Advice for Bale
With Gareth Bale completing a record move to Real Madrid, Adam Bate enlists the help of some of the interviewees from our Brits Abroad series to look at some of the key factors that will make or break his time overseas.
By Adam Bate - Follow @GhostGoal
Last Updated: 03/09/13 11:47am
Over the past year, Sky Sports has interviewed more than 30 players past and present as part of our Brits Abroad series. Here we pick out some choice quotes to build a picture of what Gareth Bale must bear in mind now his move to Real Madrid is complete. Click on the names of the players quoted below to read their full story...
Having your name chanted in the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium before doing keepy-uppies for the world's press. It's been quite a day for Gareth Bale as he discovers that for all the history at Tottenham, a move to Real Madrid represents another world entirely. However, he's not the first British player to be overwhelmed by his reception abroad.
Sky Sports pundit Alan McInally remembers his move to Bayern Munich being an eye-opening experience. "It was a massive step up with the greatest respect to Aston Villa," says McInally. "It wasn't really an option for me with Bayern Munich to think it was a move to turn down. We had an open day and I thought what's an open day? They said, 'Well, we have a training session'. There was this massive beer tent and 30,000 people turned up! That's when I realised - Oh my god, this is an unbelievable football club."
Sometimes it is the pageantry that takes you by surprise. Speaking about his move to Benfica, Revista de la Liga presenter Scott Minto says: "We had one presentation game at the Stadium of Light and it was almost like the red carpet was out - they were introducing each player individually. The lights would go down and then the lights would come up - Joao Pinto... Karel Poborsky... Scott Minto. There were 80,000 people there for that pre-season game against Lazio. It was just amazing."
And sometimes it is just the passion. "When we landed at the airport there were around 5,000 Bari supporters there," recalls Gordon Cowans of his move from Aston Villa to Serie A. "It was absolutely potty. We couldn't walk through the airport because there people grabbing us and kissing us. It was a huge shock just how much it meant to them that we were coming to join the club."
Having a friend helps
Although Bale is following in the footsteps of Steve McManaman, David Beckham, Jonathan Woodgate and Michael Owen, he will be the only British player at the club. Former Brits Abroad feel that having a colleague from back home out there too was a huge help.
Cowans was in Bari with Paul Rideout and admits it was important. "Having Paul with me made things a lot easier," he says. "We obviously knew each other well already and with neither of us able to speak a word of the language it meant we had someone to talk to."
Trevor Francis made a success of his time in Italy, spending four seasons at Sampdoria, but even he acknowledges that the presence of an English speaker was needed early on. "It was reassuring to have somebody there who could speak English," says Francis. "Having already been there in Italy with Juventus, Liam Brady could speak Italian which was also helpful. Liam moved on after two years and I took over his role then with Graeme Souness in terms of helping Graeme. It was good to have an English-speaking person there."
Former AC Milan midfielder Ray Wilkins agrees. "It does help enormously to have one of your countrymen alongside you as far as getting to know the place," says Wilkins, who was at the San Siro for three seasons alongside Mark Hateley. "But it doesn't help much with the language because obviously you speak too much in English rather than smashing into the Italian and getting it done."
Can you learn the language?
"I went into a press conference and the general manager was wanting me to do it on my own, rather than with the interpreter," recalls Howard Kendall of one post-match exchange in his role as Athletic Bilbao manager. "And this journalist kept pushing the microphone in front of me, rattling off at 100mph. I hadn't got a clue what he said."
Learning the language is obviously an important aspect of any move abroad. "I think language is a big thing," says former Hamburg striker Mark McGhee. "You've got to be prepared to try and learn the language and really make yourself a part of it."
Rob McDonald won the Eredivisie title with PSV in 1986 before going on to play in Portugal, Belgium, Denmark and Turkey. "You've got to be a person who can mix and adapt," says McDonald. "I've always been one for learning languages. I can speak Dutch fluently and in Portugal I took lessons there. I wanted to get the craic in the dressing room and after three months I could understand quite a bit of it. I think you've got to be open to learning the language."
Can you throw yourself into the culture and the lifestyle?
Others feel that there are more important factors than language. Bale can let his football do the talking as long as he adapts to the culture. "I think the culture is the bigger thing than the language," says current Sporting defender Eric Dier. "The language is important for the basics but you don't really need it for the football side. There are players at Sporting who have come and don't really speak Portuguese but they pick things up."
Steve McManaman knows that better than most. The former Liverpool and England player has been mentioned by Guillem Balague as an example of what Bale must aspire to in terms of integrating himself in the Real dressing room. But McManaman himself admits that while he took Spanish lessons before joining the club, his initial period at the club was a tricky one where he just had to muddle through.
"In my first days at the training ground we were taken away to Switzerland for a pre-season camp and you're just left to sit on a table at meal times with 10 players who all speak Spanish," explains McManaman. "So it is very daunting and you feel very much on the periphery. But you have to go through those times, you want to learn from them and you want to be involved. Sometimes you just have to sit and have a beer with them even if you don't understand them."
Can you deal with the expectations?
McManaman was a success on the field as well as on it, winning the man of the match award in the 2000 Champions League final. Lifting a tenth European Cup is a burning ambition for Real Madrid and their €100million man must deal with the expectations that come with life at a super club.
McInally recalls of his time at Bayern: "Uli Hoeness said to me, 'We expect to win the title every year' which obviously we did, except for when I got injured. He also said, 'We want to win the European Cup' and unfortunately I got to two semi-finals."
Rohan Ricketts doesn't have those experiences on his CV but the much-travelled midfielder has some apposite words on the matter too. "There is more pressure and more involvement from the directors," he says. "You don't see Daniel Levy coming into the Spurs dressing room or into training to tell you that you must win today and offering extra money if you do so."
Are you the right type of person?
"Some players have an island mentality." adds Ricketts, who has played in Hungary, Moldova, India and Ecuador among others. And while the very fact that Bale has set his mind on a move abroad would indicate that half the battle has been won, history is littered with British players who were not suited to the challenge.
"I'd never really thought of playing abroad," admits Tony Cottee when discussing his move to Malaysia. "But I wasn't on anything like what the players would be earning nowadays, even taking into account inflation. So for me to get what turned out to be a tax-free offer was a real carrot to be dangled."
It was a similar story for Mick Quinn when he left English football for PAOK in Greece. "It was a case of necessity," says Quinn. "The phone was quiet. I spent the summer sitting by the phone waiting for a call but nothing came of it. So in the end I thought I'd give it a go." Neither Cottee nor Quinn lasted a year.
In contrast, Mark Burke, who found success in Holland and Japan before earning the distinction of becoming the first British footballer to play in Romania, had a different outlook from day one. "I always wanted to play abroad," says Burke. "When I was about 12 my sports teacher told me it would suit me. I was interested in foreign football even in the days when you couldn't see it on television. I think the idea of being paid for living abroad just fascinated me."
Richard Offiong, who played in various countries from Sweden to South Korea, agrees. "You've got to be open to something different because you never know if you're going to like it or not until you try it. I wouldn't have changed playing football abroad for anything. It's definitely helped me grow as a person."
Is it the right time?
Even if you do go with the right mentality, there remains the question of whether you are emotionally ready for the move. "You have to fend for yourself a hell of a lot," says Wilkins. "It's important to move at the right age as well. I think 27 was a good age to go because I had all the experience on the planet having played around 50 times for my country at that time. So I wasn't walking into something that was totally new to me, instead it was something that I could embrace."
Wales legend Ian Rush will be pointed to by some as an example of one of Bale's famous countrymen who moved to a big club abroad and didn't enjoy success. Interestingly, Rush looks back fondly on his time at Juventus - where he was top scorer in his only season - but does acknowledge that perhaps a transfer later in his career could have been more fruitful.
Rush says: "People say there's an ideal age to go but I don't know really. I think I went when I was 25 and Graeme Souness went when he was 28 - maybe that's a better age because you're experienced and know what to expect - but for me it was the best thing that happened to me."
And even if it doesn't work out...
"I would say to any player that if you get the chance to play abroad in one of the top leagues then you've got to go," says Luther Blissett. "For your football education it's great and whatever happens you will learn from it and come back a better person and a stronger person. You learn from it whether you do well or not."