Britain is the birthplace of the beautiful game and the country has had an excellent pedigree within the game for over a century, producing many fine players and challenging on both club and international fronts, yet British players are notoriously poor travelers. Whilst German, Spanish and Brazilian players grace leagues across the globe and do so with relative ease, British players seem to find this task a little trickier.
Herbert Kilpin was the first British player to play professionally outside of the country, when he began playing in Turin, before eventually founding AC Milan. Kiplin won three Italian titles in 1901, 1906 and 1907, but sadly would not set the tone, and it would take half a century before another British player would have that kind of impact outside of the UK. Despite there not being a plethora of British players who have succeeded outside of Britain, there are some, and this list intends to celebrate the finest of them.
The entries and their ordering is ranked in accordance to their achievements and impact abroad. World class British players such as George Best and Gordon Banks may have played abroad, but their impact outside of Britain was not as great as those who make the list, yet may be lesser players in terms of talent. Here are the top 15 British soccer players to play abroad:
15 Mark Hateley
Mark Hateley played in three countries outside of Britain, namely the U.S., France and Italy. Having emerged at Coventry, Hateley had a brief loan spell with Detroit Express. A move to Portsmouth saw Hateley begin scoring prolifically, earning himself a move to AC Milan. Hateley was steady if not spectacular in Italy, winning his first England caps whilst with the club, where he spent three seasons.
Next, he moved to Monaco, where he would taste his greatest success outside of the UK. The Englishman scored 22 goals in 59 games winning the Ligue 1 title with Monaco in 1988.
14 Graeme Souness
Liverpool legend Graeme Souness will always be best remembered for his years at Anfield, where he experienced great success, winning five league titles and three European Cups. Souness left Liverpool in 1984, after arguably his finest season, having just lifted a domestic and European treble. It was the lure of Italy and Serie A which saw the Scotsman finally leave Liverpool and he joined Sampdoria, where he would spend two seasons. Souness was a key player for the team in his time there, helping them to win the Coppa Italia in 1985. He also had brief and less successful spells in Canada and Australia earlier in his career.
13 Paul Ince
A wonderfully talented player, Paul Ince spent six years at Manchester United and a further two at Liverpool, but sandwiched in between his spells with two of English football's grandest clubs, Ince also had a taste of football in Serie A with some Italian giants. Ince left Manchester United for Inter Milan in 1995, and spent two years in the Serie A, in which he was arguably Inter's standout player throughout that period, which was one of the least successful in the club's history. Ince failed to win a trophy in Italy but is still revered and respected by the club's supporters.
12 Gerry Hitchens
Gerry Hitchens had a rather intriguing career. Undeniably talented as a forward, Hitchens began scoring goals on a consistent basis with Cardiff City and Aston Villa. His fine goal scoring form earned him a call-up to the England squad. Hitchens' second game for England was a tough away trip in Rome to face Italy. England won 3-2 and Hitchens caught the eye of the Italians. He was signed from Aston Villa by Inter Milan. He went on to play for four different teams in Italy over an eight year period. He scored goals for all, and won a Serie A with Inter Milan in 1963, as well as coming close with both Torino and Cagliari.
11 David Platt
Formerly Roberto Mancini's assistant manager at Man City before the Italian was dismissed of his duties, David Platt was a well-rounded midfielder on his day, known for his high work rate, accurate passing and ability to score goals from midfield. He won 62 caps for England, and scored a legendary volley at the 1990 World Cup. F
ollowing his impressive displays at Italia '90, Platt decided to stay in the country. He joined Bari in 1991, and later played for Juventus and Sampdoria. In total, Platt spent four years in Serie A, winning a UEFA Cup with Juventus and a Coppa Italia with Sampdoria.
10 Paul Lambert
Sacked as Aston Villa boss last season, Paul Lambert is yet to get back into football management. The Scotsman is yet to win a major trophy in management, but was highly successful in his playing days. Lambert put in an excellent performance for Motherwell in a UEFA Cup tie against Borussia Dortmund, and at the end of the season, the German giants snapped him up. Lambert spent only a single season in the Bundesliga, but was a virtual ever-present in a successful campaign for the club, as they won the Champions League, beating Juventus 3-1 in the final with Lambert man-marking Zinedine Zidane.
9 David Beckham
The most high-profile British export in the history of the game, David Beckham played in four countries outside of Britain; Spain, the U.S., Italy and France. Beckham has won titles in four different countries, a record for an Englishman. Beckham would be higher in this list had he won more in his time with Real Madrid. In a fantastic Real team, Beckham won only two trophies in four years. He had great success in MLS with the L.A. Galaxy and won trophies with both AC Milan and PSG. One of the most marketable athletes of all time, Beckham certainly showed his adaptability, and deserves his place on this list.
8 Gary Lineker
England's third highest scorer of all-time, and their top scorer at World Cups, Gary Lineker was a clinical poacher of a forward. After winning the Golden Boot at the 1986 World Cup, Lineker had proven himself on the grandest of stages. Barcelona signed the Englishman from Everton and he spent three years at the Camp Nou, where he scored 42 goals in 103 games. Lineker won a European Cup Winners Cup and a Copa del Rey with the Catalan club, most memorably scoring a hat-trick in a 3-2 win over Real Madrid in the El Classico derby. Lineker later played in Japan, where he ended his career, playing only 18 times for Nagoya Grampus Eight.
7 Laurie Cunningham
The first British player to play for Real Madrid and the second black player to represent England at any level, Laurie Cunningham was a largely underrated left winger. As part of the famous 'Three Degrees' at West Brom, Cunningham had great success in England, before going Real Madrid for almost $2 million.
He scored twice in his debut and won the double in his first season with Los Blancos. He spent four years at Madrid, but was hampered by injuries. He still managed to win the La Liga title and the Copa del Rey twice. Cunningham also played for Sporting Gijon, Marseille, Ray Vallecano and Charleroi outside of Britain before being killed in a car crash in 1989, aged 33.
6 Glenn Hoddle
Considered one of the most technically gifted players England have ever produced, many believe the former Tottenham man was never fully appreciated or utilized by either club or country in England. He spent 12 years with Tottenham before joining Monaco, claiming he would have regressed as a player had he remained with Spurs. Hoddle spent four years playing in the French league with Monaco, under the guide of a young Arsene Wenger, and won both the league title and the French Cup during his time there. He was named French football's Foreign Player of the Year for the 1987-88 season.
5 Gareth Bale
The only active player on this list, Gareth Bale has come in for some stick since joining Real Madrid. Reportedly the most expensive player of all time, it's easy to see why there was a lot of pressure on the Welshman to produce, but 30 goals in 61 league games and 41 goals in all competitions shows that only Real Madrid fans could complain with such form. Of the four trophies Real have won since Bale joined, he scored the winners in two of them; the Copa del Rey and Champions League finals, showing his importance to the club.
4 Chris Waddle
Former England midfielder Chris Waddle had already proven what a quality player he was with Sheffield Wednesday and Tottenham, but failed to win any silverware with either club. He rectified that upon leaving the country though, joining Marseille in 1989. Waddle spent a hugely successful three seasons with Marseille, winning three league titles and reaching the final of the European Cup. Despite spending only three years with the club, Waddle was voted the club's second greatest player of all time, behind only Jean-Pierre Papin.
3 Steve McManaman
Part of Liverpool's highly talented 'Spice Boys' that emerged in the 1990s, Steve McManaman was probably the most gifted of the lot. Like with the others questions remained over his attitude, and he failed to win a league title at Anfield. The Englishman left Liverpool in 1999, when he joined Real Madrid on a free transfer.
Los Blancos were undergoing something of a mini-crisis, and for much of his time there, McManaman was one of the club's stars. He won the Champions League in his first season, being named man of the match in the final, and won two La Liga titles, two Champions Leagues and four other trophies during his four seasons in Madrid.
2 Kevin Keegan
Kevin Keegan became the best paid player in German football when Rudi Gutendorf prized him to Hamburg from Liverpool in 1977. The England international had a shaky start in Hamburg, punching a player in a pre-season and his signing effectively costing Gutendorf his job. He turned it around though, winning the Ballon d'Or in both 1978 and 1979. Hamburg won the Bundesliga in 1978-79, finished as runners-up the following season and also lost in the final of the European Cup to Nottingham Forest. Keegan returned to England after three years in Germany, joining Southampton in 1980.
1 John Charles
The most successful British player outside of Britain has to be John Charles. One of the most complete players the game has ever seen, Charles was capable of playing in both central defense and as a forward. It was sometimes joked that Charles would start up front, score, and then be moved to defense to ensure a win; and that was only partly a joke. After 38 goals in 40 games for Leeds United in the First Division, Charles joined Juventus for a British record transfer fee, almost doubling the previous record. He scored the winner in every one of his first three games for Juventus, and this set the tone for his time with the club.
In his first season, he was named the club's Player of the Year, won the league title and was the top scorer in the Serie A. In total, Charles played five seasons for Juventus, scoring 108 goals in 155 games and winning three Serie A titles and two Coppa Italias. He later spent a brief period of time with Roma, scoring four goals in 10 games. He was nominated for the Ballon d'Or and was later voted Juventus' greatest ever foreign player, seeing off the likes of Zinedine Zidane, Michel Platini and Pavel Nedved.