Bale, Beckham, Lineker: Who is the greatest British footballer to play abroad?

Gareth Bale has officially confirmed he will be leaving Real Madrid this summer.

On Wednesday morning, the Welshman took to social media to inform the public of his exit after nine trophy-filled years at the club.

Accompanied by a much longer statement, Bale wrote to Madridistas: “It has been an honour. Thank you!”

So, now that Bale’s time in Spain has come to an end, the question that has to be asked is; who is the greatest British footballer to play abroad?

Well, we’ve decided to provide our answers by ranking who we feel are the 12 British players who’ve thrived the most on foreign shores.

Gareth Bale after winning his fifth Champions League
PARIS, FRANCE – MAY 28: Gareth Bale of Real Madrid looks on after collecting their winners medal after victory in the UEFA Champions League final match between Liverpool FC and Real Madrid at Stade de France on May 28, 2022 in Paris, France. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

Fikayo Tomori and Tammy Abraham are two players who could join the list in years to come…

12. Jadon Sancho

His first season at Manchester United was one to forget, but let’s not forget just how good Sancho was as a youngster at Borussia Dortmund. In 137 games, he scored 50 goals, assisted 64 more and won the 2021/21 DFB-Pokal – netting two of Dortmund’s goals in the 4-1 final win against RB Leipzig. Yeah, he was pretty darn special out in Germany.

11. Laurie Cunningham

Cunningham was something of a trailblazer, as in 1979 he became the first British footballer to represent Real Madrid. He scored a brace on his Los Blancos debut and then helped the team win a La Liga and Copa del Rey double in his first season. Cunningham was also very good during his one and only season with Marseille in 1994/95.

10. Gary Lineker

There aren’t many British people who can say they’ve scored a hat-trick in El Clasico, but Lineker can. After joining Barcelona from Everton following his exploits at the 1986 World Cup, the Match of the Day host hit the ground running, netting 21 goals in his first season. Lineker won a Copa del Rey and a European Cup Winners’ Cup during his three years in Catalonia, before returning to England with Tottenham Hotspur.

Gary Lineker in action for Barcelona
BARCELONA, SPAIN – JANUARY 31: Barcelona striker Gary Lineker (r) gets in a shot as Hugo Sanchez of Real Madrid looks on during the ‘El Clasico’ between Barcelona and Real Madrid at the Camp Nou on January 31, 1987 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Simon Bruty/Allsport/Getty Images)

9. Glenn Hoddle

In the twilight years of his career, Hoddle swapped Spurs for AS Monaco – and he was an absolute sensation at the principality club. In his first season under the rule of Arsene Wenger, the midfield magician helped the team win the league title and was duly named Foreign Player of the Year. A special, special footballer.

8. Owen Hargreaves

Perhaps the most underrated English player of his generation. Hargreaves signed for Bayern Munich in 1997 at the age of 16, progressed through the ranks and then became one of the team’s most important players for a number of years. He won four Bundesliga titles, three DFB-Pokals and a Champions League prior to joining Manchester United in 2007, where injuries sadly brought his career to a premature end.

7. David Beckham

The English ‘Galactico’. Beckham smashed it at Real Madrid for a number of years after signing from Manchester United in 2003, fitting in seamlessly alongside the likes of Zinedine Zidane and Ronaldo Nazario. The global superstar also enjoyed successful stints at AC Milan and LA Galaxy, before bringing an end to his time in football at Paris Saint-Germain.

David Beckham in action for Real Madrid
BARCELONA, SPAIN – DECEMBER 6: David Beckham of Real Madrid closely watched by the media during the Spanish Primera Liga match between Barcelona and Real Madrid at the Nou Camp Stadium on December 6, 2003 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

6. Paul Lambert

Lambert actually only spent one season abroad, so you may be asking; why is he sitting pretty in sixth? Well, in 1996/97 at Borussia Dortmund, the Scotsman became a key player almost instantaneously and helped the club win their first – and only – Champions league. During the 3-1 final victory over Juventus, Lambert kept a young Zidane remarkably quiet and was deservedly named Man of the Match.

5. Steve McManaman

McManaman was great at Liverpool – and was even better at Real Madrid. The tall, skilful winger was regularly mesmerizing on the wing with the Spanish outfit and famously scored a brilliant volley in the club’s 1999/2000 Champions League final win. Like Hargreaves, McManaman’s playing days aren’t praised as much as they should be in the present.

4. Chris Waddle

An absurdly good winger in his pomp, Waddle achieved enormous success during a three-year stint at Marseille. The mullet-sporting star won three consecutive league titles, reached the final of the 1991 European Cup and tormented defenders on a weekly basis. In 2010, Waddle was named in Marseille’s ‘110-year Dream Team’, which says it all really.

Chris Waddle on the ball for Marseille
BARI, ITALY – MAY 29: Marseille forward Chris Waddle in action during the European Cup final between Red Star Belgrade and Marseille on May 29, 1991 in Bari, Italy. (Photo by David Cannon/Allsport/Getty Images/Hulton Archive)

3. John Charles

Charles’ five-year stint with Juventus after scoring goals for fun at Leeds United was simply stunning. The Welshman first arrived in Turin back in 1957 and finished as the Serie A top scorer in his first season. Charles went on to bag 108 goals for Juve in total, winning five trophies and finishing third for the 1959 Ballon d’Or.

2. Kevin Keegan

Keegan’s three-year spell at Hamburg after leaving Liverpool in 1977 is the stuff of legend. The Englishman won two Ballon d’Ors and a league title with the German outfit, not to mention he was named in Kicker’s Bundesliga Team of the Season in all three of the campaigns in which he represented Hamburg. Unreal stuff.

1. Gareth Bale

Who else could it be at number one, eh? The final years of Bale’s stay at Real Madrid turned a bit sour, but what he achieved at the club is still extraordinary. He won five Champions Leagues, scored 106 goals, assisted a further 67 and dropped a plethora of masterclasses in the famous white jersey. In his absolute prime at Real Madrid, Bale was arguably the greatest British footballer in history – and that’s saying something.

Champions League quiz: 20 questions on the all-time records

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Which team holds the record for longest unbeaten run in the UCL of 25 games?

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