – Wenger has done it again. Leaving Tottenham Hotspur in 1987 to join AS Monaco, Hoddle claimed that France would offer him an environment in which his ‘style would be more appreciated. Cue 1988, as Hoddle was voted by fans as the best player in the league. Hoddle went on to guide a star-studded Monaco team, with the likes of George Weah, to a European Cup quarter final. Hoddle’s French voyage would unfortunately be curtailed after a knee injury in 1990, returning to England with Chelsea in 1993.

The English channel via Tottenham Hostpur route proved to be one of success, with Chris Waddle moving to Marseille in 1989. English talent of the ’80s was clearly a big hit with the French. Waddle, dubbed ‘Magic Chris’ by Marseille fans, finished runner up as Marseille’s player of the century, behind Jean Pierre Papin. Waddle spent 3 years with the Les Phoceens, after ending up on the wrong side of a penalty shootout against Red Star Belgrade to close the curtains on his French voyage.

There aren’t quite as many success stories in recent years, though. The twilight of David Beckham’s career did see Victoria’s fashion career progress while David won a league title with PSG in his spare time. Becks, did only play 10 games though as his career began to wind down. An arguably as equally successful achievement was Joey Barton’s French accent. Third was him saying Zlatan had a big nose. Marseille fans did like that. Other moves saw Eden Hazard set up by Joe Cole, with the on-loan Englishmen even scoring a hattrick, admittedly against amateur side Chantilly. Largely, it was faltering form that would take an Englishman to France, looking to regain momentum which more often than not, would reman ground to a halt.

The talent has definitely dwindled as years progressed, but lets see what we have to offer the French today.

CURRENT ENGLISH PLAYERS [as per transfermarkt.com]

JONATHAN PANZO – DIJON: One begins realise just how many players Chelsea have in their youth academy when researching these topics. 6ft 1″ centre back, Jonathan Panzo, no different. Unlike others, the 22 year old did not go out on a single loan before deciding to leave permanently in 2018 to join French’s principality club, Monaco.

I’d always want to come back to England. I wanted to get as many minutes as possible and then come back to the Premier League. Everyone’s got their own path and going away from home has been a good experience for me.

It is no accident that Panzo has been been in talent-flooded teams his whole career. Not only did he win the U17 World Cup alongside the likes of Foden, and Jadon Sancho, but he was apart of a quadruple winning Jody Morris led Chelsea youth team alongside current first-teamers Callum Hudson-Odoi and Billy Gilmour. It was a year out on loan at Cercle Brugge that saw Panzo’s first real senior minutes, playing 17 times in a somewhat character building experience that saw Brugge finish 3 points above the drop zone. Interestingly, Panzo does seem determined to crack Ligue Un, after failing to make an impression with Monaco he was offered a return to English football with Nottingham Forest. Panzo, however, decided to move to Dijon before having his best start to a season in terms of minutes, accumulating 1105 at the time of writing, nearly as many as his most prolific season in 4 less appearances.

Angel Gomes – Lille – A golden boy nomination is a good sign. Lille being interested in you is another. Angel Gomes, 20, has both, with probably the highest ceiling in this list. Recent years have highlighted Lille’s penchant for signing talent with Victor Osimhen, Nicolas Pepe, and Rafael Leao being flipped for serious profit. It was Jonathan David to be this Summer’s gem, but the signing of Angel Gomes went a little under the radar.

Gomes did not see a clear pathway for himself at Manchester United, joining Lille before immediately being sent to Boavista on loan. Interestingly, Gomes is of Portuguese heritage with his father Gil Gomes, being born in Luanda, of Portuguese Angola. Standing at 5ft 6, many claimed this would hinder Gomes’ chances of making at the highest level, but it is his height that provides him with the quick reactions to add to guile of dribble. Playing as an attacking midfielder Gomes was part of the fabled England U-17 team and even captained the team to the 2017 World Cup title. Although Boavista sit rock bottom, Gomes has amassed more than double the senior minutes he received in his Manchester United career, in half a season. Gomes also has 6 goal contributions in 12 Primera Liga matches with his debut one to remember, registering a hattrick of assists. Gomes then went on to score from the opposition centre-circle from 50 yard. The natural talent of this boy cannot be understated.

The diminutive winger is sure to return to Lille with bags full of experience than he left with, even at one point in the season leading the line upfront for Boavista. While Lille do have talented filled squad and appear to play 4-4-2 without a natural attacking midfielder, out of possession Lille do drop in to 3-2-4-1 with a full back dropping in to the first phase of possession allowing the opposite full back to provide natural width and wingers to drop in to pockets of space between lines. It is rare that Lille miss. It will be exciting to see how Gomes progresses next season, with plenty of minutes to go around as it is likely Lille qualify for Europe.

Stephy Mavididi Montpellier: A real globetrotter. The 22 year old centre-forward had already played in Italy before his voyage to France. Exotic. Even playing 22 minutes for Juventus first team in Serie A. Fancy.

A Hale End product, Mavididi follows in the footsteps of the likes of Donyell Malen and Serge Gnabry in venturing abroad after failing to break in to the Gunners first team, following relatively unsuccessful loans with Charlton and Preston. De Ja Vu struck as Mavididi found himself stagnating in the Juventys U23 squad. Subsequently, a loan it was a loan to Dijon that saw him attract the attention of French clubs as the 6ft forward netted 5 times in 24 games before completing completing a £5m to Monpellier. With 4 goals in 17 games, Mavididi has hardly being prolific but HAS been clinical. His initial Ligue Un season score 5 goals from an xG of 3, while the current campaign has seen an xG of 1.9 yield 4 goals.

Trevoh Chalobah – Lorient: A genuine success story of the Chelsea loan system as the defensive-minded midfielder has a wealth of experience. Minutes, minutes, minutes. It’s the parameter that determines most young players development between the ages of 18-21.

After amassing just shy of 6000 Championship minutes, Chaloboah’s next move sees him take a sensible step up in to Europe’s top 5 leagues with rock-bottom Lorient. Playing 822 minutes so far, his defensive stats are admittedly nothing to shout about, even for a team that averages only 44% of the ball. However the whole team have struggled collectively with it being touted that Chaloboah is a big hit with the fans. Perhaps Chelsea’s unbalanced midfield may give him a chance to sneak in to Thomas Tuchel’s plans but one knows that is wishful thinking. Another £200m please Roman.

YOUTH TEAMS: To round up, we have two players who have swapped youth football for youth football. Winger, Khavarn Williams, 17, seemingly a big fan of the coastline, swapped Bournemouth for OGC Nice in October. Nice surely have high hopes for Williams who has ball mastery in abundance; a proficient dribbler of the ball with his career highlight include chipping the goal keeper from 25 yards for Fulham, and rifling in to the top corner side-footed on his Bournemouth u18’s debut. Williams will join up with the u19 side.

Finally we have Reo Griffiths, 20, top scorer of the French fourth tier with Lyon’s B team. Scrolling through the archives, Griffiths was seemingly one of Tottenham Hostpurs biggest prospects at one point. Scoring 4 goals, even in a youth match, against Arsenal will always get Spurs fans onside. However, favour with fans did not extend to the end of his Spurs career, with many questioning of the attitude of the striker. Griffiths, ended up cancelling the third year of his Spurs scholarship in order to join up with Lyon while liking tweets deemed disrespectful to Mauricio Pochettino. Ah, young footballers and Twitter. Dangerous. Griffiths did have a phenomenal goal scoring record for the u18’s, with a record 33 goals, but struggled to extend this to even the u23’s. To be fair to the player, he does seem to be doing well with no known striker against his name so far since he crossed The Channel, with 6 goals in 9 games.

*all minutes are recorded at the the time of writing 26/01/2021

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