Playing abroad is starting to seem like a better option for English footballers nowadays.

With the likes of Jadon Sancho, Kieran Trippier and former Liverpool man Daniel Sturridge, all plying their trades in ‘foreign’ leagues.

Former Liverpool forward Daniel Sturridge plays for Trabzonspor in Turkey. (Picture by Eric The Fish under Creative Commons Licence)

Someone who is playing his football in a different country is goalkeeper Conor O’Keefe.

Conor plays for the team Europa Point FC in the Gibraltar National League, who he joined in the summer transfer window.

O’Keefe has already played in a different country before Europa Point, in the neighbouring nation of Spain with Segunda Division B champions Fuenlabrada in the 17/18 season.

MerseySportLive had a chance to speak to O’Keefe about his time in Spain and how he is finding life in Gibraltar.

Playing in a different country

The man from Macclesfield explained why he decided to pack his bags and play in a different country, he said:

“When I was younger and starting to get to the point where you’re considering whether professional football is something that I want to do.

“I was always told that I was too small to be a keeper.

“I was average height all the way through and when scouts came to watch me, like I had a Republic of Ireland scout come to watch me when I was fifteen.

“And they would ask me how tall my dad was and I’d tell them that he was six foot tall, and they told me that I would be too small to become a pro.

“At the time, it was when Sky Sports had [television rights to] La Liga and they would how games all the time, they had Revista de La Liga [review show] and I used to watch it all the time.

“At that point, I was thinking: ‘If I can’t make it professional to begin with in England by 18 or 19, then maybe I will have to go abroad and then come back.

“That was where I got the idea of playing abroad.”

Making ‘sacrifices’

Playing in a different nation can come with many positives but it can also come with some negatives.

Players have to make sacrifices to get to an elite level and above.

The Europa Point man expressed his feelings being away from home whilst in Gibraltar, he said:

“It is hard leaving. In the summer, it happened very quickly with Europa Point and I had to leave in two or three days having got the call.

“Being away from home is one of the difficult parts of it. I think missing your surroundings is natural too. I almost miss the rain and the cold of England!

O’Keefe explained what sacrifices he has made and that he did not see them as sacrifices as he said:

“You have to make it a lifestyle, it has to be what you live every minute of every day.

“I wanted to be the best goalkeeper I could possibly be and I wanted to be a professional goalkeeper at the highest level of international football.

“It is very easy for me to say that but if I really want it, I have to live every minute of every day.

“I do that because it is what I enjoy and what I want to do.

“I have to make sure I am training, eating well, sleeping well. Make sure I do not drink as well.

“For me, they are no issues because it is what I love to do.

“I do not see it as a sacrifice because it is what I want to do and what I love to do.”

Other people’s ‘sacrifices’

It is not only Conor who has made ‘sacrifices’ in his journey.

His girlfriend Frankie agreed with Conor that they are not sacrifices, she said:

“I never like to call it a sacrifice because I hate the idea of it seeming like I am just following Conor.

“It is our thing, our choice, an equal decision.

“It wasn’t as if Conor decided where we were going and I just packed my bags.

“In terms of ‘sacrifices’, I studied Spanish and Italian and I originally wanted to be a translator, there are certain job offers that I received in Manchester and Birmingham but I had to turn them down because I was in Spain. But that is really it.”

First team abroad

O’Keefe was spending a study abroad year from Loughborough University and chose to do it in Madrid.

The goalkeeper made news when he posted 100 letters to numerous Spanish clubs, all the way from La Liga to the sixth tier of Spain.

However, Conor decided that he would send the letter in golden envelopes saying:

“If a letter turns up in a golden envelope you think: ‘Oh, that’s interesting.’

“It’s not just a bill and you’re going to toss it.”

The 24-year-old got a chance to train with Rayo Vallecano’s B team in pre-season and then signed for the third tier side CF Fuenlabrada.

Whilst at Fuenlabrada, he got the chance to travel with the team to the Santiago Bernabeu.

Speaking with then-teammate Din Alomerovic in his YouTube series Keeping Goals, he said:

“How did we get here?

“You [Din Alomerovic] came from Macedonia and I came from Macclesfield.

“And we are at the [Santiago] Bernabeu.”

Why Fuenlabrada?

So why did he decide to join Fuenlabrada?

On his decision to sign for Fuenlabrada and some of the key factors why he chose to sign with them, Conor said:

“I did not care about the size of the club, I did not care about money, I did not care about playing at that point.

“As long as I was in a place where I could learn and develop.

“At Fuenlabrada, I was very fortunate to do that.

“I was a third-choice goalkeeper, I played no games for the first team, I played some games for the B team.

“But I did have a goalkeeper coach who was one of the best I have ever worked with [Manolo Rubio].

“And I worked with two first-team goalkeepers [Pol Freixant and Jordi Cordina] who had very distinguished careers.

“I was learning with them in technique, goalkeeping, language and how to be professional.

“It took my game to a whole new level and that is what I wanted.”

Difference in style

He also spoke about the difference of style between the English game and the Spanish game:

“In Spain, we would spend maybe two hours a week in the gym. We would do hardly any gym work.

“It would all [training] be on the pitch and if you did not have the technical ability to survive in the rondo’s [training activity]; you would stick out like a sore thumb.

“In my first Spanish rondo I was all over the place and they were just zipping it around me and people were taking the mic out of me [making fun of].

“You realise very quickly that you have to raise your technical level.”

Returning to England

O’Keefe would return to play for Loughborough University’s football team after he completed his study abroad year.

He explained that adapting back to a style that Loughborough wanted to play for that season was not difficult:

“I was fortunate in the fact that the way they wanted to play at Loughborough was quite similar.

“During my time away there had been a change in direction with Loughborough.

“The director of football had changed; the first team manager had changed.

“The way that we tried to play in that final year was playing out from the back, was focusing on technical ability.”

Europa Point FC

Conor joined Europa Point during the summer and he told us why he decided to sign for the Gibraltarian side:

“Having played in Spain before with Fuenlabrada, I had experience playing abroad.

“I had experienced being out of my comfort zone, I had experienced not knowing a language.

“So I was not scared of playing abroad again.

“In the summer having just finished and graduated from Loughborough.

“I had some offers from non-league in the UK, I had an offer in Sweden and then I had the offer from Europa Point.

“Having seen the opportunity in Gibraltar and having never played in Gibraltar. It was an exciting project.

“There was also the opportunity to be a number one which is important to me because I want to play as much as I can and show what I can do.

“There was also the opportunity to get European football [Champions League and Europa League]. That was a huge pulling point.”

Conor playing with his newest side Europa Point FC.

‘Keeping Goals’

The goalkeeper announced that he had signed for Europa Point in his YouTube series, Keeping Goals.

Conor started his YouTube series in October 2017 and is now on his third series.

On why he started his channel and why he started the Keeping Goals series, he said:

“Keeping Goals was started when I moved to Spain in my third year of university.

“It was something that I started because I thought that as a kid I would have loved to see an English player move abroad and play abroad and see what it was like.

“I knew I was in a unique situation in terms of how I got my club with the golden envelopes story.

“Having watched films like the Ronaldo film and Conor McGregor: Notorious you see the rise and what they had to do to get there but you knew that they had made it.

“I wanted to create a series where the audience did not know how it was going to finish and neither did I.

“In addition, we would share that together in the fact that we never knew if I would make it as a professional.

“But we would share the journey together and they would see the honest truth in the positives and the negatives of that story.”

You can check out Conor’s channel and his series at

Photo courtesy of Nigel Watson, Black & Burst Photography.