British footballers abroad: Will Ravel Morrison be the new Paul Gascoigne or Kevin Keegan?

Traditionally, home-grown players have been reluctant to move overseas

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The Independent Football

In one of the more unlikely-seeming transfers of the January window, Ravel Morrison has joined Lazio, the sixth club of the 21-year-old’s career.

In stark contrast to the recent increase of foreign imports to the UK, British players have traditionally been reluctant to move abroad. However, this trend could be beginning to reverse. In Italy, Morrison joins Micah Richards, on loan at Fiorentina, and Ashley Cole at Roma. Gareth Bale, the world's most expensive footballer, continues to blaze a trail in La Liga for Real Madrid. Next season, Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard will line up opposite each other in the MLS, while Scottish prodigy Ryan Gauld opted for a move to Sporting Lisbon to further his development.

There have certainly been some high-profile failures, but there have been real successes too, which go some way to dispelling the myth that British footballers don’t travel well, and give hope to Morrison as he departs for Serie A.

The Good

The imposing figure of John Charles looms large among the success stories. The Welsh forward was one of the first to take the plunge when he joined Juventus in 1957 for a British record £65,000, and won the hearts of the The Old Lady tifosi with 28 goals in his debut season. Dubbed ‘Il Gigante Buono’ (The Gentle Giant), Charles went on to score 93 goals in 150 Juve appearances.

The 1970s and 80s provided the most sustained period of Brits making a mark abroad. Kevin Keegan led the way, ditching European Cup-winning Liverpool to join unfashionable Hamburg in 1977. During three seasons in Germany, Keegan won a Bundesliga, two European Footballer of the Year awards, and reached another European Cup final, losing to Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest.

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Lineker impressed for the Catalan giants (Getty Images)

Gary Lineker was prolific at Barcelona in the late 1980s, scoring a hat trick against Real Madrid on his way to 20 league goals in 1986/87, while in France Glenn Hoddle and Chris Waddle, of ‘Diamond Lights’ fame, found appreciation that had sometimes been lacking in England at Monaco and Marseille respectively.

The success of of goal-shy Aston Villa’s manager Paul Lambert was more low-key, but just as significant. He played just one season outside Scotland, but made the most of it, starring in the Borussia Dortmund side that beat Manchester United in the 1997 Champions League semi-final, before marking Zinedine Zidane out of the final to secure the trophy.

Real Madrid have become the go-to club for British footballers in recent years – David Beckham played some of the best football of his career in the ‘Galacticos’, and Bale won the Champions League and Copa Del Rey at the first time of asking. It was Steve McManaman, though, who laid the groundwork, winning two Champions League medals, two league titles and the eternal adulation of the club's fans during his four-year spell at the club.

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McManaman is adored by the Real Madrid faithful (Getty Images)

The Bad

This isn’t the first time Lazio have signed a mercurial English midfielder. In 1992, the club secured the services of Paul Gascoigne for the then hefty fee of £5.5m, despite him missing the whole of the previous season after rupturing his cruciate ligaments. He was popular among the club’s fans, but poor form and further injuries limited Gascoigne to just 47 appearances in three seasons.

Juventus, too, very much had a ‘type’, presumably hoping for a John Charles-esque return from Ian Rush when they signed the Welsh striker in 1987. Unfortunately, the Liverpool legend contributed just seven league goals in his sole season in Serie A, and the immortal, and disputed quote that his time in Turin was "like living in a foreign country."

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Rush struggled in Italy, 'a foreign country' (Getty Images)

Fellow Welshman Mark Hughes moved to Barcelona at the same time as Gary Lineker, but failed to make the same impression, scoring just four times in 28 appearances in his only season in Spain, before being loaned out to Bayern Munich, where he managed seven goals in 23 games.

The Ugly

Has there ever been a more disastrous debut than Jonathan Woodgate's infamous first appearance for Real Madrid? The centre-back missed his entire first season in Spain through injury after a £13.5m move, and was thus particularly keen to make an impression against Athletic Bilbao. He certainly made an impression. Unfortunately, his impact came in the form of a spectacular own goal, followed by a red card. He was later voted the worst signing of the 21st century by readers of Diario Marca.

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Woodgate endured a torrid Real Madrid debut (Getty Images)

Woodgate only made nine appearances for Real before returning to the Premier League with Middlesbrough. This, however, was three times as many Stan Collymore managed for Real Oviedo. Just five weeks after his unexpected move to Spain the controversial striker seemingly decided that he’d made a mistake, and retired from all football.

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