Thursday 27 June 2019

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Finnan's attempts to swap the sunny climes of Catalonia for Hull is yet another example of an Irish player's failure to make it in Europe

It was a surprise to some that Steve Finnan failed a medical and saw the collapse of his move from Spanish side Espanyol to Hull City or Newcastle United last week.

But it was no real surprise that the 32-year-old was willing to leave the delights of Spanish football, and swap bustling Barcelona for humble Hull after only six months in Spain.

Players from this part of the world, and especially Irish players, don't seem to have too much staying power when it comes to playing football outside of Ireland or the UK.

Of the handful of Irish footballers (aside from Finnan, just five) who have left the comfort of the English game and headed to the big leagues of Spain, Italy and Portugal in the last ten years, two were back in England within months (Robbie Keane and Alan Mahon), two more stuck it out a bit longer than that but then came back to play in England again (Ian Harte at Levante and Phil Babb at Sporting Lisbon).

The last major Irish success in a major European league was John Aldridge at Real Sociedad, and he left there back in 1991 (though Corkman Dominic Foley is enjoying a spell in Belgian soccer right now).

So it's disappointing that Finnan, who began his senior career in the English non-league scene after early rejection at Crystal Palace, seems ready to give up on his Spanish adventure after just six months and four appearances and return to England to get involved in a relegation battle with Hull City or Newcastle United.

Maybe it's the case that Spain was the right destination for Finnan to see out his career but Espanyol -- in a relegation dogfight -- was the wrong club.

Maybe it's also true that the last-minute move from Liverpool to Espanyol happened so fast, due to the close of the transfer window, that Finnan didn't have time to give it deep thought -- he admitted last week that he signed for the Spanish side by fax, without visiting the city, seeing the training facilities or even speaking to their manager, instead relying on Liverpool team-mate Pepe Reina for info on his new club.

And he hasn't been able to showcase his undoubted talents to the Spanish fans yet, as Finnan has played just four games for Espanyol since his move, a thigh injury restricting his movement and his progress, the same thigh muscle which caused the collapse of his €1.5m to Hull last week.

That injury may be the cause of his exit in more ways that one, as some reports have suggested that Finnan was less than happy with the medical treatment at the Barcelona-based club,.

But it also appears that Finnan has surrendered to the age-old Irish and British mindset of fleeing European football quickly at the first hint of trouble.

It's not easy to make it outside of the comfy confines of Britain, and not just, as Ian Rush is supposed to have said of his time in Turin, that living abroad is like living in another country. It takes patience, hard work and a willingness to make it work, but sadly so many players leave English clubs for somewhere abroad, find that the language barrier and all those strange foods and TV stations too much to bear and instead come back home for the home comforts of Sunderland, Hull, Bristol and Brighton.

"I don't mean this in relation to Steve Finnan in Spain, but I think that laziness is a big factor in players from here not making a success of it abroad," says former Ireland international Don Givens, who revived his career with a successful seven-year spell as a player with Neuchatel Xamax in Switzerland in the '80s.

"We haven't had too many Irish success in the European leagues in the last few years but that's not an Irish thing, in general players from Britain and Ireland struggle abroad. The ones who make a go of it in a place like Italy or Spain are the exception, not the rule.

"Liam Brady did well in Italy, Tony Cascarino had a good spell in France, but apart from that our lads haven't done all that well in Europe.

"I think that British and Irish players don't adapt to life abroad the way that foreign players adapt to life in England.

"Language is a major factor, bigger than we think. Irish and British people expect everyone else to speak English, if someone can't speak English then they think they're not worth the effort.

"I also think that the player's character is a big part of it ... if you are an easy-going and laid-back person, you will get on with it and meet the challenges, deal with the problems. But if you get caught up in little details it can be a problem, if you're worried about the fact that you can't get English-speaking TV stations on your telly then that can become a major issue," added Givens.

One of the most famous quotes from 'Brits Abroad' in football was Luther Blissett's comment, during his unsuccessful time with AC Milan, that no matter how much money he earned, he just couldn't get Rice Krispies, and Givens understands that.

"I knew a lad from my days at Birmingham City who went on to play abroad, every time he went back to England he loaded up the car with tins of baked beans. That became a big thing for him, he was living in a nice place abroad but all he wanted to eat was baked beans," added Givens.

Finnan may yet stay at Espanyol -- no English club will sign him, let alone pay the €1.5m fee demanded by the Catalan club to recoup their costs on the player -- if he has a serious, long-term injury.

Maybe a fortnight's rest can help Finnan's recovery (though Ireland need their first-choice right back to get some action ahead of next month's qualifier against Georgia), get him into the Espanyol side and see him establish himself in La Liga. Irish football could do with a flag-bearer right now.

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