The Benefits of a Year Abroad

Should more British players opt to play their football abroad?

12 months ago, I wrote in the Gryphon about Carli Lloyd’s signing for Manchester City, and how, with more foreign stars coming into teams like Manchester City, coupled with the English quality they already had at their disposal (Toni Duggan, Lucy Bronze, Steph Houghton), it augured well for the Women’s Super League, which was revamped in 2014. What I didn’t expect, however, was the opposite to happen. For a British superstar to try pastures new in Europe. It is deeply encouraging.

British footballers, generally, don’t go abroad. Toni Duggan, however, after spells with Everton and most recently Manchester City, swapped the north of England for the city of Barcelona in the summer, following a line of few English players, most notably, of course, Gary Lineker, in playing for the Spanish giants. Lucy Bronze, as aforementioned, has also left Manchester City to play for Lyon.

I went on Saturday afternoon to watch her play against Real Sociedad, and whilst the game finished 0-0, it had plenty of quality and was entertaining enough. Duggan made many good runs and movements, including a spectacular skill move and, on another day, she would have scored a few. It was just one of those frustrating afternoons that all football teams get from time to time. The ball just would not go into the net.

This season, though, overall, has been a good one for Duggan, scoring nine goals, making her the fourth highest scorer throughout the division. Barcelona are also top of the league, level on points with Atletico Madrid. The Catalan side will play against Lyon in the Champions League quarter-finals,  which means that Duggan will be taking on her compatriot and former teammate Lucy Bronze. Their former club, Manchester City, as well as Chelsea, have also reached this stage of the competition. Lyon has won the last two Champions League trophies, whilst Arsenal, in 2007, during their period of dominance with stars such as Kelly Smith and Alex Scott, are the only English club to have done so.

Where English footballers have gone abroad, it has mainly been to the United States, or Australia, with current internationals Rachel Daly, Jodie Taylor and Laura Bassett there currently. Alex Scott, Karen Carney and Kelly Smith have all also spent part of their careers playing in the US. However, the obvious advantage is that there are no language barriers and less cultural differences. Indeed, Duggan is also making a conscious decision to try and adapt to her new surroundings. Taking Spanish classes, despite speaking English, a language many in the team would be able to converse in, is a clear example of this. Indeed, when I asked her for a photo after the match, she instinctively replied saying si, rather than yes. David Beckham was criticised in some quarters for not adapting in this way. Mauricio Pochtettino, indeed, was heavily criticised for using a translator for interviews when he started at Southampton.

Not many British footballers go abroad. Given the qualities of the Premier League and the Women’s Super League, this is hardly surprising. It is, however, encouraging, especially for the national teams, that British players go abroad, even if it is only for a season or two. Going abroad helps you develop as a person, it helps you try new things, and, in a footballing sense, can bring many benefits, such as a new style of football and new training methods. Duggan, no doubt, will be learning from fellow superstar Lieke Martens, just like she will be learning from her.

If a few more English players go abroad, the national team would perhaps improve, though the last World Cup performance, a semi-final, can hardly be bettered. Phil Neville has a tough task ahead of him if he is to improve on Mark Sampson’s impressive record (on the pitch, anyway). With more players taking the brave decision that Duggan took, as well as constant improvement in the Women’s Super League, women’s football is, each year, in a better place. Let’s hope it can continue this upward trend.

By James Felton