Few English players decide to up sticks and move abroad to ply their trade in football, especially those of tender age.
The high-profile likes of David Beckham, Michael Owen, Jonathan Woodgate and Steve McManaman of course headed to join the Galactico revolution at Real Madrid, but that collective aside, moves abroad have been few and far between.
So it was with relative surprise when born and bred Blackburn striker Matt Derbyshire did just that with an initial loan move to Greek giants Olympiakos last January.
Just 23 at the time, Derbyshire decided the time was right to focus his attentions elsewhere with a move away from his home nation. A six month loan spell at the Karaiskakis Stadium proved successful as Derbyshire hit eight goals in his 13 appearances. A permanent deal was ominous.
And suitable, too. Derbyshire, a boyhood Rovers fan, was always popular in Lancashire for his tireless effort and excellent attitude to the game, but the timing of his breakthrough simply wasn’t right. Often employed as an impact substitution or stranded out on the wing, opportunities were slim under Sam Allardyce.
We all enjoy seeing our home-grown players rise through the ranks and prove themselves at the top level, but ultimately Derbyshire could only ever establish himself as a mere fringe player at Ewood Park.
It was with regret from many Blackburn fans that he decided to move on to pastures new, but Allardyce himself conceded recently that a subsequent offer for a permanent transfer in excess of €4 million was simply too good to turn down.
He could have moved to a Championship club to gain first team football, even a lower Premier League side perhaps, but instead Derbyshire did what few have done before him in recent times by chasing a dream abroad. The opportunity of domestic silverware and Champions League football were the lure in a true footballing move.
A successful year last season saw the striker gain the affectionate tag of ‘English Killer’ by his adopted Greek press, who were always keen to speak with him.
What better way to popularise yourself than to hit two goals in a cup final anyway? That’s exactly what the young striker did last year, including a dramatic equaliser in the sixth minute of injury time to take the match to extra-time. Olympiakos won on penalties.
His recent season-long loan switch to Alex McLeish’s Birmingham - with whom he made his debut for against Rovers on Saturday - may have been something of a surprise after gaining almost cult status in Greece, but it is sadly not uncommon for English players looking for a fresh start.
But speaking to FourFourTwo prior to his return, Derbyshire had only positive words for his experience. When asked if more young English players should follow in his footsteps, he said:
“Yes, why not? You only have a short career as a footballer and this is a great experience. I only got to play two Champions League matches this season, but I never thought I would get that chance.”
Matt Derbyshire deserves immense credit for taking a leap into the unknown, even if his return to the Premier League this summer with Birmingham indicates it may not have quite worked out quite how he had planned it.
*Disclaimer: The views in this article are that of the writer and may not replicate those of the Professional Footballers' Association.
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