AN ENGLISHMAN ABROAD: GERMANY

Current English Payers: UEFA COEFFICIENT: 4th, 71.858 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 third 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.

Guys. Without teetering on the edge of a chasm not worth exploring, it is within the best interests of all parties to dismiss the usual discourse of any historical links between the two countries in this edition. In its place, I would like to dedicate this section to the beauty of Bratwurst

HAMBURGERS

Given the Bundesliga and Premier league’s propensity to carve out games of the highest intensity, it is quite surprising to find a lack of crossover between the two leagues. Other than those playing today, a total of 17 Englishmen have played football in the Bundesliga. Although, we did send Steve Maclaren over to manage Wolfsburg in 2010. Sorry.

Significant earlier names include Dave Watson, the most capped Englishman without ever playing at World Cup (65), who spent a solitary season at Werder Bremen in 1979 making 2 appearances. Tony Woodcock fared slightly better, playing 81 times for Koln and scoring 26 goals in the process. Woodcock accumulated 42 England caps in his career.

RICE KRISPIES

1960; a young band travelled to Hamburg to cut their teeth and engulf themselves in a bubbling underground music scene. Ran-down hotels, dinghy night clubs meets raw, uncut talent. An early form of The Beatles would win many Hamburg hearts. 1977; Same destination, same route, same goal. 3 seasons, two Ballon d’Ors and a top 10 hit. Kevin Keegan’s move to Hamburg was quite the eyebrow-raiser.

Keegan’s first season was more Yellow Submarine than Abbey Road. General poor form, and a squad mutiny titled Keegan’s opening Hamburg chapter. A £500,000 record fee, would come with a lucrative contract that turned heads among the Hamburg ranks. Keegan was rumoured to be earning £250,000 after sponsorship deals – a sum which turned the German clubs wage structure completely upside down. The club’s top dogs felt this was unjust and became disconcerted, with some not passing to Keegan in training sessions in spite.

In full awareness wackiness of the following statement, it would be Keegan punching a  VfB Lübeck player in the face during a pre-season friendly that saw changes in fortune. An 8 weeks suspension would give Keegan the chance to rest any discrepancies with team-mates to bed and settle in to the area. Keegan’s first season in its entirety will be seen as a disappointment, but the process of integration and a late uptick in form set the foundation for greener pastures. Keegan led HSV to a Bundesliga title the following season, playing an instrumental role in the run in, scoring 11 goals in 12 games. Keegan’s wondrous form is probably done a disservice as he left Germany with his repertoire two Ballon d’Ors, a Bundesliga, and 3 Bundesliga Team Of The Year features heavier.

Akin to the scouse quartet, Keegan was loved by many, particularly those in Hamburg. A global phenomenon symbolised by an iconic bouncing perm. An interview on German radio in which Keegan stated his lack of familiarity with local supermarkets, saw thousands of Germans send cereal to Keegan’s German home via the club. In between the honours, the hair maintenance and the general handling of fame, Keegan managed to further extend his CV. A top ten single. Head Over Heels In Love was recorded after Keegan was offered a substantial sum of money, with the offer being too good to refuse and thinking the song would hardly gain popularity Keegan duly agreed. Of course, the song propelled up the German charts peaking at 10th while in the UK it levelled at 31st. If you didn’t think he had enough free-time, it even had a B side. Who says footballers are doing too much these days?

The perm, the vocals, the flared trousers. The seventies. Kevin Keegan in action

MODERN MOVES

Undoubtedly, Owen Hargreaves would be considered with much more reverence today had his career not have to meander its way through injuries. 4 League titles and a Champions League unfortunately intertwined itself with persistent muscle injuries and a broken leg during his time at Bayern between 2000-2007. When on the pitch, his playing style and body frailty was an awkward marriage, as Hargreaves charged around the pitch with such robustness, intensity and authority, Sir Alex Ferguson made him the midfield replacement for Roy Keane in 2007. Hargreaves has a somewhat controversial career lineage. Born in Calgery, Alberta to parents both Welsh and English, Hargreaves qualified for three different organisations. It was the reverse-Ryan-Giggs route that Hargreaves took, playing for Wales at U21 level before fully committing to England. Hargreaves would also add himself to the fabled list of players who have played for both Manchester clubs, although Sir Alex wouldn’t have be too dismayed at the midfielders departure, who he would label one of his worst signings. It is sure this is in reference to the time he spent on the treatment table, rather than his footballing ability.

Moving in to the 2010’s, a mirth of loans that range from unsuccessful to uninspiring seem to be the only significant moves up until 2018. Names include Emile Smith-Rowe, Ryan Kent, Lewis Baker, and Reiss Nelson. One can’t forget Chelsea legend Michael Mancienne’s stints with Hamburg either.

CURRENT ENGLISH PLAYERS

JAMAL MUSIALA – BAYERN MUNICH: Musiala’s placement on this list currently hangs in the balance. Joachim Lowe recently confirmed his intention to test Musiala’s resolve by offering a chance to cement his loyalties to Germany during the March international break. For all of the intricacies of Chelsea at management level, the academy operates with swift simplicity; They see a talented player and they sign them. And when Musiala, born in Stuttgart, moved to Croyden at the age of 7, it was no different. The 18 year old attacking midfielder has represented England at every youth level, but an opportunistic two caps with Germany U16’s have jimmied their way on to Musiala’s CV. While Musiala has publicly stated he considers his future to be with England, one cannot deny the enticement of starring for Musiala’s powerhouse country of birth – a country in which he has broke records this season.

The boy is ice cold. If you talk to him before the game, he appears focused, calm and reserved. 

Bayern reserve coach Sebastian Hoeneß

On the 20th June, 2020, Musiala made history becoming Bayern Munich’s youngest ever player. In affirmation that this was by no accident, Musiala came of the bench in Bayern’s first game of the following season, burst in to the box from the left wing, left a defender stuck in the mud with the rest scrambling to get near him. The ball had rattled the net by the time they were attempting to put in a block. Musiala was now also the youngest ever goal scorer. It was not just the goal that caught attention. Musiala looked after the ball well, using his body to protect the ball. Where other players of his size would go down, or try something audacious, Musiala recycled. Musiala used both feet well, took up intelligent positions on the left hand side, and the intensity of the game did not pass him by at all. While admittedly, against a tired, dejected, broken Schalke side that were ram shackled by 8 goals, for a player of Musiala’s age to be making his mark on one of the strongest squads in Europe is impressive none-the-less. With reported contract talks breaking down due to demands, English royalty are circling with the likes of Manchester United and Liverpool linked to the superstar.

A rare sighting of Jamal Musiala playing for Chelsea

REECE OXFORD AUGSBURG: Reece Oxford was ahead of his time. It is quite peculiar fashion for such an unheralded player of today to have burst on to the scene in such a swashbuckling manner. Many will remember the day when a 16 year old school boy stepped on to The Emirates turf with swagger and stepped of it, a gallant, giant of a man. The narrative that ran involved Oxford ‘pocketing’ Mesut Ozil. Of course, he didn’t. But he also didn’t look out of place, in a game he had no right to be in. He barged any expectations away head on, and played in his own vacuum. It was like a scene straight from a blockbuster move, directed by Spielberg with Slaven Bilic as his assistant. This hadn’t been Oxfords first first-team forray, starting in midfield during a rare West Ham Europa League tie against Lusitanos, winning 3-0. What is more impressive about Oxfords explosion on to the scene, was that midfield was not Oxfords natural position, citing Jaap Stam as his inspiration to become one of the best centre-backs in the world.

Having trained with the first team at 15, made his European and Premier League debut at 16, the simplistic, smooth, success laden path, that was once lit up with a fire fuelled by hype, expectation and narrative, became convoluted. Oxford himself spoke about how too much time with the first team too early, gave him no chance to take advantage of gym work not only causing him to be not as physically adept as he should be, but also more susceptible to injuries. The memory of The Emirates would become clouded by injuries, not being fancied by loan club managers, and contract disputes. Consecutive loans to Reading, Borussia Monchengladbach twice and Augsburg saw Oxford garner 18 league appearances across 4 seasons. But Augsburg had seen enough to make the move permanent. It is important to understand that development football is rarely linear, success is not guaranteed, but nor is failure and where Oxford has seen hopes diminish, Augsburg had offered consistency, and most importantly, a home. Now regularly playing on the right hand side of back three, this season Oxford has accumulated his highest amount of starts in his professional career with 7. Oxford even has an added versatility to his career, being used at right back becoming a greater tactical asset. At just 22, there is no reason why Oxford still cannot reach the heavy heights once promised.

DEMERAI GRAY: A player who has not quite been able to knit everything together at once, but has never completely fell to the wayside either. As soon as he is on the peripheries of wasteland, he would float back in line with the trajectory he set when making his debut as a 17 year old with Birmingham City. Not quite Ravel Morrison, but no Jadon Sancho either. Stuck in footballing purgatory.

Gray cut his teeth early in the lower leagues, playing over 3000 minutes of Championship football after making his debut before being snapped up by Leicester City who activated a £3.7m clause in 2015. It was in the Championship Gray impressed with a skillset that was beyond his years. A flair player with pace to burn, but a more than durable work-rate, Gray’s head would never drop when faced with adversity, and would continue to be persistent in his approach. Gray proved to be somewhat of a tactical asset for Leicester, in THAT season. Not only did his defensive work rate prove sufficient in terms of winning back the ball, Claudio Ranieri could use him as an outlet to get high up the pitch, relieve pressure, and help run down the clock in the title run in. Joining in January, Gray would make a single start, supplemented by 11 other appearances off of the bench.

“Being in and out of the team is not good,” he said in November. “I know what I’m capable of… Over the last 18 months I’ve been held back a bit. 

Gray’s promising start to life in the Midlands would rise further in the following seasons, only to end with an almighty, disappointing, crescendo. The narrative that surrounded Gray was that there was a sense of entitlement when it came to playing time. Starts would become more infrequent, and Gray would become more outspoken. The self believe was pleasing, but it is largely thought that the more Gray slid in and out of the team, the more the work rate that burst on to the scene with Gray, diminished. Of course, this is all conjecture, and only the appropriate people will know the real story. But Gray starred 78 times in the Championship, and came on a high pedestal. Perhaps he could be forgiven for a skewed reality.

A young Demarai gray in action for Birmingham City at the age of 17.

After Gray made three starts in 19/20 before falling down to the U23’s this season, a move was inevitable. And it would be entirely knew scenery altogether that Gray chanced, with German giants, Bayer Leverkusen snapping up Gray in a cut price deal of £2m. A curious move to say the least, with Leverkusen seemingly well stocked in wide areas, with the likes of Leon Bailey, Bellerabi, Diaby, Amiri and Paulinho all options. Said players have garnered a lot of interest for themselves, and Leverkusen are sure to have a plan for Gray who already scored in his first appearance of the bench. A talented player no doubt, hopefully the consistency, fresh scenery and low level media exposure will help to coax out the potential of Demarai Gray.

DORTMUND DUO: JUDE BELLINGHAM AND JADON SANCHO

We all know who Jadon Sancho is. And we all know there is a huge Jadon Sancho shaped hole at Old Trafford. And yet, after a slow start to the 20/21 season some people have began to doubt his ability. So I’m going to take this section to remind you, if you think this, you are wrong.

This is going to be a mouthful but – Jadon Sancho is 1st in the Bundesliga for….. progressive carries, final third entries, players dribbled past, carries in the penalty area, passes in to the penalty area, and for those of you who like the aesthetics of football, nutmegs.

You can thank Fbref.com for that one. But quite evidently, Jadon Sancho is a relentless attacking tool of the highest echelons. And while even the best young players see dips in form, Sancho has been great. In summary, at just 20 years of age, he would improve almost any team in the world he went too.

Jude Bellingham is supremely underrated. For a player at 17, just, to have accumulated 1100 minutes halfway in to a season for a club who has Champions League and title aspirations is genuinely superfluous. Jude Bellingham is perhaps one of the biggest testaments to how finding football abroad can lead to privacy, ease of life, and no unwanted pressure. Bellingham has facets to his game that no 17 year old should have. Physically imposing, yet light footed enough not only to dance past a midfielder but remain agile while standing up his man to poke out a toe to win the ball. A a midfielder who has no right in being as well rounded as he is, and destined for greatness.

CLINTON MOLA – STUTTGART: A quick scroll through social media will tell you that Stuttgart fans are quickly questioning Clinton Mola’s existence. Another, unfortunately struck by a constant swinging pendulum of injuries during key development years.

Representing England from U16s up until U19 level, it took £400,000 in January 2020, in what was seen as a bargain, to lift the 19 year old out of Chelsea in to a Stuttgart set up that seemingly has an eye for talent. It took just 6 days for Mola to get his first taste of senior football, coming of the bench in the DFB Pokal against tough opposition in Bayer Leverkusen. A seemingly settled environment would prove to be fruitful for Mola, accumulating 478 minutes of first team football across 8 appearances in the 2. Bundesliga. Promotion to be the Bundesliga tailed with excitement, with the chance to mix it with some of the worlds best. Primarily labelled a defensive midfielder most places you look, Mola’s attributes lend him a degree of versatility that saw being used as a left back for Stuttgart. Gifted the number 6 shirt, used in a promotion push season coming straight from academy at football, it’s clear that the overheads at Stuttgart have a lot of faith in Clinton Mola which is why a single long term injury shouldn’t provide too much worry. As per Transfermarkt, Mola has missed 177 days, coinciding with 23 games due to a hip injury. Mola did return at the beginning of february only to see a small relase with more time set to be missed. However, after a fairly long lay off, it is completely normal to be followed by a number of small injuries to follow. And there is no rush to race back and risk further damage, and at 19 Clinton Mola has plenty of time to showcase the talent that brought him to Stuttgart.

YOUTH PLAYERS: JAMIE BYNOE-GITTENS PHILLIP BONDSWELL

An English teenage winger, loaded with talent in his boots, leaves a pathless Manchester City to sign for Borusia Dortmund. Curious. But Jamie Bynoe-Gittens plays most of his football on the left wing rather than Jadon Sancho’s right. Bynoe-Gittens arrives at Manchester City on a now regularly trodden path becoming Borussia Dortmund’s 4th English born player after Erling Haaland and Gio Reyna (Google it) with youth player Bradley Fink also holding an English passport. Bynoe-Gittens is clearly straight from the Jadon Sancho train of thought with more clubs looking to talented, game hungry English youngsters in search for the next generation of stars. According to Transfermarkt, the winger has so far played twice in the U19 West Bundesliga.

“I’m going to try and make a name for myself. When Sancho was at City, he was doing bits in the 18s, scoring every game, so in a way, I want to be like him. You’ve got to take stuff from other people to make the best version of yourself. You’ve now got to score and assist to be the best.”

Liverpool and Manchester United were hot on the tail of a young English left-back from Nottingham Forest in 2018 before the every growing RB Leipzig intervened. Clearly a multi-faceted man who was born for sport. Matthew Bondswell was a triple-jump champion of England during his school boy days and a keen runner. Athleticism is something we can see his game today, at the moment in the second tier of Holland with Dordretch. Yet to make his senior debut for Leipzig, Bondswell was sent to gain first team football at senior level for the first time. Bondswell had even been linked with a move back to England, as recent as January and with the likes of Angelino and Halstenberg ahead in the pecking order, such a move may well materialise in the Summer.

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