10 Greatest Foreign Imports to Play in the SPL
The Scottish league may not be the most glamorous, but when it comes to finding gems from outside Britain & Ireland it holds its own on the world stage.
Some fantastic players have graced the football grounds of the Scottish Premier League (SPL). Now, after the recent rebrand to the Scottish Professional Football League (SPFL), we take a look back at the best foreign imports during the SPL years (1998-2012).
The players mentioned in the coming slides are by no means exhaustive. What is certain, though, is that there will be as much debate and disagreement over who hasn't made the 10 chosen as much as who has.
Feel free to leave a comment below if you think someone else should have made it into the top 10, or didn't get a mention at all but should have.
Keep in mind there will be an "honourable mentions" slide after the top 10 have been named.
*All figures have been taken from Soccerbase (statistics) and TransferMarkt (transfer values)
10: Lorenzo Amoruso
Transfer fee: £4.5 million
"Amo", as he was christened by the Rangers support, reportedly chose to sign for the Ibrox side despite receiving an offer from Manchester United.
The classy Italian went on to win nine domestic trophies with the club, including two trebles in 1998-99 and 2002-03.
He also became the first Roman Catholic to captain the club when he was given the armband in 1999.
Good in the air and comfortable with the ball at his feet, Amoruso also chipped in with a few goals every season and made well over 200 appearances in a successful Rangers career.
9: Russell Latapy
Country: Trinidad & Tobago
Club: Hibernian (1998-2001), Rangers (2001-03), Dundee Utd (2003), Falkirk (2003-09)
Position: Attacking midfielder
Transfer fee: Free (all clubs)
We saw two very different Russell Latapys over the course of his 11-year spell in Scotland.
The first—a talented, but wild, playmaker who dazzled Hibs fans for three years before leaving for Rangers under somewhat of a cloud following a night out with ex-Manchester United star and countryman, Dwight Yorke.
The second—the senior star at Falkirk; an intelligent midfield dynamo who played until the age of 40, and made it look easy, despite smoking regularly for much of his career.
The best bits of both see him make this top 10. It can't be forgotten that he was nominated for the FIFA World Player of the Year award (prior to its merger with the Ballon d'Or) in 2001, when still a Hibs player.
8: Stiliyan Petrov
Club: Celtic (1999-2006)
Position: Central Midfielder
Transfer fee: £2.9 million
For seven seasons Stiliyan "Stan" Petrov was magnificent for Celtic.
He may have started off poorly, homesick and being played out of position at right-back for a spell, but when Kenny Dalglish assured him he would get a run of 10 games in his preferred midfield berth the Bulgarian didn't look back.
He established himself as one of the finest box-to-box midfielders of the SPL era and scored over 60 goals for the Hoops before moving to Aston Villa for an estimated £8 million.
7: Artur Boruc
Club: Celtic (2005-10)
Transfer fee: £1.3 million (first season was on loan)
For a period in his Celtic career, Artur Boruc was among the best goalkeepers in world football.
In 2008, his third season at the club, the Pole was shortlisted for the FIFPro World XI alongside legendary goalkeepers Gianluigi Buffon, Iker Casillas, Edwin van der Sar and Petr Cech.
His personality, as much as his undoubted ability, made him a firm favourite among the Celtic support, while his regular routine of blessing himself between the sticks earned him the moniker "the Holy Goalie."
After leaving Glasgow for a spell at Fiorentina, Boruc moved to Southampton in the English Premier League, where he is once again earning plaudits for his shot-stopping skills and consistency.
6: Franck Sauzee
Club: Hibernian (1999-2001)
Position: Central midfielder/sweeper
Transfer fee: Free
Classy—probably the first adjective any Hibs fan would choose to describe Franck Sauzee.
The midfielder/sweeper represents the biggest coup in this list in terms of pedigree and club moved to.
He may have been 32 when he made the decision to relocate to Leith, but the Frenchman had winners medals coming out of his ears.
Four Ligue 1 titles, two Coupe de France, a Ligue 2 championship and one Champions League accompanied him to Scotland—more than a career's worth, and he had almost 40 caps for France into the bargain!
Sauzee didn't disappoint for Hibs, captaining the side for three years and earning the nickname "Le God" in the process.
5: Shunsuke Nakamura
Club: Celtic (2005-09)
Position: Attacking midfielder
Transfer fee: Free
When Shunsuke Nakamura arrived at Celtic from Reggina in 2005 he inherited Lubomir Moravick's No. 25 shirt.
Not since the Slovakian wizard had a Celtic player been capable of such creativity and dead ball expertise.
He turned up on the big occasions—witness his two sublime free-kicks against Manchester United in the Champions League, the second of which sent Celtic through to the last 16, and his injury-time league winner away to Kilmarnock in 2007.
Nakamura also racked up an impressive haul of awards and trophies during his four seasons at Parkhead.
It's hard to argue with the merits of winning three SPL titles in a row (2006-08), the Scottish Cup and two League Cups, not to mention being awarded both the Players' Player and the Scottish Football Writers' Player of the Year trophies in 2007, as well as a Ballon d'Or nomination the same year.
4: Rudi Skacel
Country: Czech Republic
Club: Hearts (2005-06 & 2010-12), Dundee Utd (2012-13)
Position: Attacking midfielder
Transfer fee: Loan (first spell); Free (second spell)
Take Rudi Skacel out of Hearts' Scottish Cup-winning sides of 2006 and 2012 and they would have two less Scottish Cups to their name.
The Czech suited Hearts as much as they suited him. He was the main goal threat during both periods of his Jambos career, hitting the back of the net a sublime 48 times in just 109 matches from midfield.
His spell at United was underwhelming, but his impact and quality for Hearts was invaluable.
3: Lubomir Moravcik
Club: Celtic (1998-2002)
Position: Attacking midfielder
Transfer fee: £200,000
To this day, no one really knows what foot was Lubo's strongest.
Signed from MSV Duisburg in 1998 at the age of 33, Celtic head coach Josef Venglos was questioned vehemently by sections of the press and, initially, the support.
Nevertheless, the man who was once Pavel Nedved's idol showed his quality fairly quickly and won every football lover to his side.
Later christened "a gift from God" by the Celtic support, the Slovakian mesmerised the fans with a unique blend of creativity, flair and finishing for four seasons and well over 100 games.
2: Giovanni Van Bronckhorst
Club: Rangers (1998-2001)
Position: Central midfielder
Transfer fee: £6 million
The Giovanni van Bronckhorst most people outside Scotland will remember is the marauding left-back capable of the occasional screamer from his Barcelona and Dutch national team days.
During his three years with Rangers, however, the Dutchman was predominantly a creative central midfielder, a role he played to great effect and aplomb with his technical skill, good decision-making and excellent long-range shooting.
Trophy-wise he holds his own in the SPL pantheon: two league titles, two Scottish Cups and a League Cup saw to that.
The transfer fee may have been hefty, and as a result it could be argued he should move further down this list, but "Gio" was so obviously able to step up to a higher level (he eventually did just that) the fee seems less of an issue.
A class act in practically every other game for the Ibrox side, van Bronckhorst showcased his talents to the world—albeit from a different position—when he moved to Barcelona from Arsenal in 2003, as well as at Euro 2008 and the 2012 World Cup with the Netherlands.
1: Henrik Larsson
Club: Celtic (1997-2004)
Transfer fee: £600,000
Celtic legend Henrik Larsson tops the list of foreign imports into the SPL because he is, quite simply, the best player to have played in the league.
Costing just £600,000 from Feyenoord, the Swede scored 242 goals in 315 games for Celtic over a seven year spell (including almost a full season out with injury).
It is a testament to his ability that he won the European Golden Boot in 2001—the first, and so far only, player plying their trade in Scotland to do so since the league rankings system was put in place—and a testament to his loyalty that he chose to remain in Scotland despite interest from the likes of Manchester United.
Larsson also scored 35 goals in 58 European games for the club, including two in the 2003 UEFA Cup final—making him the only player to score twice in a final and be on the losing side.
After departing for Barcelona in 2004 Larsson went on to play a key role in the Catalan's Champions League triumph two years later, before a brief loan spell with Manchester United reaffirmed his quality was not only apparent in Scotland.
It is very unlikely a player of Larsson's ability and loyalty will be enjoyed in the new SPFL.
... or the "didn't quite make it" slide, as it is sometimes known.
In the first of three goalkeepers not to make the list, but still deserving of a mention, Theo Snelders of Aberdeen (1988-96) and Rangers (1996-99) fails to get in because his best years were with the Dons and thus not in the SPL years.
Andrius Skerla stuck with Dunfermline even after Rangers were linked with him during his first year with the Pars. Signed from PSV Eindhoven for around £200,000, the Lithuanian defender stayed for five seasons before departing for Russian side Tom Tomsk in 2005.
Argentine icon Claudio Caniggia turned out for two Scottish clubs—Dundee (2000-01) and Rangers (2001-03)—and impressed greatly. The forward with the rock star look captured the imagination, especially at Dens Park, and will be fondly remembered by fans of both clubs he played for.
Sticking with Rangers, goalkeeper Stefan Klos arrived at the club a European Cup winner with Borussia Dortmund. During an eight year stint (1999-2007) in Glasgow, the German established himself as a formidable presence between the sticks, won every domestic club honour available, captained the side and made almost 300 appearances.
Another ex-Rangers 'keeper deserves a mention, though not for his performances with the Ibrox side. Finnish stopper Antti Niemi played in Scotland between 1997 and 2002, spending the first two years with Rangers and the next three with Hearts. It was with the Jambos he shone, gaining many plaudits and subsequently moving to England where he spent six seasons with Southampton and Fulham. He was even touted for a call-up to the Scotland team by one indignant Hearts fan!
Jorg Albertz, or "the Hammer" as he was nicknamed, possessed probably the fiercest shot ever to rattle the back of an SPL net. He managed that 76 times in 211 games over the course of his five years at Rangers (1996-2001) and played a role in winning three league titles, two Scottish Cups and two League Cups.
Australian forward Mark Viduka took no such time to settle in at Parkhead when he arrived from Croatia Zagreb in 1998. He left pretty sharpish—playing the equivalent of one full season in his year-and-a-half in Glasgow—but left with the League Cup and Players' Player of the Year award in 2000. A return of 35 goals in just 48 games is why he deserves a mention.
Finally, staying Down Under, ex-Motherwell and Celtic striker Scott McDonald was a clinical finisher during his years in Scotland. The Australian netted an impressive 93 goals, placing him fourth of all time in the SPL history books.
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