Playing abroad: from Cesc Fabregas to Jadon Sancho & Reiss Nelson

From Rhys Jaggar

It is suddenly becoming trendy and normal for young English footballers to go abroad as teenagers.

Everyone is raving about Jadon Sancho, who clearly made an enemy in Pep Guardiola by seeking first team football in Dortmund (and with an enemy like that, it is a jolly good thing he is doing rather well!) and is now breaking into the England senior squad ahead of Phil Foden, still on the fringes at Manchester City. Reiss Nelson is also enjoying Germany too….

#36 years ago, I set off overseas for Austria, in an age without internet, mobile phones and themed sports bars. It was the best thing I ever did and looking back on it, here are a few tips for youngsters who want to succeed abroad and enjoy their stay/adventure.

1) Embrace the locals: I have never found any humans who are not friendly and welcoming if you are friendly, respectful and helpful back.

It did not take me long to be co-opted in the local string orchestra accompanying the singing of well known choral masterpieces – two local guys my age dragged me along and the conductor could not have been more welcoming. It made me understand why churches can actually be popular – they can be friendly social groupings.
When the snow came, I acquired some skis and went off with staff and guys my age regularly to the local slopes.

I was not as good as them, but on piste I could easily hold my own. Ski-ing in Austria is like football in England – almost everyone likes either cross country, downhill or touring. When in Rome….
Join the lads on an evening out – for most foreigners, it was not about getting pissed, nor competing in drinking competitions. Warm evenings outside with a couple of beers and friendly chat is a great way to learn more about your crowd.

2) Embrace the language.
Languages are either easy or difficult for different folks, but if you are thinking of going, really study hard for as long beforehand as possible. Make a point of saying to locals that you want to speak their language from day 1, even if you need some translation early on. I had spoken German for four years before going and I spoke well enough to engage from the get go.

I also spent one or two hours a day reading/listening to German stuff: be that newspapers, literature, magazines, TV. The day you dream in a foreign language is the day you know you feel you belong. For me it occurred three months in.

3) Do not surround yourself with other English-speaking folk.

It is very easy to do this and totally counter-productive. Yes, an English friend can help, but not at the expense of learning the language and integrating socially. And in this day of Skype etc, it is easy to chat regularly with folks back home.

4) Embrace the local diet.

There is nothing worse than thinking a trip abroad is about McDonalds, fish and chips or a wholly English diet. Every country I have lived in (including Austria, Switzerland and Germany) and visited (including Spain, France, Sweden) have wonderful food which they are rightly proud of. And that does not include the Italians, for whom food is even more important as a religion than football.

Maybe at first have someone else prepare the local food. But asking others to teach you to cook their favourite dishes is a huge badge of respect and desire to embrace the local community.

5) Go somewhere where you have a clear path to improvement.

Almost no 17/18 year olds are a top ten world talent (Mbappe excepted), so the crucial thing is finding good developmental coaches and a standard of competition which stretches without discouraging.

Salzburg was not apparently even the best in Austria in 1982 (Vienna was apparently that), but for me it was perfect because the right violin Professor presented himself. The fit was perfect and I learned more in nine months than the previous ten years.

The great thing about living abroad is seeing how certain things which remain unquestioned in your home country are done differently elsewhere.

Self-build housing was commonplace in Austria 30 years before many talked of it over here. I saw some first rate examples of great housing….

Golf was only just starting over there. Trains and buses were sparse but always ran on time. A great change from British Rail back in the day.

Schools started at 7.30am and were finished by late lunchtime, leaving afternoons free for sport.

Dialects in Austria were rather like Geordies, Glaswegians and Scousers: initially incomprehensible! As in UK, banter passed freely between those from different parts of Austria.

Arguably those who feel frustrated by the UK system have most to gain going abroad, but now those who have progressed rapidly but find a huge barrier in front of them might go too. Cesc Fabregas came to England to avoid that barrier at Barcelona. He has done all right for himself….

Myles says:

You were adventurous,Rhys. 

And very organised.

While I passed French O-level, I’ve never spoken another language, apart from American.

The legendary John Charles played for Juventus (1957-62) and scored 155 goals in Serie A.

During the club’s centenary celebrations  in 1997, Charles was voted their greatest ever foreign player.

Denis Law left Torino after 10 goals in 1961-62 before joining United for 10 years. Denis scored 171 goals for United before signing for Man City and backheeling the goal that relegated United. He was the European Footballer of the Year in 1964.

Liam Brady started playing abroad at 15 when he joined Arsenal and turned pro on his 17th birthday. Like John Charles, he won back-to-back Serie A titles with Juventus in 1981 and 1982, then played for Sampdoria,Inter and Ascoli.

If Jadon Sancho wins the Bundesliga in his first season with Dortmund, that would be something special. If so, he should stay there and have another crack at the Champions League.


My three reasons to be cheerful about Arsenal and the 2014-15 season