Top 10: English players abroad

Chris Henderson, 02 June 2019

Some of England’s finest young players continue to leave these shores in search of first-team football.

Here is a list of the top 10 English talents currently plying their trade across mainland Europe…

1. Reiss Nelson, Hoffenheim

Reiss Nelson joined the Arsenal Academy at the age of nine. Able to play as an attacking winger or forward, he’s made appearances in 2018 for the Gunners in the Community Shield, League Cup and the Europa League. He won the PL2 Player of the Season award in 2018.

Born in Elephant & Castle, he is a long-term friend of fellow Bundesliga starlet Jadon Sancho. After a move to Hoffenheim last August, Nelson scored within 14 minutes of his debut and has six goals in 13 appearances so far this season.

The young forward has played at all levels of England’s youth set-up, but is also eligible to play for Zimbabwe. He is now firmly on Gareth Southgate’s radar for the senior squad.

2. Marcus McGuane, Barcelona

Yet another product of Arsenal’s Hale End Academy, Marcus McGuane is a defensive midfielder with a bright future. He became the first Englishman to play for Barcelona since Gary Lineker, ending a wait of 29 years.

McGuane featured for the Republic of Ireland in the 2015 UEFA European Under-17 Championship, but made the switch to England a year later, making him only eligible to play for the Three Lions.

Currently residing in Barcelona’s B side at the age of 19, with only one senior appearance in the domestic cup, the clock is ticking on him breaking into the senior set-up when compared with some of his peers on this list. He has a keen eye for a pass and revels in metronomic-type possession, so he’s in the right place for his development.

3. Jadon Sancho, Borussia Dortmund

Jadon Sancho is setting the bar for young Englishmen on the continent. The risky decision to force a move away from Manchester City at 17-years-old initially looks to have paid off.

This season has been Sancho’s true breakthrough year at Dortmund, where he has shone as an attacking midfielder on both the left and right flanks. Only Eden Hazard and Lionel Messi have provided more assists in Europe’s top five leagues, and Sancho has added six goals to that tally.

He was named as Player of the Tournament at the 2017 UEFA European Under-17 Championship and is the only man on this list with England senior caps after brief appearances in the UEFA Nations League. Sancho has become the benchmark, paving the way for other English players to make the uncertain move into Europe’s top leagues in search of first team football.

4. Ronaldo Vieira, Sampdoria

The owner of possibly the best name in world football, made all the better by the fact that his brother is called Romario. Mainly operating as a deep-lying central midfielder, he has also appeared several times as a makeshift centre-back.

Vieira also holds Portuguese nationality but chose to represent England in the long term. The youngster spent two full seasons at Leeds United and was even named as captain by Marcelo Bielsa in a pre-season friendly last July. Vieira agreed to sign for Sampdoria for a reported £7m shortly afterwards though, replacing the outgoing midfielder Lucas Torreira.

The young Englishman is particularly adept at breaking up play and recycling the ball but is prone to lapses in concentration and discipline. He made early waves in Serie A, but has been an unused substitute for large portions of the season.

5. Noni Madueke, PSV

Madueke is one of the bravest young talents on this list. He was the darling of the Spurs Academy and highly thought of by Mauricio Pochettino but chose to sign for PSV, turning down offers from Manchester United and Chelsea in the process. At the time he became the youngest player at the age of 16 to move abroad for first team opportunities.

He scored one and assisted another on his debut for PSV Under-17’s in August 2018. He is a physically strong playmaker most comfortable in midfield and has a keen eye for a through ball. He’s also an immaculate penalty-taker, which is never too far from Gareth Southgate’s scouting radar.

He allayed any initial fears about the standard of Dutch football being below that of youth level in England, “The league is very competitive, I’d probably say it’s more competitive than in England. It’s faster.” Madueke only turns 17 in March; a big future lies ahead.

6. Reo Griffiths, Lyon

Reo Griffiths is another man who made a controversial exit from Tottenham’s academy. He had a stunning goalscoring record for Spurs’ youth side – 27 goals in 20 games – but left for Lyon in August 2018, citing a search for first team opportunities.

He may well have got his chance in North London this season after the injuries to Harry Kane and Lucas Moura, Son-Yeung Min’s national team duties and Fernando Llorente’s insistence on missing sitters.

Serious questions should be asked as to why Spurs can’t hold onto their young stars, particularly important with almost zero budget in the transfer market. Griffiths has a long way to go but, as with most players on the list, he should be applauded for rolling the dice rather than stagnating in the youth set-up.

He struggled with fitness in his first few months in France but has since settled into life at Lyon, scoring his first goal in December.

7. Jonathan Panzo, Monaco

Jonathan Panzo is one of only a handful of defenders to move overseas for first team football. Born in Brockley, he first signed for Chelsea’s Academy at the age of nine but became increasingly frustrated with their loan system merry-go-round.

Chelsea’s loss was Monaco’s gain in July 2018; it really was quite the summer for English players fleeing to mainland Europe. Panzo has been promoted from Monaco II into the first team squad this season but is yet to make an appearance in Ligue 1.

Panzo was part of England u-17’s World Cup winning squad, and looks to be on the cusp of first team football at Monaco. Gareth Southgate’s minimal options in defence may see Panzo fast-tracked into the England set-up before the close of 2019.

8. Keanan Bennetts, Borussia Monchengladbach

Keanan Bennetts is yet another English attacking midfielder plying his trade in the Bundesliga, and yet another man to escape the Tottenham Academy.

Bennetts’ mother was born in Hamburg so it was less of a wrench to move abroad to Borussia Monchengladbach and he has the rare luxury for an English footballer of being bilingual. The youngster said playing in the Premier League was not a specific goal, “If you live in England, the goal is mostly the Premier League, but I just wanted to become a professional. If such a possibility arises, you have to take it.”

Most comfortable operating from the left flank, Bennetts has been consistently likened to Gareth Bale as he possesses blistering pace, dribbling skills and is superb at whipping in crosses from the left. Definitely one to watch.

9. Denzeil Boadu, Borussia Dortmund

Denzeil Boadu joined former Manchester City teammate Jadon Sancho at Borussia Dortmund in August 2017. Prior to that, Boadu quickly progressed through the ranks of the City academy and asserted himself as one of the game’s most exciting young prospects.

Unfortunately his young career has been plagued with injuries, at one point he was even told he may not play again. Boadu underwent a series of major surgeries and now appears to be out the other side. In Dortmund, he has become known for his sublime passing and an extremely high work rate.

The young Englishman has not made the Dortmund squad for 13 out of 21 matches this season, and has a lot of work to do to emulate the initial career path of Sancho. Boadu hasn’t featured for England’s youth set-up since 2013, and injuries continue to be the major obstacle to a regular spot for both club and country.

10. Chris Willock, Benfica

In June 2017, Chris Willock made the rare move from England to Portugal when he signed for league champions Benfica. On signing, the forward said, “Benfica like the technical aspect of the game and that’s one of my strengths.”

Willock joined the Arsenal Academy at the age of five, and made his first senior team appearance in a friendly match in 2014 as a 16-year-old. After the game, boss Arsene Wenger described Willock as “a very interesting player,” which we can only assume he meant as a compliment.

The Englishman has two brothers, Matty and Joe, who are also professional footballers. The trio even shared a pitch together in 2017 in a youth match between Arsenal and Manchester United. He has played in every level of the England youth set-up, and currently resides in the u-20s. Often linked with a loan move back to England, Willock is a hard-working young forward with a very bright future.

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Chris is the founder of The Football Brief. He runs our regular series and can usually be found waxing lyrical about Blackburn Rovers and R9.

By |2019-06-04T21:40:41+00:00June 2nd, 2019|

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