When English abroad goes wrong: Woodgate, Pennant and more

I am the biggest advocate of English players taking the gamble to play abroad and I have published towards 200 articles with glowing endorsements from professional players all recalling their positive experiences.

However, last week I posted on Twitter asking for ideas for a different type of article. I asked for the first players that come to the mind of people when we think of horror stories that Englishmen have suffered whilst playing abroad. I received several replies and it also started some debate in the replies so let’s take a look at the suggestions.

I started the ball rolling with a picture of Jonathan Woodgate from his days as a Galáctico. His debut for Real Madrid has gone down in infamy. Having gone a whole season injured following his £13m transfer from Newcastle United, the centre back finally made his debut in September 2005 against Athletic Bilbao. However, it’s fair to say it was a night to forget for the England international as he headed an own goal past Iker Casillas and then rounded off his nightmare start with a red card too. He went on to make just 14 appearances in Spain before returning to England to join Middlesbrough, the club he now manages.

The next suggestion was former Arsenal man Jay Simpson. Seeing as the previous campaign he had played 47 matches in the Championship with Hull City, you can see why Thai Premier League side Buriram United expected big things of the forward when they signed him ahead of the 2014 season. However, as the tweet above says, it did not exactly go to plan for the former England youth international. In total he scored just twice in 22 matches. He’s currently playing in Cyprus having spent two years in MLS with Philadelphia Union.

Another popular suggestion was Jermaine Pennant for his time with La Liga side Real Zaragoza. The winger joined the Spanish club in the summer of 2009 following the expiration of his contract with Liverpool. Like a lot of his career, it was the headlines off the pitch rather than on them that made his time in Spain stand out. His time with Zaragoza was mediocre, he failed to score in 26 appearances, but what it is remembered for is the story of him forgetting that he had left his Porsche in the country. The car was found abandoned in February 2011 with five months’ worth of parking tickets. By this time Pennant was back in the Premier League with Stoke City and had been for over six months…

Pennant’s former side Liverpool made great progress in their quest for a first Premier League title at the weekend but if think they may slip up, track the odds of Manchester City defending their title by clicking here.

For Dale Jennings it was a dream move which turned sour. The winger took League One by storm in his first season of senior football with Tranmere Rovers, scoring six times in 29 matches. This led to Rovers turning down a bid from an unnamed Premier League club for his services.

They did however agree a deal for the winger to join German giants Bayern Munich, with the deal completed in July 2011. Aged just 18 at the time, Jennings would initially link up with the club’s second team in the fourth-tier as he aimed to earn a place in the Bundesliga -but that chance never came. In two years in the fourth-tier, Jennings managed just one goal in 36 games before being sold to Barnsley for £250,000, having been frustrated by being unable to break into the first team at Bayern.

Touted as a hot prospect at Arsenal, Kaylen Hinds played for England at youth level from under-16s to under-20s and it made sense when Wolfsburg signed the forward in the summer of 2017 with German clubs increasingly looking at English academies for potential talent. A year on, Hinds would be without a club, having made just three senior appearances in Germany.

The move had started promisingly. The forward’s previous only first team experience had come in League Two during a loan spell with Stevenage but in August 2017 he was starting for Wolfsburg in front of 30,000 fans against Borussia Dortmund. After that appearance, he made the bench on a four moreoccasions but found his game time limited so was loaned out to 2. Bundesliga side Greuther Fürth. Again though, he failed to break into the team, making just one singular appearance for the club’s second team in the fourth-tier.

Following his unsatisfactory loan spell, he failed to return to Wolfsburg and had his contract terminated after effectively going AWOL. He then spent a year without a club before signing for Watford’s under-23 side this summer.

Another tweet which caught my eye was the last point made here by Tom J.Graeme Souness spent a year-and-a-half in charge of Portuguese giants Benfica, taking over in 1997. In that time, his transfer policy was simple, sign as many British players as possible. He signed seven in total, five of which were English. The scorer ofthe Premier League’s first goal Brian Deane was one of them but with seven goals in 18 games, he did not do himself a disservice. Nor did Scott Minto, he had a solid if not spectacular time in Benfica, making 31 appearances. However, the other three did not have such a great time on the continent.

Signed by Souness for £1 million, Gary Charles was eight years on from the second of his two England caps but was still a solid performer for Aston Villa before moving to Portugal,but he made just four appearances during his year abroad having been sidelined by injury for most of the campaign.

Former Liverpool left-back Steve Harkness faired a little better, making nine appearances for Benfica whilst his teammate at AnfieldMichael Thomas, who followed him overseas, did at least bag a goal in his 18 appearances in Portugal but was then demoted to the B team after Souness left the club.

There were plenty of other great suggestions in the reply to my tweet so do be sure to check them out! Thanks for all the tweets!

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