How the 19 Brits abroad in Europe’s major leagues have fared in 2020-21
An increasing number of British footballers are now testing themselves by representing their country on foreign fields.
British footballers have stereotypically been cast as reluctant to broaden their horizons away from the comfort of the English major divisions. After all, you just can’t buy Yorkshire Tea in Italy.
But we’ve taken a closer look at the 19 British players who played in the other four of Europe’s top five leagues in the 2020-21 season. This is how they’ve fared.
Hailed as the best Birmingham City prospect since Trevor Francis, Bellingham enjoyed a break-out 2019-20 season and lit up an otherwise prosaic Championship campaign for the Blues.
With an ability to dribble confidently at defenders and innate self-confidence, it’s easy to forget Bellingham wasn’t even alive for Peter Enckelman’s infamous error in the 2002 Second City derby.
Naturally, some of Europe’s biggest clubs expressed an interest in the midfielder, with Borussia Dortmund winning the race for his services. The £25million fee made Bellingham the most expensive 17-year-old in history, and he’s enjoyed a stellar season in Germany.
After providing an assist on his Bundesliga debut, Bellingham has gone to make 46 appearances across all competitions and scored four goals – including one against Manchester City in the Champions League quarter-finals.
He also made his England debut in November 2020 and has been included in the provisional squad for the Euros.
All in all, not too bad.
Ramsey became the highest-paid British footballer of all time when he joined Juventus in 2019 for a reported wage of £400,000 a week. It hasn’t quite gone according to plan.
With the likes of Miralem Pjanic, Sami Khedira, Blaise Matuidi, Adrien Rabiot and Rodrigo Bentancur to compete with, Ramsey found it difficult to make an impression in his first season in Turin – the Welsh midfielder was dogged by injury niggles and was sidelined soon after scoring on his debut.
The Wales international seemed to be reborn under Andrea Pirlo, having been given the role of the No.10 and excelling during a win over Sampdoria. But, as Juve struggled in Serie A, Ramsey has been unable to shake his fitness problems to make a sustained impact.
Despite flashes of quality, the 30-year-old has been linked with a return to the Premier League this summer.
A name that will be familiar to many football fans in this country despite never appearing in English football, Harper initially generated hype for his performances in Real Madrid’s academy.
He’s ended up at La Liga club Getafe, although Harper has spent this season on loan at lower division sides Cartagena and Villarreal B.
After a protracted transfer saga that warmed the soul, Sancho didn’t end up moving to Manchester United last summer.
Their loss has been Borussia Dortmund’s gain. Sancho may have struggled at times, as Dortmund looked in danger of missing out on the Champions League, but he remains an outrageously talented footballer.
The 21-year-old winger racked up 16 goals and 14 assists during the 2020-21 season, while developing the amusing habit of leaving defenders on their backside.
After loan spells at Borussia Mönchengladbach and Augsburg, Oxford joined the latter in 2019 for a deal reportedly worth around £2.1million.
Having carried Mesut Ozil in his back pocket on his West Ham debut in 2015, hopes were high that Oxford could revitalise his career in the Bundesliga.
The 22-year-old is yet to establish himself as a regular in the side but is still enjoying life in Germany.
“At the beginning with the football side it was a bit slow, but this season I have kicked on a bit and have got a few games,” Oxford told The Independent in May 2021.
“I would want more games, I want to be a fixed player – that comes with hard work and the manager trusting you.”
Vieira, whose name was seemingly generated by an avid early 2000s football supporter, moved to Sampdoria in 2018.
The former Leeds United midfielder played 44 times for the club in all competitions but has spent this season on loan at fellow Serie A side Hellas Verona.
Verona have an option to make the deal permanent, but the 22-year-old has only managed four Serie A appearances during the 2020-21 season.
“My instinct is to be physical, but here you have to do it with your mind first,” Vieira told ESPN when asked about the differences between English and Italian football in April 2019.
“The style is different in England. There, it’s boom boom, run, be physical, play a little. Here’s it’s play, be clever with your movement. It’s very fixed.”
Mavididi made headlines two years ago after becoming the first English player since David Platt to represent Juventus.
The forward left Arsenal for Juve in 2018 but was only ever expected to feature for their reserve side.
He spent 2019-20 on loan at French side Dijon and then joined Montpellier on a permanent basis. The 22-year-old scored nine league goals as Montpellier secured an impressive top-half finish in Ligue 1.
It seems an age since Young was dazzling the natives at Villa Park, putting in performances that prompted a rather excited Martin O’Neill to declare the winger ‘on par with Lionel Messi’.
While the 35-year-old clearly never quite reached those heights, he has carved out an exceptionally good career for himself.
After nine years at Manchester United, where he evolved from flying winger to steady full-back and swallowed bird poo for the cause, Young moved to Inter Milan in January 2020.
Fuelled by Antonio Conte’s desire to create a Premier League retirement home at the San Siro, Young has quietly impressed in Italy.
Inter Milan stormed to their first league title since 2010 and Young made 26 league appearances during their victorious campaign. He even scored on what’s likely to be his final appearance for the club.
Ashley Young gets the party started for Inter on the day they'll lift the Serie A trophy! 🎉
If this is to be his last game for the club, he's finished a successful spell in Italy with a goal 👏 pic.twitter.com/QPSZaBWPCH
— Premier Sports 📺 (@PremierSportsTV) May 23, 2021
Tomori has shone to such an extent at AC Milan that you wonder why Chelsea ever loaned him out.
After struggling for game time under Frank Lampard, the young defender has relished the chance of playing in Italy and his performances have won praise from the likes of Fabio Capello and Paolo Maldini.
The highlight of Tomori’s loan spell was undoubtedly his goal and expert tackle on Cristiano Ronaldo during a thumping win over Juventus.
With Milan back in the Champions League for the first time since 2013-14, we wouldn’t be surprised to see Tomori make a permanent switch to the San Siro.
Hickey’s performances at Hearts in 2019-20 attracted the attention of European giants Bayern Munich – but he preferred a move to Bologna.
The BBC wrote: “He visited their facilities, as well as Bayern’s, liked what he saw, and weighed up the biggest decision of his young life, citing the “family feel” as one of the reasons for choosing Bologna.”
And the 18-year-old has made a solid impression during his first season in Serie A, appearing 11 times as Bologna finished mid-table. Celtic are heavily linked with a move that would take Hickey back to Scotland.
After starring in England’s run to the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup, Trippier suffered such a dip in form with Tottenham in 2018-19 that he subsequently lost his place entirely in Gareth Southgate’s Three Lions squad.
A £20million move to Atletico Madrid appeared from the leftfield, and it has had the desired effect. A re-energised Trippier was a regular starter for Atleti – betting ban aside – as they fought off competition from Real Madrid to win La Liga.
He has forced his way back into the England reckoning and will likely make the cut in Gareth Southgate’s Euro 2020 squad.
Matondo followed in Jadon Sancho’s footsteps by leaving Manchester City for Germany, joining Schalke in an eye-catching £11million deal in January 2019.
The winger made eight appearances for the first team in 2018-19 then enjoyed a breakout campaign in 2019-20, making 20 appearances and scoring twice.
In 2020-21, however, things took a turn for the worse. Matondo played just three times before January, as Schalke went nine months without a win in the league. He was loaned out to Stoke for the second half of the campaign, where he scored once in 10 games.
The London-born defender has already explored the continent with the enthusiasm of a gap-year student with an inter-rail pass.
Having already represented Monaco and Cercle Brugge, in the summer of 2020 Panzo then moved to another picturesque city in the form of Dijon – turning down interest from Championship sides Coventry, Derby and Swansea.
Dijon were relegated, finishing 20th in Ligue 1, but Panzo was able to develop his own game. He played twice against PSG, facing off against Kylian Mbappe and Neymar.
“It always makes me want to work hard so I can look at those players and say, ‘that’s where I want to be’. It was great to experience playing against those kind of top players,” Panzo told the Daily Mirror in February 2021.
Smalling had a terrific first season in Italy after joining Roma on loan from Manchester United in 2019 – so good Roma signed him permanently n the summer of 2020.
The second season, though, has been harder. Smalling has suffered injuries that have limited him to 13 league starts and when he made his Old Trafford return in April as Roma faced United in the Europa League, he put in an unsteady showing as his side succumbed to a 6-2 defeat.
Now he’s got a reunion with recently appointed Roma boss Jose Mourinho on the horizon. Before the Europa League final in 2017, Mourinho told Smalling, “With your feet, we’re for sure not playing out from the back.” The ex-United defender will be looking forward to seeing his old manager, then.
Previously on the books of Everton, Hornby made one substitute appearance during a Europa League game three years ago and never looked likely to break through at Goodison Park.
The Scottish forward made the move to France in 2020, joining Reims for an undisclosed fee. Unfortunately for him, game time was limited there, too.
After just three appearances in the first half of the season, he joined Aberdeen on loan in January, playing a further six league games.
The brother of Watford utility man Nathaniel, the Chelsea youngster dipped his toes in foreign waters by joining French side Lorient on loan for the season in the summer of 2020.
Having appeared regularly during previous spells at Ipswich and Huddersfield, he quickly established himself in the Lorient team as well, playing 30 games in total and appearing in midfield, at centre-back and at right-back. On the last day of the season, he scored a hugely important equaliser against Strasbourg that ensured Lorient’s survival in Ligue 1.
In March, he told the Guardian about his team’s against-the-odds January win over PSG: “It was an unbelievable experience. Being on the same pitch as Angel Di Maria, Neymar, Kylian Mbappe – I’d been watching this team play in the Champions League. To beat them was unbelievable.”
Thomas Tuchel will surely be considering giving him a chance in the Chelsea team next term.
Twenty-year-old defensive midfielder Mola moved from Chelsea to Stuttgart in January 2020, making eight appearances over the second half of the 2019-20 season and helping his new side to promotion from Bundesliga 2.
In 2020-21, he has been less fortunate. A hip injury kept him out for almost the entire season, with Mola only making it back into the squad right at the back end of the campaign. He will be hoping he can prove his fitness over the summer break and push on from August 2021.
After the arrival of Brendan Rodgers at Leicester in 2019 Gray’s game time suffered a drastic drop-off and in January 2021, he decided to join Bundesliga side Bayer Leverkusen.
“No, there was no contract offer [from Leicester], there weren’t any discussions about it,” Gray said after completing his move.
“I didn’t go knocking asking for one because I wanted to be, if I was to stay, at a club where I was wanted and valued. I didn’t feel that, I wasn’t playing. I didn’t take it personally, it’s just football.”
In Leverkusen, he has played 10 times, getting a goal and two assists as Die Werkself finished sixth.
IN AT THE VERY END! 😵🤭
Demarai Gray rifles the ball in for Tapsoba to steal a point for Bayer Leverkusen right at the end of stoppage time 😤
Devastating for Augsburg 😞 pic.twitter.com/njzcBMCBEj
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) February 21, 2021
After a difficult few months at Tottenham under Jose Mourinho, Sessegnon joined Hoffenheim on a season-long loan in October 2020.
He got off to a great start, winning the club’s Player of the Month award in November and went on to make 28 appearances in all competitions, helping Hoffenheim to a comfortable mid-table finish.
He should come back to Spurs an improved player for the experience and as he left in May, he took to Twitter to say: “I want to take this time to say a big thank you to Hoffenheim for bringing me to Germany.
“To experience a different league and culture and putting me in a situation that has challenged me in many ways as a player and as a person. From the people at the top of the club to the coaches, players and back room staff, it has truly been a pleasure to represent this football club.”