Last week, Borussia Mönchengladbach captured the imagination of many English fans of German football by signing Mandela Egbo from Crystal Palace. Egbo will play for Borussia’s second string – sensible, as he’s only seventeen – but having been highly rated at Palace and been involved with the England youth set-up, there’s every chance he could go on to forging out an excellent career under the guidance of Max Eberl and Lucien Favre. England also have one further presence in Germany, Danny Collinge, also seventeen, who plies his trade in the youth ranks of VfB Stuttgart.
For the past few years, English fans have only really had the likes of Aaron Hunt and Lewis Holtby to pin their hopes to – German born players with one English parent – but that could, of course, change with the likes of Egbo and Collinge. However, what of the players who’ve paved the way for the young duo to succeed? Who are the best and the worst English players to take their career to Germany?
Arguably England’s most famous footballing expert to Germany, Kevin Keegan joined Hamburger SV for £500,000 in the summer of 1977, enjoying a wildly successful (and financially lucrative) three years in the Bundesliga before a return to British shores.
Keegan’s iconic spell in Hamburg is quite often linked with the Beatles’ time in the German port, and it’s easy to see why. Obviously, John Lennon and the lads didn’t win two Ballon d’Ors in Hamburg, but both Keegan and the Beatles initially went to Hamburg in search of greater fame and fortune, leaving from Liverpool and eventually having very successful spells in the city. Where the Beatles played several shows, honing their craft, Keegan, who had already been at the top of the game for some time since making his England debut in 1972, enjoyed a Bundesliga title in Hamburg in 1979 – HSV’s first ever Bundesliga win – as well as reaching the European Cup final in 1980, eventually losing to Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest.
Upon returning to England in 1980 with Southampton, Keegan was one of the most marketable stars in the world, with pop singles under his belt and the nickname Mighty Mouse. Keegan, though, isn’t the only Englishman to have had a crack at the German Bundesliga over the years.
At the same time as Keegan’s frolics in Hamburg, fellow English international Dave Watson had also made a switch to Northern Germany. In this case, it was a trade of the blue half of Manchester in favour of Werder Bremen, Hamburger SV’s great rivals.
The spell was rather ill-fated. Joining in 1979, Watson played twice – in a win over Uerdingen and a huge loss away to 1860 München, in which he was sent off. Watson was banned by the DFB for two months for his conduct and eventually returned to England before the years was out, moving to Keegan’s future club, Southampton. Hardly the most successful spell in German football history.
Thankfully, Watson didn’t sour Anglo-German relations too much. In October 1979, the same month that Watson was sent in disgrace to the South Coast, Tony Woodcock, a European Cup winner with Nottingham Forest in 1979 and England international went in the other direction, joining the Bundesliga’s first ever Champions, 1.FC Köln.
It would be the first of two spells in Köln for Woodcock who briefly returned to England for four years after the 1982 World Cup, in which he played, for Arsenal. In his first spell in Germany, Woodcock helped Köln to the German Cup final in 1980, the UEFA Cup semi-final in 1981, and second place in the Bundesliga in 1982. His second spell wasn’t quite so illustrious, but with 39 goals in 131 games for the club over both, Woodcock secured his place as a club legend, and is still often involved in the club to this day.
He eventually finished his career at local rivals Fortuna Köln, before managing Fortuna, SC Brück and VfB Leipzig in the early nineties and working as Sporting Director for Eintracht Frankfurt between 2001 and 2002. If not the most successful, Woodcock is certainly the longest-serving football expert of England to Germany.
A player to build his reputation solely in Germany, moving from the English third tier to the German third tier in 1980 and eventually making it to the Bundesliga, Peter Hobday spent seven years, at the likes of Schloss Neuhaus (who would later come to form SC Paderborn in a merger), Stuttgarter Kickers and Hannover 96 before he made his Bundesliga debut.
Having impressed in his first Bundesliga season with Hannover, Hobday moved to DFB-Pokal winners Eintracht Frankfurt, on the one hand enjoying a foray into European football but on the other, only just scraping survival in the Bundesliga. A car crash at the start of his second season with Frankfurt unfortunately meant that Hobday had to take a break from the game, eventually returning to his first team, who’d by now been renamed TuS Paderborn Neuhaus, in 1993. Eventually, though, Hobday rebuilt his career, eventually winning promotion back to the Bundesliga with Arminia Bielefeld in 1996.
Liverpool-born striker Mark Farrington was somewhat of a journeyman during the late 1980s and early 1990s, moving around the Benelux with the likes of Willem II, Fortuna Sittard, Feyenoord and RC Genk. In between his spells at Sittard and Feyenoord, though, Farrington actually had a brief crack at the German Bundesliga with capital city club Hertha BSC. It wasn’t the best time of his career.
Though Hertha were newly promoted and were sitting at rock-bottom in the Bundesliga, Farrington wasn’t able to properly assert himself as a starting player at the club, eventually playing just nine games in six months, without scoring, before leaving the club in the winter for Feyenoord.
Considering Hargreaves moved to Germany from Canada at the age of sixteen, it might seem odd to consider Hargreaves an English export to Germany. However, given that he went on to play some 42 times for England, winning England’s player of the year award in 2006 after an excellent World Cup on German soil, he definitely is one.
In his first full professional season with Bayern, in 2000/2001, Hargreaves won the Bundesliga and started in the Champions League final, becoming only the second English player to win the Champions League with a foreign club. Soon, he was a first team regular – despite having just turned twenty, and the wealth of choice in Bayern’s midfield – and in total, the England midfielder won the German title four times and the Pokal three times, making him the Englishman to have won the most silverware for a German club.
Of course, Hargreaves’ later career would go on to be riddled with injuries and some of these problems started in Germany, with a broken leg sustained shortly after the 2006 World Cup supposedly creating some of the knee problems with troubled his later spells at Manchester United and Manchester City.
On his day, though, Hargreaves was one of the Bundesliga’s finest midfielders during his spell at Bayern, and he now presents coverage of the league in both England and Germany, with BT Sport and Sky Deutschland. Not a bad export, after all.
If there were any Hamburg fans who’d sat with bated breath waiting for Kevin Keegan’s heir to the throne, they might have been excited to see Michael Mancienne, a former Chelsea defender and one-time England call-up, for a friendly with Germany no less, join the club in 2011.
In reality, Mancienne’s signing was just part of Frank Arnesen’s insane policy of signing his ex-Chelsea youngsters, having left the London club for Hamburg in the summer of 2011. Mancienne was joined by Jacopo Sala, Slobodan Rajkovic and Gökhan Töre in Hamburg, and a farce which still runs to this day began.
In Mancienne’s first season, HSV finished fifteenth, a shockingly poor return for a team who’d played every season of the Bundesliga since its inception in 1963. The former Chelsea youth did, however, notably improve as a player while in Germany, stating that he enjoyed the tactical emphasis of the German game compared to in England. His best season was arguably his sophomore year, in which he played 21 times and helped guide HSV to a seventh placed finish.
Over three years, Mancienne made 49 appearances for the club, but he was frozen out towards the end of his spell at HSV having not impressed at the beginning of the 13/14 season. He’s back in England now, rebuilding his career at Nottingham Forest, but he didn’t do particularly much in helping convince other young Englishmen to head over to Germany.
A contemporary of Mancienne, the highly-touted Tranmere youngster somehow played his way into Bayern München’s plans following some great performances in League One. Jennings was just 18 at the time of the move, and his signing was initially for Bayern II, but the thoughts of an English youngster at the biggest German club was nonetheless impressive.
Fast forward two years and it hadn’t worked out for club or player. Jennings was back in England with Barnsley, having endured an injury-stricken two years for Bayern’s second side, eventually scoring just twice in 36 appearances for Bayern II.
Not the best export ever, but let’s hope Mandela Egbo, and VfB Stuttgart’s Danny Collinge, can do better for their respective clubs.[separator type=”thin”]
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