Is it time for more Scottish players to spread their wings?

Posted on by L Dunsire

“I think playing in Scotland made me a better player,  they play more physical football, everyone is stronger. I have a Spanish style and I want to keep the ball. But I think maybe now I am a better player, more physical, and this is good for my future.” (Edinburgh Evening News)

These are the words of Spanish midfielder Ruben Palazuelos following the news that he will be departing Hearts, and Scotland, following a largely successful four-year spell in Edinburgh.

His statement certainly offers nothing out of the ordinary, as foreign players are continuously moving to Scottish, and English, clubs and adapting their game to suit their new surroundings.  Many have failed to adjust, but a large proportion have helped to improve our leagues, and at the same time improve other areas of their own game as well.

The Scottish, and British, game is renowned for its physicality and fast, direct approach – very different to the style of many European nations where focus is on slowing the game down, retaining possession and concentrating overall on the technical side of football.  But whilst Palazuelos, and many others, are benefiting from playing in our country and developing the physical side of their game, can the same be said of many Scottish, or indeed British, footballers in Europe?  Quite frankly, the answer is no.

If you discount the USA and Australia, where a handful of Scottish footballers have emigrated to, generally to play out their final years in football in more appealing temperatures, there are very few Scots playing football in countries out with the British Isles.  Kenny Miller is probably the highest profile of the lot, but a financially-driven move to Turkey’s top division with Bursaspor is not the most inspiring.

Realistically, Scottish players are unlikely to grace the top clubs in La Liga, Serie A or the Bundesliga – but there seems to be a distinct lack of Scottish football representation abroad in general.

When you take into account the considerable saving made on taxes in many European countries, and the fact the weather is often far more appealing, it seems surprising that there aren’t more exports from our nation.

Are Scottish players simply not good enough, and do European countries ignore these shores when scouting for new talent?  Or do our players not like the idea of leaving this wonderful country for pastures new?

The topic of the British game being left behind by many others, in particular the Spanish, is extremely popular amongst the English media at the moment, and the same could be said of Scotland, even if our expectations at international level are considerably lower than our neighbours to the South.  But could many Scottish players benefit from experience in countries such as Spain and Italy, even if it isn’t at a Barcelona or an Inter Milan?

Many top Scottish players have made the move abroad in the past, such as John Collins, Dennis Law, Graeme Souness, Joe Jordan, Paul Lambert, Mo Johnston and Murdo MacLeod.  But will we see many more in the future, and would it be beneficial for our players, and national game?

Here are the Scottish players who ply their trade on foreign soil around Europe (apologies if I have missed any):

TURKEY

Kenny Miller (Bursaspor)
Current international Miller has moved around clubs in Scotland and England on a regular basis, including both halves of the Old Firm, and made a £400,000 move to Turkey in January of this year.  The motivations behind this appeared to be mainly down to the lucrative contract he was offered, reportedly £50,000 per week.

GREECE

Mark Kerr (Asteras Tripolis)
In his early days at first club Fakirk Kerr was tipped as one of Scotland’s brightest prospects, but ultimately failed to live up to expectations.  Following spells with Dundee United and Aberdeen, he moved to Greece after his contract at Pittodrie ended – even though he was club captain at the time.  Asteras had narrowly avoided relegation from the Greek top flight the previous season.

GERMANY

Kevin Kerr (Arminia Bielefeld)
It may come as a shock to many that there is a Scottish player in German football, even if it is the level below the top flight.   However, Kerr is German born, and his Scottish heritage comes from his father.

CYPRUS

Mark Fotheringham (Anorthosis Famagusta)
An exception to the rule, Fotheringham is now playing in his third country outwit the UK.  The Celtic youth has enjoyed short spells in Germany and Switzerland, and after returning to native shores for three years has since moved to Famagusta.  Was actually a target for La Liga side Espanyol in 2009, and was given a trial at the club, but a transfer failed to materialise.

Mark Burchill (Enosis Paralimni)
Another hot prospect that failed to deliver, Burchill earned 6 Scotland caps during a career that saw him appear for no fewer than eleven British clubs.  A combination of injuries and lack of goals were detrimental to Burchill’s career, and he left Scotland for Cyprus after becoming a free agent following a spell with Kilmarnock.

Jamie McKenzie (Appollon Limassol)

SPAIN

Ikechi Anya (Celta B, Spain)
So there IS a Scot playing in Spanish football.  But then again, it is Spanish reserve football, and although Glasgow-born Anya has expressed a desire to play for the country in which his life began, he also qualifies for England, Romania and Nigeria.  He also played for Sevilla’s second string before joining Celta Vigo.

Ryan Harper (Real Betis)

Ian Mackay (Ponferradina)

ICELAND

Scott Ramsay (Grindavik, Iceland)

Paul McShane (Grindavik, Iceland)

MALTA

Richie Hart (Hibernians, Malta)
An Inverness-born player who enjoyed success in the Highlands, with both Ross County and Inverness Caledonian Thistle.  Moved to Malta following a short spell at Dundee.

NORWAY

Kevin Nicol (Moss, Norway)
Had early spells in his career with Raith Rovers and Hibs, now playing for his third Norwegian side. He was club captain of FK Haugesund before moving to Moss.

L Dunsire

Hearts supporter and film enthusiast from Musselburgh. Follow me on Twitter @lauriedunsire