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I fear Bale can never hit Big John's heights.

Byline: Greavsie jimmy

IT'S not easy being a British footballer abroad.

Why, you can score nine goals in 12 games for one of the biggest clubs in the world, as I did, and still pick up a newspaper half a century later and read about how much of a failure you were!

So while a hell of a lot has changed during the 52 years since I moved from Chelsea to AC Milan, I do fear for Gareth Bale in his new life at Real Madrid.

Many of our intrepid exports have totally bombed, some of us felt we did pretty well on the pitch but simply couldn't handle living overseas, while precious few went on to enjoy sustained success in foreign lands.

Perhaps only Big John Charles, Bale's predecessor as a genuine world-class Welsh footballer, has enjoyed legendary status at a major foreign club - winning three Serie A titles in five years at Juventus.

I hope wrong reckon back Man Man City next I hate comparing players from different eras and different positions but if you twisted my arm and made me nominate the single greatest British footballer of all time, it would have to be Big John.

I got to know him well after the end of my career, when we both played in a globe-trotting veterans team called The Gold Diggers.

Big John was my room-mate on many of those trips and my clearest memory was how I had to buy twice as many cigarettes because he would cadge most of mine!

But he was wonderful company who didn't demand much from life (except plenty of free Woodbines).

Perhaps that was one of the reasons why Big John was such a success in Turin.

He was an immense footballer, genuinely great either at centreforward or at centre-half. But it would also have helped that he wasn't a restless man, certainly not a moaner - because life for a British footballer in Italy in the 1950s or '60s certainly felt a lot more foreign in every sense than a move to Spain or Italy would seem nowadays.

It's well-documented that I hated the off-field regime at AC Milan under coach Nero Rocco, who made my life a misery.

It was funny seeing Bale's family and friends posing for photos at the Bernabeu because when I first agreed to join Milan all was sweetness and light as well.

I was taken to a posh restaurant with my wife, some mates and even a couple of Her Majesty's finest pressmen, by Milan officials who were full of bonhomie.

We were put up in a swanky pad in Milan - the only problem was, I was hardly ever there. As soon as I reported for pre-season, I was locked away in boot camp.

I missed out on compulsory I'm but I he'll be here in a United or shirt season national service but after Rocco's walktrain-eat-sleep regime I felt like I'd done a stint in the Italian army.

On the pitch, I enjoyed it and I left for Tottenham five months later as a much more complete footballer - and believing, despite what I still read, that scoring three goals every four games in the meanest defensive league in the world, didn't quite mark me out as an unmitigated disaster!

But the majority of Brits abroad have found it difficult to settle.

Things will be different for Bale - he can watch English telly and go on Skype, Twitter and Facebook, rather than having to pre-book telephone calls as I did in Milan.

But with Cristiano Ronaldo ruling the roost at the Bernabeu, and a lot of Real players mourning the departure of Mesut Ozil to Arsenal, it is going to be tough for Bale.

He has all the talent in the world and he may even score three goals every four matches.

But while I hope I am wrong - and that Bale becomes our greatest footballing export since John Charles - I reckon he will be in a Manchester United or City shirt by the start of next season.

''I hope I'm wrong but I reckon he'll be back here in a Man United or Man City shirt next season


LEGEND: John Charles playing for Juventus at Arsenal in 1958
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Title Annotation:Sport; Opinion, Columns
Publication:The People (London, England)
Date:Sep 8, 2013
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