Calcio Debate: Could Success At AC Milan Make Beckham Britain's Best Ever Abroad?

Every ball he touches turns to gold - the world's most famous footballer has settled into Calcio seamlessly and could be on his way to staking his claim as the best ever Brit to play abroad, writes's Gil Gillespie...
Ian Rush inadvertently hit the nail on the head. The trouble with British footballers playing abroad is that it usually looks as if they're plying their trade in a completely different country.

The success stories are few and far between and the failures have been many. Not even stellar talents like Jimmy Greaves, Dennis Law, Graeme Souness and Paul Gascoigne managed to cut much of a dash on continental soil.

But, somehow, despite the ridiculous haircuts, the embarrassing tattoos, the multi-million dollar dealings, the rabid celebriteering and his wife's desire to make him look like a clothes horse who has just slipped into a coma, David Beckham is having a pretty good stab at proving himself to be one of British football's most successful exports.

So could the world's most famous footballer be on his way to becoming the best ever to leave British shores? Absolutely not. But he almost certainly deserves a place in the top ten

When Beckham signed for Real Madrid he did so as a player whose worldwide media profile far exceeded his ability on the pitch. In flashes, of course, he had been brilliant. His free-kicks, his crossing, his performance for England in the vital 2002 World Cup qualifying game against Greece and his angry substitute appearance in Man United's 4-3 win over Real in the Champions League quarter-final a year later stick in the mind.

But for the most part, David Beckham has been a very good footballer masquerading as an absolute genius, one of the greats of the game.  He is not. He lacks the technical necessities. Beckham is too reliant on his right foot, he hasn't got any pace off the mark and can't go past people, he has often tended to play with his heart rather than his head, he doesn't have a sublime first touch, his short range passing lacks invention and his long, looping crosses are only really useful to team's who rely on hitting hopeful balls in the box for somebody to get their head onto. English teams, in other words.

He was never really going to fit in with the Real Madrid style of play, he is simply not that kind of footballer. Sure, he could be useful if a battering ram approach was needed in the last quarter of a game but otherwise he was mostly a very expensive cameo performer. Brad Pitt with studs on.

But when he was dropped mid-season by Fabio Capello and told he would never pull on a Real Madrid shirt again, something stirred inside the former Spice Boy. In a desperate attempt to avoid going on ten-hour shopping marathons with Victoria, Beckham trained more and trained harder and forced his way back into Capello's squad and eventually his starting eleven, and was an instrumental figure in Real's late surge to lift the Spanish league title.

It was a shame, then, but hardly a surprise, that the Beckham circus still chose to de-camp to Los Angeles and effectively disappear off the football radar two years ago. And this wife-imposed exile off Main Street has, in many ways, been shown to be an even more disappointing decision by Beckham's unexpected performances on loan at AC Milan recently.

Hugely impressed by the training methods and never afraid of hard work, the former Man United No.7 has responded to Carlo Ancelotti's thoughtful direction and is thriving in Serie A. He genuinely seems to have found a new level of professional maturity, playing within himself and making himself indispensable to a side missing the injured Rino Gattuso.

There is a possibility he could stay at the San Siro, but it is more likely to end up looking like a case of what might have been. Even so, David Beckham now deserves his place in the top ten British footballers to have ever played abroad. As you can see, he is in some very illustrious company.

Top Ten British Ex-Pats

1) John Charles
Head, shoulders and a couple of hundred more miles above everybody else on this list, Il Gigante Buono spent five thrilling years at Juventus scoring 93 goals, despite spending half his time at centre-half. The Welshman was recently voted the greatest ever stranieri, ahead of even Maradona.

2) Kevin Keegan
Initially snubbed by team-mates and fans alike, 'Mighty Mouse' proved himself to be one of the most courageous footballers of all time with Hamburg, twice winning the European Footballer of the Year award and helping them to the European Cup final in 1980.

3) Gerry Hitchens
The one-time Kidderminster Harriers and Cardiff City striker was snapped up by Inter Milan as part of a spate of British signings that followed in the footsteps of John Charles’ success at Juve. Hitchens outlasted Law and Greaves and stayed for eight seasons, making him the longest serving Brit in the history of Serie A.

4) David Platt
A year after his impressive performances in the 1990 World Cup, Platt joined Bari and, despite relegation in his first season, his goals from midfield were enough to earn him a move to Juventus. Platt didn’t truly find his feet, however, until he joined up with Sampdoria three years later.

5) Paul Ince
The self-proclaimed ‘Guvnor’ of Old Trafford initially looked more like a carthorse when he joined Inter Milan in 1995. But hard work and bags of guts eventually saw the midfield marauder establish himself as one of the first names on the team sheet.

6) David Beckham
A case of too little, too late? Maybe. But Beckham left the Bernabeu a hero after taking the league title by the scruff of the neck in his last few months at the club. Even the normally stubborn, massively egotistical Fabio Capello later admitted he had misjudged him.

7) Owen Hargreaves

Hargreaves appears to be doing everything backwards. Instead of starting his career in England, then being signed by a European club and then going into terminal decline, the former Bayern Munich player has done things the other way around.

8) Chris Waddle
After signing for Marseille in 1989, the winger lifted three consecutive French league titles and almost won European Footballer of the Year in 1991. Not bad for someone who admits that his attempts at a step-over were as telegraphed as a letter sent on a phone wire.

9) Paul Lambert

It says a lot about the lack of success of British players that this ordinary Scottish midfielder makes the top ten. Lambert spent just one season with Borussia Dortmund and became the first British player to win the European Cup with a foreign club.

10) Steve McManaman
McManaman left Liverpool for Real Madrid on a free transfer in 1999 and although he was never really a constant presence in the starting eleven, he did go on to win the league title and the Champions League twice in his four years in Spain. And seemed to enjoy himself enormously.

Gil Gillespie,