- New Bayer Leverkusen signing Demarai Gray is the latest British player to move to Germany
- 24-year-old winger leaves Leicester City after five years and a Premier League title
- Gray came through the ranks at Birmingham City, making a name for himself in the Championship
- Follows the likes of Jadon Sancho and Jude Bellingham in moving to the Bundesliga
Turning 25 this year, Demarai Gray is moving away from the ‘talented youngster’ label, and away from English football too – for the time being at least.
With his opportunities at Leicester City limited this season, manager Brendan Rogers made the winger available for transfer, and he duly joined Bayer Leverkusen on an 18-month deal at the end of January, ending a five-year spell with the Foxes which begin with their improbable march to the 2015-16 Premier League title.
It feels like this move could be make-or-break for Gray, who started his career in the Championship with Birmingham City, and he joins a growing English contingent in the Bundesliga. The jury’s out on Gray. He’s following in the footsteps of a whole host of young players, but who’s had the most luck since moving to Germany?
English teens at the top
Two of England’s brightest prospects, 17-year-olds Jude Bellingham and Jamal Musiala, are both plying their trade in the Bundesliga at Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich respectively, and it’s fair to say that they’re doing well.
Bellingham, who came through the ranks at Birmingham just like Gray, is already a mainstay in the Dortmund midfield despite competing with the likes of Axel Witsel, Thomas Delaney and Julian Brandt. He’s adapted to life at his new club faster than almost anybody expected, winning the Rookie of the Month award in September and becoming the third-youngest England international two months later.
Musiala’s rise hasn’t received quite the same level of coverage, the attacking midfielder getting his head down and working hard at Bayern Munich since moving from Chelsea in 2019. However, like Bellingham he has certainly made an impact this season, becoming Bayern’s youngest goalscorer and appearing in over three-quarters of their league games so far. Both Liverpool and Man United have been linked with the teenager but he’s set to sign a new contract until 2025 when he turns 18 at the end of February.
And what of Jadon Sancho? Perhaps the poster boy for English exports to Germany. Like Bellingham, he’s been a regular in the Dortmund team but isn’t enjoying his best season in front of goal. After scoring just over one goal every other game in the 2019-20 season, he’s got just 3 in 17 so far this time round.
The links to Manchester United are unlikely to go away, and it remains to be seen how the young forward deals with the sustained interest from his home country after an initial drop in form. He’s undoubtedly extremely talented, as we’ve seen throughout his time at Dortmund, but risks being upstaged by even-younger teammates.
As well as Bellingham, Dortmund boast the likes of Gio Reyna (18), Real Madrid loanee Reinier Jesus (19) and Youssoufa Moukoko (16). Then there’s Erling Haaland too, just three months younger than Sancho but one of the hottest properties in world football.
A host of loanees
As well as the permanent moves of Sancho and others, there’s been no shortage of loanees arriving in Germany from some of the Premier League’s top clubs too. Over the last couple of seasons we’ve seen the following players spend a season in Germany on loan from the Premier League:
Lewis Baker (Chelsea) – Fortuna Düsseldorf
Jonjoe Kenny (Everton) – Schalke
Ryan Kent (Liverpool) – SC Freiburg
Ademola Lookman (Everton) – RB Leipzig
Reiss Nelson (Arsenal) – 1899 Hoffenheim
Ryan Sessegnon (Tottenham) – 1899 Hoffenheim
Emile Smith Rowe (Arsenal) – RB Leipzig
Following their loan spells, they’ve had mixed successes since – not including Sessegnon, who is currently halfway through his loan deal. Midfielder Baker duly went back out on loan again, this time to Turkish side Trabzonspor, while right-back Kenny joined Celtic until the end of the season on Monday. Liverpool winger Kent failed to make the grade with the Reds, moving to Rangers on loan before signing a permanent deal with the Scottish giants.
Lookman and Oxford both made permanent moves to Germany, with Oxford currently at FC Augsburg on a permanent basis and Lookman moving to RB Leipzig eighteen months after an initial loan spell – however, he’s currently on loan at Fulham, helping them to stay in the Premier League. Meanwhile, Nelson and Smith Rowe are both back at Arsenal, and despite finding first-team opportunities limited are still just 21 and 20 respectively.
Whether it’s for top-flight experience, a step-up or simply a change of environment, Germany has been perhaps the top location for young British footballers, and it’s fair to say that on the whole, these moves have been successful.
Gray might be a little older than the other players when they first made journey, but there’s no reason why he can’t kick on and do well. Still just 24, moving to Bayer Leverkusen could be the best thing for him.
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