Five of football’s foreign trailblazers

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Footballers playing oversees is now so commonplace that fans barely blink an eyelid when heir team signs a player from half way across the world.


It wasn't always so, however. Even as little as ten years ago seeing a player arrive from mainland Europe would send a tingle down your spine.


The heady mixed an exotic name and ignorance of their abilities made seeing them a tantalising prospect.


With football becoming such a global game, it is impossible now to not know or have seen something about a new player who joins a top club anywhere in the world.


YouTube has made glimpsing almost any player’s highlights a formality and so taking away some of the mystery – perhaps the ever increasing interest in unknown youth players is a product of this.


You could call them footballing pioneers, or foreign trailblazers; whatever you call them, they are dwindling.


They haven’t gone yet though and Manchester United’s new midfielder Shinji Kagawa has described the effect Park Ji-Sung’s success at Old Trafford had on him.


The midfielder was bought from Borussia Dortmund for £12million and explained how the South Korean blazed a trail for other Asian players in Europe.


“This is only the beginning for me,” he told The Mirror.


“Park Ji-Sung is the best player Asia has ever produced – there’s no doubt about that.


“He played regularly for United for a long time and I can’t be sure how long it will take me to establish myself in the team like him. But I will always work hard to do so.


“Watching him play for United motivated me a lot. I began to truly believe Asian players could play in big clubs.”


It is quite an accolade for someone of any nationality, but it is undeniable that Park has been the most successful player in the Premier League to come from Asia.


Kagawa’s words inspired GMF to find some other foreign footballing trailblazers, in and out of the Premier League.


We realise that the five names are certainly not the only players to have left their home nations, nor are they necessarily the most successful, but they are individuals that have gone abroad and succeeded.


Their success has made it that bit easier for those following and they have managed to forge great reputations in their adopted nations.


Kevin Keegan


Then a Liverpool legend, Keegan decided to embark on a trip to the German Bundesliga and Hamburg SV. This was a time when the Anfield club were the dominant side in Europe and English players rarely decided to move to foreign shores.


Keegan’s time there was a great individual success, but his team suffered aginising failure. The England international won the European Footballer of the Year award in both 1978 and 1979, while Hamburg were crowned German champions one of the three years he stayed there.


However, 1980, Keegan’s final year in Germany, saw them lose in the European Cup final to Brain Clough’s Nottingham Forest and their title taken off them by ubiquitous champions Bayern Munich.


Eric Cantona


King Eric, as he came to be known, moved to Leeds United from Nimes for a fresh start after the early part of is career in his homeland was littered with disciplinary issues and suspensions.


After helping Leeds to the last English Football League First Division title before the formation of the Premier League, he moved to Manchester United and the making of a legend was underway. The lithe, gliding, inspirational and passionate striker seemed the stereotypically Gallic to English fans.


Gianfranco Zola


The nice guy of football, Zola always came across as a smiling, courteous and genuine individual – not to mention his sublime technique and guile. The diminutive striker joined Chelsea from Parma in 1996 and went on to be named one of the club’s greatest ever players.


Often referred to as the greatest foreign import the Premier League has seen, Zola was one of very few Italian players that left Serie A, never mind moving to England, which was said to have had an impact on his international career.


Zola disproved the theory that football, as it appeared then in England, could only be dominated by the biggest, strongest and fastest players. Smaller than most of his opponents, Zola showed that technical ability reigned supreme and went about proving this with spectacular goals and passes.


Steve McManaman


A product of the Liverpool youth team McManaman was one of the darlings of the Kop and exhilarated fans with his mazy runs down either wing, but his relationship with them became strained when he refused to sign a new contract and moved to Real Madrid on a Bosman free transfer.


His first season in Spain was an unprecedented success and he became the first Englishman to win the UEFA Champions League with a foreign club in 2000, scoring a spectacular volley and being named man of the match by a number of media outlets.


His second season was bizarre, with him being told he was surplus to requirements and not given a squad number. McManaman eventually won round manager Vicente del Bosque and forced himself into the first team, becoming an integral part of the title winning side.


‘Macca’, as he is known, collected a second Champions League winners medal and another league title before returning to England a hero of Madrid Ultras and a highly respected individual.


David Beckham


McManaman’s departure from the Santiago Bernabeu came soon after Becks left Old Trafford under a cloud due to falling out with Sir Alex Ferguson. Beckham’s move to Real Madrid was part of the Galacticos policy and he broke new ground when it came to footballers being seen as superstar celebrities.


After helping Real to a La Liga title in his final season, the former England captain made the unprecedented step of moving to America and MLS. Beckham’s transfer to LA Galaxy sparked a revolution (not New England) in the game ‘across the pond’.


After a slow start, the professional game in the United States has steadily improved and has attracted a number of big European names, such as Thierry Henry and Rafael Marquez (both New York Red Bulls), as well as a number of young talents from South America.


Beckham continues to be the darling of the English public and it seems his charms were easily transferrable in other nations.


The list does not end there, oh no, but GMF feel as though it is a decent list.


We do not want the discussion to end either, so you will need to tell who you think are the foreign players who have done most to blaze a trail for their countrymen.


Leave a comment below and let us know…

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David Beckham
Premier League
UEFA Champions League
Eric Cantona
Manchester United
Nottingham Forest
Gianfranco Zola
Leeds United
Steve McManaman
Kevin Keegan
Thierry Henry

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