A former Accrington Stanley defender and an ex-Portsmouth fan favourite are among the English exports set to feature for foreign clubs when the Europa League last 16 begins on Thursday.
Elsewhere, a former Tottenham youth winger faces Spurs’ fiercest rivals and two players on the periphery of Gareth Southgate’s England squad are looking to help Jose Mourinho lift another European trophy.
Marcus Edwards was on target against Arsenal in a Europa League group game at Emirates Stadium in 2019
Having come through the youth ranks at Tottenham, Sporting Lisbon winger Marcus Edwards will be eager to end Arsenal’s Europa League journey when the two teams meet in the last 16.
Likened to Lionel Messi as a 17-year-old, Edwards was let go by Spurs – the club he had been at since he was eight years old – in 2019. He was snapped up by Portuguese club Vitoria Guimaraes on a four-year contract later that year, scoring his first goal for them in a 3-2 Europa League group-stage victory against the Gunners in October.
After registering 19 goals in 96 appearances for Vitoria, Edwards joined Primeira Liga rivals Sporting in January 2022. He produced eye-catching displays against former employers Spurs in the Champions League this season, impressing in Sporting’s 2-0 victory over Antonio Conte’s team before netting the opener in a 1-1 draw at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
Born in Burnley, Ross Sykes played for the Clarets between the ages of 11 and 13 before being released for being too small. He was on the brink of giving up football, but his mother persuaded him to trial at Accrington Stanley – who offered him his first professional contract in May 2016.
After a brief loan spell with National League North side Southport, Sykes made his full league debut against Gillingham on the opening day of the 2018-19 campaign. He made 131 appearances for Stanley across all competitions before being signed by Belgium’s Union Saint-Gilloise in June.
The 6ft 6ins centre-back started both legs of Union’s Champions League third-round play-off defeat by Rangers, before playing the whole 90 minutes in a 1-0 Europa League group-stage defeat by Bundesliga title contenders Union Berlin. The two teams now meet again in the last 16.
A former fan favourite at Portsmouth, ex-Arsenal and West Ham academy player, Burgess joined Union – then in Belgium’s second division – in July 2020.
Aged 21 when he made his professional debut for Middlesbrough, Burgess then had a loan spell at Hartlepool and a move to Peterborough – first on loan, then permanently – in 2014. He returned to League Two with Portsmouth a year later, winning promotion and the EFL Trophy before moving to Belgium.
Burgess has impressed off the pitch too, the University of Birmingham history graduate using his summer break in 2021 to join volunteers in offering support to migrants living in settlements in France.
A self-confessed “Highbury boy”, Islington-born Samuel Iling-Junior actually joined Chelsea’s academy as an eight-year-old in 2011. He played with the likes of Bayern Munich star Jamal Musiala and Brighton loanee Levi Colwill during his time with the Blues, but after rejecting a scholarship deal in 2020 he joined the Serie A club on a three-year deal in September that year.
Part of Juventus’ under-19s team that reached the 2021-22 Uefa Youth League semi-finals, the winger made his Serie A debut in a 4-0 win over Empoli before being given his Champions League bow in a thrilling 4-3 defeat at Benfica. Four days later, he set up the only goal 41 seconds after coming off the bench as Massimiliano Allegri’s team won 1-0 at Lecce 1-0.
In December, he was rewarded for those eye-catching cameos with a new contract until 2025.
After joining Chelsea aged seven, Abraham went on to score 30 goals in 82 appearances for the Blues before joining Roma in the aftermath of Romelu Lukaku’s return to Stamford Bridge in August 2021. He finished an outstanding debut campaign with two goals in a 3-0 win at Torino in May, making him the highest-scoring English player in a Serie A campaign with 17. He also scored nine Europa Conference League goals as the Giallorossi finished runners-up to Feyenoord.
Abraham has so far failed to hit the heights of the previous campaign, scoring just seven times in 33 appearances across all competitions this season. His last goal for the club came in a 2-0 win over Empoli at the beginning of February.
Chris Smalling has become an integral part of Mourinho’s Roma side since joining from Manchester United in 2019, making more than 120 appearances for them. He has featured in all but two of Roma’s matches this season, the second coming in last Tuesday’s 2-1 Serie A defeat by Cremonese – a game Smalling missed through suspension.
In an interview with the Mirror last year, Roma general manager Tiago Pinto called the former Fulham and Maidstone United defender as the “best centre-back in the whole of Serie A” last season.
Source – BBC Sport