By 90Min
January 29, 2018

To achieve great things in football sometimes requires the great sacrifice of moving continents and crossing oceans to get to where you want to be.

Alternatively, a fresh start or simply a new challenge might be waiting an ocean away.

With a handful of examples from years gone by to start with, here's a look at 10 of the best players in recent memory to have crossed an ocean in order to play overseas...

Historical Mentions

The explosion of the original North American Soccer League (NASL) saw European superstars like George Best (pictured below with Brazilian icon Pele), Franz Beckenbauer, Bobby Moore, Eusebio and Johan Cruyff head across the Atlantic Ocean in the late 1970s.

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Many years earlier, Alfredo di Stefano had crossed in the opposite direction when the great Argentine left Millonarios in Colombia to head to Spain. And George Robledo was a famous Chilean who played for Newcastle, leaving South America for England as a young child.

Three English players - Charlie Mitten, a star forward for Manchester United, Neil Franklin and George Mountford - even headed across the Atlantic to Colombia in the early 1950s, lured by the promise of big money not available to players in England at the time.

Landon Donovan

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Arguably the greatest American player of all time, US soccer legend Landon Donovan did several ocean crossings during his illustrious career, making the switch from his native California to Germany in 1999 at the age of just 17.

Donovan started out in the Bayer Leverkusen II team and made a handful of appearances for the senior side. He returned across the Atlantic to play in Major League Soccer, but later headed back to Europe three further times to play with Everton (twice) and Bayern Munich.

David Trezeguet


It remains a little known fact that French World Cup and European Championship winner David Trezeguet was born to Argentine parents and actually grew up in Buenos Aires after the family returned to South America from France he was a young child.

The long-time Juventus star actually began his football career in Argentina with Platense, before heading across the Atlantic Ocean to join Monaco. Later, after 10 years in Italy, he returned to Argentina to play for Hercules, River Plate and Newell's Old Boys.

Carlos Tevez


Having won league titles and various other trophies, including the 2007/08 Champions League, with Manchester United, Manchester City and Juventus, Carlos Tevez set about an emotional homecoming when he returned to first club Boca Juniors in 2015.

The reunion lasted only 18 months as Tevez accepted the call of Shanghai Shenhua and traveled across the vast Pacific Ocean to the Chinese Super League, but he's since returned to his first club. 

Sebastian Giovinco

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An Italian international and a Juventus player of nearly 20 years after joining his hometown team at the age of nine, Sebastian Giovinco upped sticks and moved across the Atlantic Ocean to Canada when he signed with emerging Major League Soccer power Toronto FC.

The Canadian franchise had never made the MLS playoffs before Giovinco's 2015 arrival, but have since played in two MLS Cup finals, lifting the championship trophy this year.

Alessandro Del Piero

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When Juventus legend Alessandro Del Piero left the club in 2012 after a record number of appearances and goals, the forward enjoyed a fine twilight to his illustrious career after moving to the other side of the world with Sydney FC in Australia's blossoming A-League.

The Italian World Cup winner scored a goal every other game Down Under, and then also briefly headed partially back across the Indian Ocean to represent Delhi Dynamos in the new Indian Super League in 2014.

David Villa

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Much like Del Piero, Spanish forward David Villa headed to Australia when his time in Europe came to an end. The World Cup winner was waiting for New York City to begin life in Major League Soccer and so made a handful of appearances for Melbourne City in 2014.

After travelling up across the Pacific Ocean to North America, Villa began the 2015 MLS season as NYC's first ever captain. He has been a prolific goalscorer while stateside and finished the 2016 season as MLS MVP at the age of 35.

Andrea Pirlo

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Andrea Pirlo was a team-mate of Villa's for two-and-a-half seasons in New York, making the trans-Atlantic switch from Europe to the Big Apple shortly after playing in the 2015 Champions league final with Juventus.

The Italian master brought a certain level of class to MLS action and has only recently called time on his illustrious career at the age of 38.

David Beckham

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Many criticised David Beckham's decision to leave Europe behind and start a new chapter of his career in 2007 when he quit Real Madrid for Los Angeles Galaxy.

It was a gamble that paid off, both for Beckham and Galaxy, as the former England captain raised the profile of soccer to huge new levels in America. His career even included several more ocean crossings with short loans at AC Milan in 2009 and 2010.


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Neymar could have made an ocean crossing to Europe on several opportunities in his early career, rejecting approaches from Real Madrid, Chelsea and even West Ham to stay loyal to Santos in Brazil.

But the time to head to Europe finally came in 2013 when Barcelona sealed a deal for the global superstar, who has since become the most expensive player in history following his €222m move to Paris Saint-Germain in France.

Lionel Messi


With the promise that Barcelona would pay for his growth hormone treatment, Lionel Messi left his home city of Rosario in Argentina at the age of 13 and traveled across the Atlantic Ocean to Europe with his family.

Three years after arriving in Spain, Messi made his Barça debut at the age of 17 and had emerged as the best player in the world by the time he hit 22. He is the only player in history to have won four consecutive Ballon d'Or awards and it all started with that ocean crossing.

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