Ranking every Brit to play in Italy this century from worst to best
It’s not too often you see British players leave the Isles to ply their trade abroad, but when they do, Italy is one of the more popular destinations.
Thirteen players have made such a move since the turn of the century, with some proving there’s life outside Great Britain for its players and others enduring such a torrid time it probably made them Brexiteers.
With Ashley Young set to join them, swapping Manchester for Milan (the black and blue side), we thought we’d rank them all.
13. Rolando Aarons
Five or six years ago, Aarons was England’s next big thing, set for the very top. Sadly, things at Newcastle went downhill from there for him, and in 2018 he was sent out on loan to Hellas Verona in the hope that he could rebuild his career. He couldn’t.
Joining the club in January with them in the midst of a relegation battle, Aarons did nothing to help their cause. Starting six games and coming off the bench in five, he managed no goals or assists, which isn’t great for a winger.
It’s highly unlikely any Verona fans have any fond memories of him, or any at all for that matter, but hey, at least he got to live there for a bit. It’s probably a little prettier than Newcastle.
12. Ben Wilmot
Wilmot is on Watford’s books, but in something of a role reversal, Udinese signed him on loan in January 2019 to provide some depth for the rest of their season.
Cruelly, they handed him his debut away to Juventus, and he wasn’t great in a 4-1 defeat. He’d go onto to play just four more times before returning home, commenting that he didn’t exactly enjoy playing in front of some “horrible fans”.
Happily, he’s now doing well at Swansea, where they’re presumably quite a bit friendlier. All’s well that ends well.
11. Stephy Mavididi
Look, Mavididi, who Juventus signed from Arsenal in 2018, could be bloody brilliant for all we know.
However, at the time of writing, he’s only played one senior league game for the club, meaning he has to be included in this list but can’t really go any higher.
10. Liam Henderson
Weird one, this. Henderson made a somewhat unconventional move from Celtic to Bari in 2017 and impressed in Italy’s second division. When the club folded, Hellas Verona snapped him up and he played a key role in their promotion to Serie A.
He’s since struggled for game time, though, and looks set to return to Serie B imminently. Still, he’ll still be living in Italy so it’s not all bad.
9. Ashley Cole
The fact that Cole’s time in Rome is best remembered for a team photo that he’s standing on the edge of says it all. Hell, there’s even a Twitter account dedicated to it.
— Lurking Ashley Cole (@LurkingAshley) July 29, 2014
Perhaps the photo is symbolic of his struggles to settle in at AS Roma. Or maybe it’s not that deep.
Either way, he was pretty crap there. Playing just 11 league games in just under two years, there wasn’t much love for Cole in the Eternal City, and he ended up agreeing to terminate his contract a year before it expired to leave.
8. Nathaniel Chalobah
Big things were expected of Chalobah when he joined Napoli on loan in 2015. He had been excellent on loan at Reading and many believed this was the move he needed the establish himself in the big leagues. If only…
He struggled to break into what was a strong Napoli side, being little more than backup to the likes of Jorginho, Allan and Marek Hamsik. In a full season there, he played just 11 games before returning to Chelsea, although he did at least score a goal.
7. Micah Richards
He came. He saw. He left. Richards joined Fiorentina on loan from Manchester City in 2014 with the option of staying permanently if he fancied it. Nine months,19 games and a few injuries later, he didn’t, and headed back to Manchester.
6. Jay Bothroyd
Former Serie A player and England international, Jay Bothroyd. What a strange sentence. What’s even stranger as that during his time in Perugia he became close friends with the son of Colonel Gaddafi.
“His dad is obviously a tyrant and he dictated over his countrymen through fear, but Saadi was never like that. He was always friendly and polite,” Bothroyd said of his mate. It’s a funny old game, eh?
On the pitch, things were a bit more predictable, as he struggled with the change in quality from Coventry City to Serie A, scoring four goals in 26 games. He was happy to leave after just a season having suffered regular racist abuse during his time in Italy, which is also depressingly predictable.
5. Joe Hart
A few videos that went round on social media at the time may lead you to believe that Hart’s time at Torino was a disaster.
However, despite a few errors, he actually left Serie A as quite a popular and highly-rated player, so much so that they were desperate for him to stay. No, really.
Torino are ready to make another attempt to get "prisoner" Joe Hart back according to Wednesday's edition of Tuttosport. pic.twitter.com/UfycCkaLJn
— City Watch (@City_Watch) June 13, 2017
Playing 37 games with a pretty terrible defence in front of him, the goalkeeper was often a busy man and, despite keeping just five clean sheets, coped well, making a number of saves and drawing praise from fans and journalists alike.
In a country where everyone is a harsh critic, that’s no mean feat. Looking at how things have panned out since he’s returned home, maybe he should have stayed.
4. Ronaldo Vieira
Vieira was highly thought of by many in Leeds and England as a whole, so eyebrows were raised when Marcelo Bielsa allowed him to leave for Sampdoria in the summer of 2018. So far, Vieira has done enough to make Bielsa wish he stayed.
The Italian club signed him as a replacement for Lucas Torreira, and while he hasn’t lit the league up, he’s done the job well enough. He struggled to nail down a starting spot in his first season but has become a key player since, starting most games in 2019-20 and performing well.
Sure he’s picked up a few cards and missed a few games through suspension, but hey, every team needs a hothead.
3. Aaron Ramsey
Arsenal fans despaired when their beloved Welshman left on a free transfer to join Juventus in the summer of 2019. Their team’s form, coupled with his, have done little to ease the pain.
While he has unsurprisingly struggled to become a first-team regular in what is a *ridiculously* strong midfield at Juventus, he’s still made 16 appearances and has impressed in most, scoring two goals, including this screamer that he nicked off Ronaldo.
Aaron Ramsey gets his first Champions League goal for Juventus!pic.twitter.com/cv4btwPypY
— Forza Juventus Videos (@ForzaJuveVids) November 6, 2019
Even if he were to leave Turin tomorrow, he’d still go down as the best Welshman to play in Italy since John Charles. Not that that’s hard. Ian Rush said he struggled there as it was “like playing in a foreign country”. Funny, that.
2. Chris Smalling
Right, who guessed that Chris Smalling would sign for AS Roma and be an absolute colossus? Anyone? No? Didn’t think so. Fair play Chris, you’ve made a fool out of all of us.
After falling out of favour at Manchester United, the centre-back joined the Italian club on loan at the start of the 2019-20 season and quickly became a key player.
Not only has he been excellent at the back, but he’s also become to first English player since David Beckham to score multiple goals in Italy. Speaking of him…
1. David Beckham
In 2009, European football had been deprived of Beckham’s sheer class for almost two years. Thankfully, Carlo Ancelotti put this right when he signed the midfielder on loan from LA Galaxy for AC Milan, and it was deal that would work out for everyone.
In a midfield consisting of Kaka, Ronaldinho, Andrea Pirlo and Clarence Seedorf, Becks slotted in seamlessly. In his first spell at the San Siro, he scored two goals, including a vintage free-kick, and assisted five, emphatically proving he still had it.
His form was so good in fact that the Italian giants arranged to bring him back for a second spell the following year.
In said spell, he made his return to Old Trafford in the Champions League and put in a glorious Milan derby performance. Unfortunately, his AC Milan career was brought to an end by an injury that also ruled him out of the 2010 World Cup, but my word are we glad that it happened.
By Finley Crebolder