It says rather a lot about a rather dire deadline day for football in the UK, that Steven Fletcher signing on loan for Marseille was the highlight. But there was one particular quirk about that move, to provide some interest. Steven Fletcher, in moving to France, became the only player from the last round of national squads of the Home Nations, to be plying his trade abroad (Gareth Bale was injured).
It has been a much discussed subject in recent years that British players rarely ply their trade out of Britain, but not so much discussed that even those players that do are almost never current international footballers. In fact they are almost always youngsters sent out on loan, or former internationals in the declining years of their careers, looking for a last shot at glory.
It’s certainly true that the last batch of British exports did not go particularly well. Micah Richards and Ashley Cole, have left Fiorentina and Roma respectively, for Aston Villa and Los Angeles Galaxy, their exciting moves to Italy proving nothing more than that their careers were on a downward trajectory. Ravel Morrison at Lazio has been a bigger flop than Ravel Morrison at Manchester United. The only English players other than Morrison in Europe’s top five leagues (excluding the Premier League) is Chelsea loanee Nathaniel Chabolah at Napoli. Before Fletcher, Scotland had none. Gareth Bale, and other players that preceded him in moves to the largest European clubs, are the exceptions that prove the rule.
Notable players in the past to make such moves were Gary Lineker, Chris Waddle, Paul Gascoigne, Michael Owen and David Beckham to name a few. These players, though, were outstanding and at the pinnacle of their game, and looking at the British game now there are few players who would warrant interest from those big European sides.
Premier League spending is such that even the clubs that are about to be relegated can outspend and provide wages higher than most clubs in Europe. The highest spenders in the January transfer window were Newcastle and Norwich, two clubs fighting relegation. Premier League clubs spent £175 million in total; the next highest league was the Italian Serie A with £50 million. That spending is yet to really pay dividends for those clubs, with them still firmly stuck in the relegation mire.
Only the elite clubs in Europe seem to be able to provide the glory and finances to be able to attract anyone other than the too young or the too old, and the statistics suggest that there aren’t any British players of the sort that those clubs seek around at the moment.
In 2014 just 23 English players were playing Champions League football, compared to 78 Spanish, 55 German, 51 from Brazil. After the first couple of matches in this seasons Champions League, Serbia, Croatia, Belarus, Israel all had more players with game time. The fact is that only the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Juventus could persuade Premier League players to cross the channel, and there is a dearth of British talent that these clubs would want to persuade.
We can’t even fill our own Champions League teams, who barely drag themselves out of the group stages, with British players. But the next level of European clubs simply don’t have the financial resources to tempt players out of the British divisions. Is it any wonder, with so few players playing in the highest echelons of tournament football that the Home Nations do so badly in major tournaments, or even fail to qualify for them? There is an advantage to staying local: British players are immersed in players of the highest quality, allowing them to put their skills to the test against consistently excellent players which can only lead to greater improvement.
However, this doesn’t seem to have affected too greatly those international players for other countries who ply their trade for those clubs in European Leagues other than the giants. What the lack of British talent abroad really indicates is that there is a lack of ambition in British players, preferring the safe option of remaining in the UK rather than taking risks and attempting to make it on the continent, likely for less money. This is why it is so refreshing and unusual to see Steven Fletcher make the move from the comfort of the Premier League to Ligue 1 where he is unproven, and likely having to take a wage reduction.
The former Hibernain and Burnley striker scored on his first start for the club, also grabbing an assist in a 2-0 win over amateur side Trelissac in the French Cup and was on the cover of leading French daily sports paper, L’Equipe. An impressive feat for the man who not that long ago had been frozen out of the Scottish national side. Marseille have since further advanced in the French Cup to the semi-finals. The lack of representation is also present in the game at the managerial level, with very few coaches going abroad from the UK and if they do, they rarely have success as the cultures seem to be too different for them to adapt to. But the Home Nations won’t succeed until British players are stars not only at home but also abroad, or at least, playing for the clubs with European success, even if at some far off point, they be British clubs.