England and Germany have been bitter footballing rivals for the best part of a century with no love lost on either side. The rivalry extends fiercely in both countries but that hasn’t stopped players from each side playing, and thriving, in the others. Many Germans have graced the Premier League but only a few English players have travelled the other way. However, the tide is slowly turning. Many promising English youngsters are now flocking to Germany to find the breakthrough that has avoided them back in England and are enjoying a lot of success. With this sort of influx becoming more and more common, just who have been the best English players to feature in the Bundesliga?
6 Best English players in Bundesliga history
Kevin Keegan (Hamburg)
Back in his playing days, Kevin Keegan was one of the leading strikers in European football for over a decade. However, either side of his successful stints in England came a 4-year spell in Germany with Hamburg, as he became the first Englishman to play in the German top flight.
Keegan’s knack for lethal finishing didn’t alter when he shifted to the continent and he helped Hamburg to a successful run in the late 1970s. During his time there, he scored 32 goals in 90 games and helped HSV win the 1978/79 Bundesliga title and finish runners up to Nottingham Forest in the 1980 European Cup Final.
His influence in Europe was telling as Keegan won the Ballon D’Or in both 1978 and 1979 as well as featuring in the Bundesliga Team of the Year for three consecutive years. A great benchmark for others to follow and undeniably a worthy opener for our list of the best English players in the Bundesliga.
Tony Woodcock (FC Koln)
Best known for his successful spells with Nottingham Forest and Arsenal, Tony Woodcock followed in the footsteps of Kevin Keegan and tried to enjoy some success in Germany – this time with FC Koln.
Woodcock played with Koln on two separate occasions – from 1979-1982 and 1986-1988 and enjoy a productive spell scoring 39 goals in 112 games. His best return came in the 1981/82 season where he scored 15 goals as part of a lively partnership with Pierre Littbarski and helping Koln to second in the table. This deadly form would see Arsenal swoop in and sign him in the summer of 82’ ending his brightest spell in Germany.
Peter Hobday (Hannover, Eintracht Frankfurt and Arminia Bielefeld)
It’s rare for English players to spend the majority of their career playing overseas but Peter Hobday managed just that, spending almost a decade playing within the German top flight. A no-nonsense midfielder, Hobday was a player who specialized in breaking up plays and helping the team make the transition from defence to attack.
The former Gillingham star made the breakthrough with Hannover in 1986 making 52 appearances over 3 seasons for the Saxony-based club. A move to Eintracht Frankfurt wasn’t as beneficial as he would’ve hoped but his career got a second wind when he joined Arminia Bielefeld in 1994 from Paderborn, helping the minnows win consecutive promotions to the Bundesliga in 1995. His veteran knowledge helped play a pivotal role in helping Arminia avoid the drop at the end of the 1996/97 season before leaving the club and retiring a year later.
Owen Hargreaves (Bayern Munich)
At the start of the 2000s, Owen Hargreaves was a standout in English football for being one of the very few players in the Three Lions squad to be based overseas. Not that this mattered for someone who was born and raised in Canada and this showed as he became one of the best defensive midfielders in Europe.
With excellent passing and excellent under pressure, Hargreaves was the pivotal link between the different areas of the pitch. The results speak for themselves with Hargreaves enjoying 4 Bundesliga titles, a Champions League Final victory in 2001, and even winning the England Player of the Year Award in 2006. Whilst his reputation for injuries had hindered his career slightly, it didn’t stop Sir Alex Ferguson signing him for Manchester United in 2007. He wasn’t quite as successful in England but he remains one of the best English players in Bundeliga history.
Michael Mancienne (Hamburg)
Michael Mancienne’s career never reached the lofty heights some had predicted for him when he emerged as a promising talent for Chelsea but his spell with Hamburg in the Bundesliga did him any harm whatsoever. After stop-start loan spells with both QPR and Wolves, Mancienne left England and moved to Hamburg in 2011 to rejuvenate his career.
Mancienne’s physical prowess and aerial threat made strikers in Germany uneasy in the area helping him play a pivotal part in HSV’s quest to stave off relegation. He spent 3 seasons as a regular for the German side before moving to Nottingham Forest in 2014. Whilst he currently features for MLS New England Revolution, Mancienne proved you can resurrect your career successfully in the modern game with a move to a foreign country.
Jadon Sancho (Borussia Dortmund)
How did Manchester City let Jadon Sancho slip away? Lacking first-team opportunities with City, Sancho opted to move to Germany when Borussia Dortmund showed interest in 2017. Since then, Sancho has become one of the most dangerous wingers in Europe. With blistering pace, excellent ball control, and lethal finishing, Sancho has been one of the deadliest players in the Bundesliga over the past few years.
His best return came in the 2019/20 Bundesliga season scoring 17 goals in 32 games for BVB and winning two Bundesliga Player of the Month Awards, not something many English players can boast. This red-hot form has seen him seal a spot in the England squad and looks set to be a regular for years to come. The blueprint for all upcoming English talents to follow overseas!