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La Liga's most successful British football imports

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It is well documented that some Brits don't like travelling abroad to play their football. Only 25 footballers from England, Scotland and Wales have plied their trade in La Liga over the years, with varied results.

On the back of Gareth Bale's fantastic debut season with Real Madrid it would seem an ideal time to pay homage to the best British footballers to have graced La Liga.

The original "Brit abroad" was John 'Fox' Watson, who appeared once for Real Madrid in 1948, thus becoming the first and only Scotsman to play for the club.

At a time when European football was emerging from the rubble of the Second World War, it is easy to dismiss Watson's achievements, especially as he failed to make a name for himself at Madrid.

John Charles - former Wales and Juventus centre-forward - is widely regarded as the first Brit abroad, however Watson had a key role to play in helping ease the transition of players from England, Scotland and Wales in foreign countries and the fact that to this day he is the only Scot to have pulled on the famous Real Madrid shirt speaks volumes.

Jack Harper - currently in the Real Madrid academy - has a chance to follow Watson, although the Scotland under-17 international will be hopeful of adding more than one solitary appearance.

Moving onto the 1970s, one Brit stood out from the rest in La Liga: Laurie Cunningham. Real Madrid paid £950,000 in 1979 to bring Cunningham from West Brom to the Bernabeu and from listening to the accounts of those that saw him play in Spain, the monumental impact he had is clear.

Vincente Del Bosque, who has had the pleasure of working with some of the greatest footballers in the modern era. describes Cunningham's talents as no less than Cristiano Ronaldo's.

He famously received a standing ovation from the Camp Nou crowd after dazzling in El Classico and but for a ruptured knee ligament injury that spelled the end of his career in the 70s, Cunningham would have won more honours beside the two League titles and one Copa del Rey he picked up during his time at Madrid.

The star of the 1980s was Gary Lineker, after the England international completed a move to Barcelona off the back of a successful season at Everton in 1986.

His three-year stint at the Camp Nou - ending when he joined Tottenham in the summer of 1989 - would see Lineker win the Copa del Rey and European Cup Winner's Cup, the latter against a talented Sampdoria side.

His debut season at Barcelona saw him score a hat-trick in El Classico, re-paying the £2.8 million that was spent on his transfer fee and guaranteeing him cult-status among Barcelona supporters. 

The 90s heralded arguably the most successful Brit in La Liga history, Steve McManaman, who picked up two La Liga titles, two Champions Leagues, two Spanish Super Cups, a UEFA Super Cup and an Intercontinental Cup during his time at the Bernabeu.

McManaman remained a firm favourite amongst Madrid supporters, despite the arrival of several Galacticos who often took his place in the side. With goals against Valencia in the Champions League final in 2000 and Barcelona in the Champions League semi-final in 2002, McManaman majorly contributed to Madrid's European glory, further securing his cult-status.

A scorer of great goals rather than a great scorer of goals, McManaman was always capable of the spectacular and also had to show incredible mental strength to succeed at Madrid, when often he was being pushed towards the exit.

McManaman was followed into Madrid by David Beckham in 2003, with the former Manchester United star becoming the third Englishmen to play for the club. Beckham was the latest of the Galacticos to arrive at the Bernabeu and although he only finished with a single La Liga title and Spanish Super Cup to his name, his stature as a global icon was a match made in heaven for Real Madrid's superstar team.

As with other players in the Galactico era, there is a sense of underachievement, but Beckham did a lot to raise the profile of Brits abroad.

The only player who has come close to matching Beckham's worldwide appeal is Bale. His world-record move to Real Madrid and subsequent partnership with Ronaldo announced a return of the Galactico era under Florentino Pérez.

Bale initially struggled due to injury and lack of a full pre-season, however as the season progressed, so too did Bale.

This culminated in an outstanding match-winning goal against Barcelona in the Copa del Rey. Settled and fully fit, next season promises to be an exciting one for Bale, who could yet finish the current campaign with a Champions League winner's medal.

Despite the success of  Cunningham, Lineker and Bale, the plights of Jermaine Pennant and Jonathan Woodgate display the difficulties British players still encounter when playing in La Liga. The language-barrier is often too great a hurdle to overcome, whilst the culture, food and style of football all take obviously require a period of adaption. 

Hence, La Liga will always remain a mythical place for British footballers, but for a select few.

 

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This article has been written by a member of the GiveMeSport Writing Academy and does not represent the views of GiveMeSport.com or SportsNewMedia. The views and opinions expressed are solely that of the author credited at the top of this article. GiveMeSport.com and SportsNewMedia do not take any responsibility for the content of its contributors.

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