Picking an England XI who play their club football abroad
Looking at Gareth Southgate’s recently announced 23-man England World Cup squad, it comes as no surprise to find that every man plays their club football in England, and more specifically in the Premier League. In that sense, England’s World Cup squad is quite odd. Here are how many leagues are represented in the announced World Cup squads of some other major nations: France - 5, Germany - 5, Brazil - 7. In fact, England are the only nation to have announced their squad so far in which every player plays in the same domestic division. Even once all 32 nations have announced their final selections, this will almost certainly remain the case.
Like I say, this isn’t surprising. No one realistically expected Southgate to select anyone from beyond the Premier League. There were a few voices calling for the inclusions of Fulham’s Ryan Sessegnon, and RB Leipzig’s Ademola Lookman, but they were never seriously in contention.
The reason England’s entire squad has been picked from Premier League teams is that very few English players make the move abroad, especially at the highest levels. Moves such as David Beckham’s to Real Madrid are still considered novel and bold.
This was not always the case. For a period in the 90s, when Italy was the place to be, Serie A boasted a significant English representation. Gazza, of course, took the headlines, but the likes of Paul Ince, David Platt and Lee Sharpe - all England internationals - also made the move to Italy during the same decade.
Now, an exciting trend of young English players looking to clubs abroad to gain top flight playing time is taking hold. A modern, interconnected world makes the prospect of moving and playing abroad less daunting for these talented youngsters, and the potential rewards are obvious. The Bundesliga is leading the way in terms of exploiting the talent pool of young English players struggling to get a game in their own country.
This suggests that future England World Cup squads may well not consist entirely of Premier League players. I certainly hope that that is the case.
But what if you were to pick an entire team of Englishmen playing abroad today? What would that squad look like, and could it hope to be competitive?
For no real reason at all, I decided to find out. Though, to keep things from getting a little too continental, I’m setting up in a classic 4-4-2.
Goalkeeper: Jak Alnwick - Rangers (Scottish Premiership)
This spot could easily have gone to Alnwick’s teammate, Wes Foderingham. But, by virtue of being the more established starter of the two for Rangers by the end of 2017/18 campaign, Alnwick nicks it. However, incoming manager, Steven Gerrard’s move to bring in Allan McGregor suggests Alnwick’s supremacy may well be short-lived.
My ‘England abroad XI’ is off to a tough start as there isn’t much to choose from in the goalkeeping department. If only David James remained a player-manager at Kerala Blasters.
Right-back: Liam Ridgewell - Portland Timbers (Major League Soccer)
Things don’t get any easier for me in the right-back stakes either. I’ve narrowed my options down to Baggies old boy Ridgewell and ex-Newcastle man, Ryan Taylor, currently of ATK in India. Taylor is a much more natural fit at right-back. Whereas, Ridgewell has spent his career in the middle or out on the left. But I’ve gone for Ridgewell anyway, because, well, the other option was Ryan Taylor.
Left-back: Ashley Cole - LA Galaxy (Major League Soccer)
Clearly, I’ve gone for experience over youth, energy, speed or anything else good really when it comes to my full-backs. Combined, Ridgewell and Cole are 70 years old (Cole is 37). Cole is the first person in my XI with previous senior international experience though, having amassed 107 England caps. Hopefully he’s still got something left in those, frankly, middle-aged legs.
Centre-back: Reece Oxford - Borussia Mönchengladbach (Bundesliga)
Look - a wee nipper! Profiting from the sage wisdom of Ashley Cole (a sentence never before uttered in the English language) is Reece Oxford. I’m afraid on-loan players, as Oxford currently is from West Ham, have to be allowed in this XI. Trust me.
Oxford is a real talent though, and in 2015 became West Ham’s youngest ever appearance maker. He’s been in and out of the team at ‘Gladbach but is highly rated by the coaching staff there who have expressed an interest in making his move permanent.
Centre-back: Steven Caulker - Dundee (Scottish Premiership)
Our second player with senior international experience. Caulker has a single cap to his name (earned in 2012). It’s fair to say that, in the last few years, Caulker’s career has slipped from the trajectory many predicted for him when he broke through at Spurs. It feels like he’s been around forever, but Caulker is only 26 so there’s still time for him to revitalise his career. A spot in my ‘England globetrotters XI’ could be just what he needs. Doubt it though.
Right midfield: Jadon Sancho - Borussia Dortmund (Bundesliga)
A U-17 World Cup winner with England in the summer, and now a dozen first team appearances for Dortmund in the Bundesliga - it’s been an incredible year for Sancho. And, to top it all off, he’s got an entire flank in my ‘England overseas XI’. It really will be an entire flank, as I somehow can’t imagine him seeing Ridgewell on the overlap too often.
Sancho is a really exciting player, and one we can expect to see make his bow for actual-England very soon. After having his path to first team football blocked at Man City, he was bold enough to make a permanent move abroad and it has paid dividends.
Left midfield: Scott Sinclair - Celtic (Scottish Premiership)
Another ex-Man City man, although Sinclair did actually make it out onto the pitch for the Citizens. Once or twice.
Since making a move north of the border, and working everyday with Brendan Rodgers, Sinclair has (remarkably) looked like a much happier man. He’s had success at Celtic Park too, having been a crucial part of the team for two trophy-laden seasons so far. Those who remember him from his Swansea City days know he’s actually a very decent player who can add a lot to my ‘England with/mit/avec phrasebooks XI’.
Central midfield: Patrick Roberts - Celtic (Scottish Premiership)
A current colleague of Scott Sinclair, and yet another in this team with a Man City connection; Roberts is currently on loan from City with Celtic. It is never going to be easy for Roberts to establish himself at the Etihad, not with David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne ahead of him, but that doesn’t mean Roberts isn’t a very talented creative midfielder. He plays on the wing in Scotland, but I reckon he has all the assets to be successful in the middle of the park. That, and I’m short on alternatives.
Central midfield: Ravel Morrison - Atlas (Liga MX)
Morrison is likely the most naturally gifted individual in this team. He can currently be found plying his trade in Mexico, on loan from Lazio. For a player so admired by Sir Alex Ferguson and the Manchester Utd youth staff, this isn’t where we should be finding the 25 year-old Ravel Morrison.
Talent has never been what held Morrison back. His attitude, personality and actions have done that. His clashes with the law and inability to knuckle-down with the hard work of being a successful footballer are what led to Sam Allardyce, in 2017, branding him “the biggest waste of talent I ever worked with”. I think I can get the best out of him though, so into my XI he goes.
Striker: Bradley Wright-Phillips - New York Red Bulls (Major League Soccer)
Son of Arsenal legend Ian Wright, and younger brother of ex-England man Shaun Wright-Phillips, Bradley certainly has football in his blood. Now 33, much of his career can be categorised as a nomadic one; spent flitting between a succession of Championship and League One sides. Another player in this team with a Man City connection, he began his career there (pre-billions), but never quite cut it in the Premier League.
Since a move to the MLS in 2013 though the goals have come thick and fast. Having played alongside the likes of Thierry Henry and his big brother, Wright-Phillips has notched up 109 goals in 182 games in New York at the time of writing.
Striker: Ademola Lookman - RB Leipzig (Bundesliga)
Playing up front alongside Wright-Phillips is the 20 year-old attacker on loan at a Leipzig from Everton. Lookman has made a big splash in Germany since arriving in winter, and has made Big Sam look mighty stupid in the process - which is worthy of a call up to this team in and of itself.
He’s in the team though because he’s a really good player. Having won the U-20 World Cup last summer, Lookman’s debut for the real-deal England team has to be on its way soon. Whether he returns to Everton this summer, or spends another season in Germany, I think he’ll continue to impress.
So, that’s my ‘England abroad XI’. Things looked a bit hairy when I was pulling the backline together, but I’m pretty pleased with how the midfield and attack turned out.
Honourable mentions must go to Marcus McGuane (Barcelona II), Rolando Aarons (Hellas Verona), Jordon Mutch (Vancouver Whitecaps) and the brothers, Matty Willock (St. Johnstone) and Chris Willock (Benfica B).
Finally, this team requires an English manager currently making waves at a non-English club (apparently, I’m not qualified). Enter Graham Potter of Östersunds FK in Sweden. Since taking over in 2010, Potter has led his side from the third tier to the top flight (first time in their history). Winning the Swedish Cup earned them a historic entry into the Europa League second qualifying round. There, they beat Galatasaray, before then emerging from the group stage alongside Athletic Bilbao. Their European run was eventually ended on aggregate by Arsenal, despite Östersunds FK claiming a famous 2 - 1 victory at the Emirates. Surely Potter can get something out of this ramshackle, well-travelled lot?
Some collective stats:
England caps: 108
England youth level caps: 222
Premier League appearances (and goals): 957 (59)
Average age: 25.9
Players currently on loan from or have previously played for Manchester City: 4
Leagues represented: 4