Grit, determination and a preference for playing route-one football have traditionally been the characteristics associated with English players, but as the likes of Jadon Sancho, Kevin Keegan and Jude Bellingham have shown in the Bundesliga over the years, they also offer no little guile, poise and skill.
Following Harry Kane's high-profile arrival at Bayern Munich, bundesliga.com looks at the five best Englishmen to have graced Bundesliga pitches…
Appearances: 90 (32 goals)
Club: Hamburg (1977 – 1980)
Honours: Bundesliga (1978/79), Ballon d’Or (1978, 1979)
Sancho may have been the most famous Engländer in Germany during his spell in Dortmund (more on that later), but Keegan was actually the first of his countrymen to lace his boots in the Bundesliga.
Hamburg pulled off quite the coup when they signed the prolific striker in 1977, Keegan arriving after winning three English First Division titles, the FA Cup, two UEFA Cups and, ultimately, the European Cup in six seasons at Liverpool.
Still, despite his impressive trophy collection and even more intimidating reputation, HSV and Keegan struggled initially, both needing time to adapt. The England captain showed his true colours in the second half of the season, however, and while the team only managed to finish 10th, he earned the Ballon d’Or as the world’s best player.
Watch: From Keegan to Sancho: the Englishmen in the Bundesliga
The following season was a much better one collectively, with Keegan helping HSV lift their fourth German league title, and first in the Bundesliga era, by contributing 11 goals in the final 12 games of the season. Not only that, but he also defended his throne as the world's number one footballer with a second successive Ballon d'Or.
His third and last term in Hamburg ended in the bitterest of disappointments, though, as Hamburg narrowly missed out on winning both the Bundesliga and European Cup within the space of a week. Keegan returned to England after that, but still looks back on his time in Germany fondly: "I enjoyed playing in the Bundesliga, the football. I learned a lot. Without doubt they were my three best years of playing football."
Appearances: 145 (five goals)
Club: Bayern Munich (1997 – 2007)
Honours: Bundesliga (2000/01, 2002/03, 2004/05, 2005/06), DFB Cup (2003/03, 2004/05, 2005/06), UEFA Champions League (2000/01)
The same is true of Hargreaves, who enjoyed a silverware-laden time in Munich. The most decorated Brit ever in Bundesliga terms, the midfielder joined Bayern's youth academy at the tender age of 16.
The Calgary-born youngster gradually worked his way into the first team and won a Bundesliga and UEFA Champions League double in his debut season with the senior pros in 2000/01, before becoming a regular fixture in the side for years to come.
Hargreaves lifted a further three Bundesliga titles and a trio of DFB Cups in his time in Germany, during which he amassed 145 Bundesliga appearances, and made his debut for the Three Lions in 2001. He was named England’s Player of the Year in 2006, but never fully recovered from a leg break suffered that same year. After stop-start spells with Manchester United and Man City, chronic injury forced him to retire in 2012.
The increasing numbers of British players in the Bundesliga in recent years can largely be attributed to Sancho. After growing frustrated in the Man City academy, where he saw limited first-team opportunities, Sancho joined Dortmund at the tender age of just 17 in 2017.
The London native scored one goal in 12 Bundesliga appearances in his maiden season as a pro, before exploding onto the scene a year later. The attacking midfielder registered one goal and six assists in the first seven games of the 2018/19 campaign, earning himself a first senior cap for England, and ended the season with 12 league goals and as many assists.
“It’s crazy what’s happened,” he told bundesliga.com. “I just kept on believing and working hard and I got the opportunity to play for this great club. I’m just happy with the way it’s gone. For me it’s just about competing with myself. That’s what makes me want to win and do well for the team and do the things I do on the pitch.”
Sancho proved he was no one-season wonder in 2019/20 and before that campaign was interrupted in March, he had supplied 14 goals and 15 assists in 23 Bundesliga appearances - the first player across Europe's top five leagues to reach double figures on both counts.
The high point of his BVB career – aside from the showreel of flicks, tricks, dribbles, goals, assists and general mischief-making – was helping Dortmund win the DFB Cup in 2021, the England international hitting a brace in the 4-1 triumph over RB Leipzig in the final.
Watch: The best of Sancho in the Bundesliga
A pro at 16. Dortmund first-team regular at 17. England international at 18. At this rate, Bellingham will be walking on the moon by the time he’s 25, such has been his meteoric rise in the game.
A box-to-box midfielder of old, the Birmingham-born teenager can do it all. A willing runner who never shirks a tackle, Bellingham has the pace and stamina to help out in the final third too, often chipping in with goals and assists.
“Jude Bellingham’s development doesn’t surprise anyone here,” said Dortmund head coach Edin Terzic of his young charge in 2021. “We see how he trains and works. He’s a huge talent and a fantastic player, but he’s still very young. We’re giving him all the support he needs and are trying to develop him as well as possible.”
Watch: Best of Bellingham
They are certainly doing that. Bellingham helped Dortmund to the DFB Cup title in 2020/21, and so good were his performances that season that more experienced midfielders such as Axel Witsel and Mo Dahoud were forced to the bench, while Thomas Delaney left the club altogether in search of more regular playing time.
The Dortmund No.22 ended the season with a place in England’s UEFA Euro 2020 squad, and continued those displays into the 2021/22 campaign. He started 32 of BVB’s 34 league outings, going the full distance in 27 of them, while he also chipped in with three goals and eight assists. If this is what he can do while still a relative rookie, just imagine how good he’ll be in his prime!
Clubs: Bayern Munich (2023-present)
Robert Lewandowski’s departure for Barcelona in the summer of 2022 left a huge hole up front for the Rekordmeister. However, while it may have taken them 12 months to truly fill it, the arrival of Kane is likely to have been worth the wait.
The 30-year-old arrives in Munich as one of the leading strikers in world football. Since making his debut for Tottenham Hotspur as a fresh-faced 18-year-old in 2011, Kane has found the back of the net on 280 occasions - a club record - and clinched three Premier League Golden Boots, while also scoring more goals for England than any player in the Three Lions’ history.
Watch: Kane makes Bayern debut in the Supercup
To sum him up as purely a goalscorer would be a disservice, though. As the seasons have passed, his all-round game has continued to improve, and he is now just as comfortable picking the ball up in the middle of park and bringing others into play as he is in the opposition’s 18-yard box.
The one thing lacking from his career thus far is major silverware, and the hope is that his addition to Thomas Tuchel’s starting XI will lead to more silverware for Germany’s most successful club.
“Bayern is one of the biggest clubs in the world, and I’ve always said that I want to compete and prove myself at the highest level during my career,” said Kane, who put pen-to-paper on a four-year deal that will keep him in Bavaria until 2027 at least. “This club is defined by its winning mentality - it feels very good to be here."
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