Premier League sides have just spent a staggering £2.36bn in the summer transfer window. To put that into perspective, they spent almost as much as all the clubs from the other big European leagues combined! The EPL accounted for 48% of the transfer fees paid by clubs from England, plus La Liga, Serie A, the Bundesliga and France’s Ligue 1.
And yet, despite this unparalleled summer cash-splash, it could well be argued that England’s best two players actually ply their trade outside the Premier League! One of the summer’s biggest transfer deals didn’t involve an English club at all, as Real Madrid pipped Liverpool, Manchester City and Manchester United to the signature of Jude Bellingham. Another one of the major moves saw an English side on the selling end of a massive transfer, as Harry Kane made the decision to swap Tottenham for trophies and join Bayern Munich.
Top English Footballers That Don’t Play in England
We will look in more detail at England’s captain and the Three Lions’ hottest young talent, but what other top English players are playing their football outside the Premier League (and more accurately outside England)?
Harry Kane – Bayern Munich
As England’s skipper and all-time record goalscorer, it seems fair to consider Kane first. His 19-year association with Spurs came to an end in August 2023. It must have been a tough decision to leave behind Spurs but he may well wish he had made it sooner. He never won any silverware with Tottenham and that will surely change in Germany, given Bayern have won the league title 33 times in total and in each of the past 11 seasons!
Despite the Bavarians’ dominance, this will be a new, fresh challenge for the Walthamstow boy too. His €110m acquisition means Bayern are the second favourites for the Champions League this term, and Kane will surely already be dreaming of a return to Wembley in the famous Bayern shirt for the 2023/24 UCL final.
Jude Bellingham – Real Madrid
It can only be a good thing for English football that its best players are not only wanted by the continent’s very best teams but also that they are prepared to move aboard and play there. Bellingham won’t be 21 until after the 2024 Champions League final but already has experience of three different football cultures.
The Birmingham boy was a star in the Bundesliga but even so, a move to probably the most famous club on the planet could have proved daunting. However, Bellingham, a bargain at €103m, has made it look all too easy. Thriving in a more attacking role, it will be interesting to see how Gareth Southgate chooses to deploy his flexible gem.
Mason Greenwood – Getafe
From the sublime and brilliant to the highly controversial, Mason Greenwood joined La Liga outfit Getafe on loan from Man United in September 2023. His contract situation is unclear and it is difficult to see him returning to English football any time soon, let alone to the Red Devils. We’ll leave the controversy and ethics aside but there is no doubt that Greenwood has huge amounts of talent, though whether he will add to his sole England cap remains to be seen.
Italian Contingent Grows
England legends such as Paul Gascoigne, David Platt and Paul Ince have all played in Serie A but in recent seasons it has become a far more normal destination for English footballers. There are currently seven English players playing their trade in Italy but the biggest and best are:
- Fikayo Tomgori – The Milan centre back made his name at Chelsea but has impressed since moving to Italy where he has become a regular. He has three England caps and was named in the most recent (August 2023) international squad.
- Tammy Abraham – Another former Chelsea player, Abraham has scored 25 league goals since moving to Roma in 2021. Capped 11 times by England, we wouldn’t be surprised to see him back in the PL before too long.
- Chris Smalling – Also at Roma, Smalling’s England days are behind him but he has been a reliable presence in the Roma backline since leaving Man United for the Italian capital in 2019 (initially on loan, the deal made permanent in 2020).
- Ruben Loftus-Cheek – Tomori’s Milan colleague is yet another ex-Chelsea player in Serie A, having left the Blues after 19 years in west London. He will hope regular football can reinvigorate his international career and see him add to his 10 caps.
French Football Also Appeals
In total there are over 400 English players playing football outside England. The majority of these are not names the average fan would be familiar with, with a large number playing in Australia – and not even the top-tier A-League either. That figure includes players in Northern Ireland, Ireland, Scotland and Wales too, with Scotland having the most English players of any foreign league.
However, there are several players currently in the French system that fans would certainly know, including a number of ex-England players. Ross Barkley, for example, left Chelsea for Nice but recently returned to the Premier League with Luton. However, the following footballers still play in France:
- Andy Carroll – Carroll’s career is one of unfulfilled promise as the Geordie was unable to consistently produce the form that earned him a huge move to Liverpool. He now plays for Amiens in Ligue 2.
- Angel Gomes – The diminutive midfielder never made the grade at Man United but aged just 23, we could see him return to the PL soon. He was superb at the 2023 U21 Euros and played a big role in his side’s win, having established himself as a key part of a Lille side that finished fifth in Ligue 1.
- Ainsley Maitland-Niles – Maitland-Niles has five England caps and only just 26 will not have given up hope of appearing for the Three Lions again. The former Arsenal right-back has also played for Roma but signed for Lyon in August 2023.
Saudi Clubs Offering Princely Sums to Attract Talent
The Saudi Pro League has been making a splash by, well, splashing the cash to bring in some of the world’s biggest names. Of course, many of the teams in the league are not exactly household names to fans who tend to watch the Premier League and a bit of La Liga. But the Saudi football authorities are hoping to change all that by attracting the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar, Riyad Mahrez, Roberto Firmino and a host of other stars.
Plenty of former Premier League stars have moved to the Saudi league, but at the time of writing not many English players have. Jordan Henderson is the notable exception having moved to join former teammate Steven Gerrard who is the manager of Al-Ettifaq. Henderson is joined at the club by another former teammate, Georginio Wijnaldum, as well as Scotland defender Jack Hendry and former Fulham and Celtic player Moussa Dembélé, among others. Mukhtar Ali, meanwhile, may be a Saudi international now, but he represented England in the Under-16 and Under-17 teams.