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Page last updated at 17:24 GMT, Wednesday, 30 June 2010 18:24 UK

England's fear of crossing borders

England's Frank Lampard, Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard

By Aimee Lewis

The paparazzi pictures of the likes of Wayne Rooney and Frank Lampard relaxing on a beach in some luxury resort will no doubt pepper our newspapers and magazines in the forthcoming weeks.

Most, if not all, of the England squad will eventually return home to once again prepare for another season of toil in the familiar surroundings of the Premier League.

Rooney will head to Manchester United's Carrington training ground, a mere 30-odd miles from his hometown of Liverpool, while John Terry will don Chelsea's colours, the club whose youth team he joined from West Ham in 1995.

And therein lies the national team's problem, according to Chris Waddle.

The former England and Tottenham winger, one of France's favourite adopted sons after his successful spell with Marseille between 1989 and 1992, believes the helter-skelter pace of the Premier League does not equip players sufficiently for international football and thinks the country's most talented stars should ditch their home comforts and head for Europe.

Chris Waddle Marseille
My three years in Marseille taught me so much about football, which I would never have learnt in England

Chris Waddle

"Technically, it would improve them," Waddle told BBC Radio 5 live. "It's an eye-opener. You think it's a game of football, like it is back home, but it's not.

"When Marseille got the ball, we played patient football, it was about possession, it was like a waltz. English football is based on the Charleston. The Premier League has always been a basketball league - you attack then they attack - but other leagues don't play like that.

"International football is about keeping the ball. My three years in Marseille taught me so much about football, which I would never have learnt in England."

Not one member of England manager Fabio Capello's World Cup squad in South Africa this summer had experience of playing club football anywhere other than in their own country.

But then there has never been a mass exodus of English players eager to tread on foreign pitches. A number have succeeded: Gary Lineker (Barcelona, Grampus Eight), David Platt (Bari, Juventus, Sampdoria), Steve McManaman (Real Madrid), Kevin Keegan (Hamburg) and David Beckham (Real Madrid, LA Galaxy, AC Milan), to name a few.

But an Englishman playing abroad is rare these days. Few have dared to follow in Waddle's footsteps.

Currently, former Blackburn striker Matt Derbyshire is at Olympiakos in Greece while Darius Vassell, who started his career with Aston Villa, has just spent a season playing for Ankaragucu in Turkey.

The sole Englishman operating in one of Europe's major leagues, other than the Premier League, is ex-Liverpool winger Jermaine Pennant.

Pennant is just about to start his second season in La Liga. The 27-year-old might not have set the Spanish league alight during what was an injury-plagued first season - he made 25 appearances for Real Zaragoza - but believes the experience has already improved him.

"Not many players get a chance of playing in La Liga," Pennant told BBC Sport. "This was a once-in-a-lifetime chance.

"I'd say the Premier League is a bit quicker and more physical but the Spanish league is definitely more technical - and that makes it more of an enjoyment to play in.

"You've obviously got your Barcelonas and Real Madrids but lower down the league in Spain is better than the Premier League. It's a great league, every team is very gifted.

"I got to play against Real and Barca. It was the first time I'd played against Barcelona for the full 90 minutes. The experience was great and I can't wait to go again.

Real Zaragoza's Jermaine Pennant
Pennant signed for Real Zaragoza on a free last summer

"When we played them I think I touched the ball five times in one hour. When I came off the pitch, I thought I needed to go to hospital. I couldn't breathe. I thought I needed new pair of lungs!"

The winger, notorious for his poor timekeeping (in February there were reports he was sent home from training after arriving late for the third time in two weeks), is even looking forward to pre-season training, which starts next week.

"I'm fully fit and I'll be ready for pre-season. It's not as hard as I thought it would be. It's a lot of football and less running," added Pennant, the first Englishman to play for Zaragoza.

"For sure it's easier than in England. In England there's a lot of running, a lot of bleep tests. In Spain they don't do it. I think if people read this they're going to come to La Liga now!"

Dutch legend Johan Cruyff once questioned why so few English, indeed British, players have succeeded abroad, saying: "There's something going on here, something strange."

Waddle - nicknamed 'Magic Chris' by the Marseille fans - cited an unwillingness to embrace a new culture and the inability to learn a new language as reasons for this.

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"When I signed for Marseille, someone asked me if I was going to learn French. 'I wouldn't' they said, 'I'd make them speak English'. And that sums us up. We don't want to learn anything. We don't want to copy.

"Gary Lineker learnt to do it. Bobby Robson learnt more by going abroad. Steve McClaren will come back to England and he'll know so much more."

Pennant is still slowly overcoming the language barrier, although he admits, even after nearly a year, he is finding learning Spanish "very difficult".

"I understand more than I speak it," he admitted. "When they give me instructions I understand. The communication on the training pitch and on the football pitch is not a problem, it's just the day-to-day life. Having a conversation with someone is a bit difficult."

Pennant, who had a troubled time in his early twenties (he was jailed for drink-driving in 2004 during which time it was revealed he had trouble reading and writing), has persevered longer than most.

Former Liverpool and Aston Villa striker Stan Collymore lasted only three games for Oviedo before deciding he could not adapt to a new way of life and a new way of playing.

Downcast England players

Highlights - Germany 4-1 England

Like Burnley defender Tyrone Mears, who spent a season with Marseille back in 2008, Pennant believes he has settled quicker than expected because of the camaraderie among his team-mates.

The Zaragoza squad along with manager Jose Aurelio Gay and his backroom staff socialise together twice a month, usually for a meal, and talk about matters other than football, allowing Pennant to get to know his team-mates "a bit better".

"It does help a lot," Pennant commented. "At other clubs I've been at the only time the team really goes out like that is at Christmas or for a charity dinner."

However, encouraging players to take leave for pastures new is no panacea for England. After all, just one member of the gifted young Germany squad, which inflicted that humiliating 4-1 defeat on a pedestrian-looking England, plays outside of the Bundesliga.

Numerous inquests into England's World Cup exit seem to suggest that the country's woes are more deep rooted, but Waddle and Pennant's experiences suggest moving abroad might aid the national team's recovery.



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see also
FA joint chairman backing Capello
01 Jul 10 |  World Cup 2010
Barwick baffled by dismal England
29 Jun 10 |  World Cup 2010
Alan Shearer on England
29 Jun 10 |  World Cup 2010
Pressure on FA after England exit
28 Jun 10 |  World Cup 2010
Capello to discuss future with FA
28 Jun 10 |  World Cup 2010
England were not prepared - Lahm
28 Jun 10 |  World Cup 2010
Wilkinson fears for England team
29 Jun 10 |  World Cup 2010
Pennant aims for England's right
02 Jun 07 |  Liverpool
Pennant signs for Real Zaragoza
09 Jul 09 |  Europe


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