May. 17, 2017
Joe Hart: The Englishman ready to buck a new trend.
British footballers have been playing abroad for well over 100 years, with the first ever British player to compete on the continent - Herbert Kilpin - turning out for Italian side FC Torinense way back in 1891.
Almost a century later, the likes of Paul Gascoigne, Gary Lineker and of course David Beckham have all followed in the Englishman’s footsteps, and yet, there are still only few who - at the peak of their careers - opt into taking the decision that is often misconceived to be a ‘gamble’.
And it is even less common for British players to leave the home comfort of the Premier League to test themselves out while they continue to play at the peak of their careers.
Manchester City goalkeeper Joe Hart has suffered a great deal of criticism for his performances over the past 12 months, denunciation that escalated during this summer’s European Championship in France, where the 29 year-old was blamed for at least three of the goals that Roy Hodgson’s England team conceded during their brief involvement in the competition.
Nevertheless, whether current boss Pep Guardiola rates him or not (and it would appear that the latter is more likely), it would be difficult to argue that Hart has not shown signs of world-class goalkeeping over a number of years since he returned to the Etihad Stadium in 2010 after a successful loan spell with Birmingham City.
So could his move to Sevilla happen?
The Spanish club lack a goalkeeper of Hart’s level, with Beto’s transfer to Sporting Lisbon leaving David Soria and Sergio Rico as the only two options for manager Jorge Sampaoli to choose from.
Former Arsenal winger José Antonio Reyes is the most high-profile player to have left the Premier League to join the Seville-based club, but you have to go back to the start of the 21st century to find a reasonably well-known Brit to have donned the club’s famous white strip.
That man was former Tottenham and Everton midfielder Vinny Samways, who played just ten games for the club.
However, in Sampaoli, the five-time UEFA Cup/ Europa League winners have a manager who is often brutal in his pursuit of success, and the transfer should not be written off if Hart is the man that the Argentine wishes to acquire.
How have other Brits fared abroad?
Although by no means exhaustive, the list of players to have left these shores for the continent and beyond is far too comprehensive for this piece to cover in any real depth.
Instead, the fortunes of four players will be assessed, with the ventures of two viewed as real success stories, while the other two are unlikely to be welcomed back with the same enthusiasm that they were once greeted by their former supporters.
In terms of commercial success, David Beckham leads the way when it comes to Brits who have plied their trade elsewhere. But ‘Becks’ also achieved a great deal on the field, winning league titles in Spain (Real Madrid), America (LA Galaxy), and France (PSG) to become the first (and only) Englishman to lift four different league trophies.
A contemporary example of someone who has thrived since leaving the Premier League is Welsh star Gareth Bale. The £85 million man became a ‘Galactico’ in the summer of 2013, and has since lifted two Champions League trophies, two UEFA Super Cups, one FIFA Club World Cup, one Copa del Rey, and has even completed the task of befriending Cristiano Ronaldo during his three years in Spain.
Bale’s compatriot Ian Rush was one of the two who enjoyed less success. The former Liverpool forward moved to Juventus for a British-record transfer fee of £3.2 million, he then got injured on his debut, struggled to learn the language, and was back in Merseyside by the start of the next campaign.
Hear the name Jonathan Woodgate and you will think of a different player now to the one you perhaps thought rather highly of prior to his move to Real Madrid. Woodgate was signed for a hefty £13.4 million by the Spanish giants after shining at both Leeds and Newcastle United, but it went wrong for the central defender from the moment he left the Premier League, scoring an own-goal and seeing a red card flashed in his face on his debut.
Should Hart leave Manchester?
Quite simply, yes.
The England stopper is not getting any younger, and where he has enjoyed a full career as the number one goalkeeper at either Shrewsbury Town, Birmingham, or Manchester City, it is clear that Guardiola does not rate Hart like his former managers have, and he is far too good to spend the remaining years of his career as a second-choice.
And with Everton linked to be Sevilla’s greatest challengers for his signature, the four-time Premier League ‘Golden Glove’ winner would be wise to choose the latter as his next destination, with the simple motive of Champions League football surely too great a drive for a player who has never lacked the necessary ambition to achieve at the highest level.