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Each Premier League Club's Best Ever International Player

Thomas CooperFeatured ColumnistMarch 12, 2013

Each Premier League Club's Best Ever International Player

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    After this weekend's action, the Premier League and other competitions worldwide take a backseat to international football and the matter of World Cup qualification.

    Many plying their trade in English football will be journeying to compete with their respective countries in destinations far and wide. Premier League clubs are desperate for their top talent not to come back injured. Yet even with this risk, they know being able to count players who represent their country among their own adds to the prestige of the clubs.

    Of the sides currently in the top flight, who is the best ever international player to have played for each of them? They do not necessarily have to have been capped while at these clubs, though several of them enjoyed their best years with their country when they were.

    Clubs like Arsenal and Manchester United have more competition for this honor than Reading or Wigan Athletic, but all have internationals to be proud of. Interestingly, even with the influx of foreign talent in recent decades, for many it is still Englishmen who rank as the best on this list.

Arsenal: Thierry Henry

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    If there is a feeling that Thierry Henry never quite matched his Arsenal best with France, that is in part because he was so darn special with the Gunners. He was also part of national team set-up that went from the sublime to the ridiculous in a matter of years.

    Henry, along with the likes of Zinedine Zidane, took France to the final of the 2006 World Cup in spite of Raymond Domenech. But thereafter, that manager's incompetency and the increasing bad blood between members of the squad were too much even for Henry to overcome with any real success.

    With all that said, Henry's international career is one the striker can look back on with pride. A member of their historic World Cup and European Championship winning sides in 1998 and 2000, he scored a tremendous 51 times in 123 international appearances.

    Arsenal have many players, particularly from the Arsene Wenger era, in contention for their best-ever international. But for overall success and enough sparkling moments throughout, Henry stands out.

Aston Villa: Paul McGrath

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    Danny Blanchflower, David Platt and Peter Schmeichel are among the notable internationals to have played for Aston Villa. Players like Peter Withe and Gordon Cowans, members of the side that won the league and European Cup in the early 1980s, were also capped.

    Getting the nod for Villa's best international, however, is the Republic of Ireland's Paul McGrath.

    The defender was a colossus for both club and country. For Ireland he won 83 caps. Most importantly, he was part of the generation (managed by Jack Charlton) who took the country to its first major tournament in Euro 1988, and followed it up by qualifying for the 1990 and 1994 World Cups.

    McGrath was an influential and determined presence in guiding Ireland into the knockout stages of the latter two tournaments, and a player of considerable talent they would love to have playing for them now.

Chelsea: Ruud Gullit

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    As one of the most cosmopolitan teams of the Premier League era, Chelsea have boasted some notable foreign talent. Going back many years, and right up to the present day, some of British football's best have played for the Blues too.

    It is hard to look past their former player and manager Ruud Gullit as the best international to have played for Chelsea.

    The versatile Dutchman enjoyed successful spells with some of Europe's biggest clubs. Yet apart from his stay with AC Milan, it was his international career that drew most recognition. Of course, both had a lot to do with the other.

    Along with Marco van Basten and Frank Rijkaard, Gullit lit up world football around the end of the 1980s, winning trophies with both the Rossoneri and Oranje. It is for his time with the latter he finds his place on this list.

    That generation won Holland the 1988 European Championships, the country's first major success. In the following years, things would turn acrimonious for the Dutch, but Gullit's part in their historic victory of '88 cannot be overlooked.

Everton: Alan Ball

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    Alan Ball joined Everton off the back of England's World Cup victory in 1966. The midfielder had been an integral part of Sir Alf Ramsey's successful side in that tournament, belying his youth and inexperience at international level with some terrific displays.

    During his time on Merseyside, he would continue to represent his country, remaining a regular name on the team sheet under Ramsey. He was part of the squad that traveled to Mexico in 1970 and remained involved in the national set-up until 1975.

    Ball's 72 caps and eight goals, along with his World Cup winners' medal, more than make him the Toffee's most successful international.

Fulham: Johnny Haynes

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    After years in English football's wilderness, Fulham's cementing of a place in the top flight this last decade has them once again signing international talent. Clint Dempsey, Damien Duff, Mark Schwarzer and Dimitar Berbatov are among those who have come and played for them in recent years.

    The 1960s and 70s saw World Cup winners like George Cohen and Bobby Moore at Craven Cottage, and others like Alan Mullery and George Best, too. To find their best ever international though, you have to go back over 40 years.

    Johnny Haynes is regarded as Fulham's greatest player, and for a while, too, he was one of England's best. He was represented 56 times between 1954 and 1962, straddling an era that saw the national team begin to come to grips with the realities of the new football world.

    Haynes, a classy operator and wonderful passer of the ball, found a suitable stage for his talent in international football. Yet though he played in the 1958 and 1962 World Cups, it proved to be a transitional stage before the success of 1966.

    Sir Alf Ramsey did not have Haynes in his plans, moving in a different direction that did not feature a player of his comparative individuality.

Liverpool: Kenny Dalglish

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    Unsurprisingly for a club that have won 18 league titles and five European Cups (as well as many other trophies), Liverpool Football Club have featured many players to have also represented their countries.

    Roger Hunt, Xabi Alonso and Fernando Torres are among those to have won major tournaments, while others like Ray Clemence and Graeme Souness have given considerable service, too. For their best ever international, it has to be a royal selection.

    "King" Kenny Dalglish played 102 times for Scotland, scoring 30 times. In itself that is a remarkable achievement in a competitive era when Scottish players were still among Europe's best.

    Success in major tournaments was beyond their reach, as Scotland failed to progress beyond the group stage. Still, that they were making this competitions was something to be proud of, especially considering their failure to do so in the last 15 years.

    Dalglish played his part in at least keeping them this competitive and played in the 1978 and 1982 tournaments.

Manchester City: David Silva

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    David Silva is the first player on this list to still be playing, and also at the club for whom they have been chosen as their best international ever.

    Manchester City's attacking midfield has been one of several stars in a generation of Spain players to dominate international football since 2008. Silva's presence was minimal at the 2010 World Cup, but he played a large part in their European Championships success of 2008 and 2012.

    With so many great players on offer, it would have been understandable if Silva had been overshadowed by teammates like David Villa and Andres Iniesta. He still found occasion to shine, and in the most recent tournament scored Spain's opener in their 4-0 final win over Italy.

    At the time of writing, he has played 69 times and scored 18 goals for Spain.

Manchester United: Sir Bobby Charlton

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    Sir Bobby Charlton is, in the opinion of many, England's greatest player ever. If that is the case, then unsurprisingly he is Manchester United's best international, too.

    Charlton played in three consecutive World Cups, went to another in 1958 (in which he should have played) and was one of the stars of England's win in 1966. Throughout his 12 years involved in the national team set-up, he contested with the very best world football had to offer, finding himself at least the equal of them and often their superior.

    Finishing off with 109 caps and 49 goals, he remains England's all-time leading scorer to this day.

Newcastle United: Alan Shearer

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    In Chris Waddle, Paul Gascoigne and Peter Beardsley, there are three options for for whom strong arguments could be made as to why they are Newcastle United's best international. On this occasion, this writer is going to go with Alan Shearer.

    His scoring feats in the North East during an often turbulent era were superb, as they were too for England. Shearer netted 30 times in 63 appearances, captaining his country in the 1998 World Cup and 2000 European Championships.

    At Euro '96, Shearer played his best football for the national team. The striker's five goals would see him win the tournament's Golden Boot award. More importantly, those goals played a vital part in England's progression to the semifinals in their home tournament.

    Their penalty shootout exit to Germany brought to an end a memorable summer, but Shearer's contributions will not soon be forgotten.

Norwich City: Martin Peters

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    Norwich City have not seen many internationals in their colors. Martin Peters' time with the national team had ended by the time he made it to Carrow Road. Even if Norwich had many more of his ilk to remember, Peters would still count as one of the best.

    There can be few compliments higher for a footballer than being viewed by your manager as "10 years ahead of his time." This was how Sir Alf Ramsey famously described Peters.

    Often referred to as "The Ghost," Peters' timing and judgement made him a constant danger to opposition defenses, popping up into critical positions when least expected. The best example of which being that final goal against West Germany.

    He was an adept finisher and a talented, understated passer too, a vital component in Ramsey's sides during that era. Like Bobby Charlton, Peters was substituted while England held the lead over West Germany in the 1970 World Cup quarterfinal—a mistake on Ramsey's part that proved costly.

    Martin Peters was just that crucial.

Queens Park Rangers: Alan McDonald

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    Queens Park Rangers have had some terrific players over the years, but not many who have made an impact at international level. Perhaps this is not surprising. As good as the likes of Stan Bowles, Rodney Marsh and Adel Taarabt were and are, these maverick performers do not count as the most manageable of players.

    One who did make the grade for his national team was the late Alan McDonald. Compared to the three mentioned above, the Northern Ireland defender was a reliable performer for club and country.

    McDonald was capped 52 times and was part of the Northern Ireland team to qualify for the 1986 World Cup—the last to reach a major tournament.

    Only 22 years old, McDonald and his teammates gave a decent account of themselves. Though knocked out at the group stage, they had performed admirably against the much stronger opposition of Spain and Brazil, with a draw against Algeria ensuring they did not finish bottom.

Reading: Ian Harte

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    Reading had not played in England's top flight before 2006. Therefore, it is only more recently they have seen more talent of international caliber among their ranks.

    Current full-back Ian Harte probably then counts as their best international, pipping Shaka Hislop, Kevin Doyle and teammate Pavel Pogrebnyak—others who have fared well for their countries.

    Harte made his debut back in 1996, going onto appear 63 times and scoring 12 goals. He was part of a good generation of Irish players who qualified for the 2002 World Cup, losing to Spain on penalties in the second round.

Southampton: Peter Shilton

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    Narrowly beating Mick Channon for Southampton's best international ever is Peter Shilton. During his time on the South Coast, England's record appearance holder at last got the better of Ray Clemence and established himself as his country's first choice goalkeeper.

    Shilton made his debut in 1970 and quickly became the country's No. 2 goalkeeper behind Gordon Banks, taking his place a couple years later when the latter suffered an horrific eye injury in a car crash. He may have amassed even more than his 125 caps but for the challenge posed by Clemence over the following decade or so.

    The famous victim of Diego Maradona's handball in 1986, Shilton would compete in his third World Cup (after '82 and '86) in 1990. At age 40, Shilton helped England to the semifinals, but was unable to stop West Germany in a penalty shootout loss.

Stoke City: Gordon Banks

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    With all due respect to the great Sir Stanley Matthews, there could only be one choice for Stoke City's best ever international—Gordon Banks.

    England's greatest goalkeeper, Banks was a commanding presence and reliable presence at the very back of England's 1966 World Cup winning team.

    When it came time to defend their trophy in Mexico four years later, he was still in top form. Against Brazil, Banks produced what many regard as the greatest save of all time when he leapt to his right and somehow hooked Pele's header over the bar.

    With the greatest respect to his replacement Peter Bonetti, it is the widely held view that had Banks not taken ill prior to their quarter final with West Germany, England would have had enough to go through. That is not meant as disrespect to the Germans, more a measure of how huge a player Banks was for his team.

Sunderland: Niall Quinn

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    Until 2004 when Robbie Keane surpassed him, Niall Quinn was the Republic of Ireland's all-time leading scorer with 21 goals. He cannot claim to be the Sunderland player to have made the most appearances for Ireland, either, as that honor goes to Kevin Kilbane.

    Quinn's value for Sunderland and Ireland was always about more than statistics. Big in stature and character, he was a reliable presence to be called upon when needed.

    The forward featured in all but one of the Republic's fixture at the 1990 World Cup and scored the equalizer against Holland that saw them progress from the group stage. Unfortunately he missed the 1994 World Cup, but he was back again in 2002. Quinn only appeared in their final game against Spain, but his experience in the Irish camp was vital in the wake of Roy Keane's pre-tournament walkout.

    And though it might not be any record, scoring 21 goals for your country is always going to be a bit special.

Swansea City: Cliff Jones

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    The greatest international to represent Swansea City is probably their current manager, Michael Laudrup. But this is article is about the best international to have played for them, in which case it is Cliff Jones.

    Though not as successful as Laudrup, as part of the great Tottenham Hotspur sides of the 1960s, Jones was not far off. He was also a supremely skillful player who created and scored plenty, so he is not out of place in Laudrup's company (or should that be vice versa?).

    The winger played for Swansea for just over seven years before joining Tottenham, and represented Wales 56 times in 15 years, scoring 16.

    Jones was part of the last Welsh team to reach a World Cup in 1958. There, along with fellow one-time Swans Terry Medwin and Ivor Allchurch, and also the great John Charles, Wales reached the quarterfinals. A Brazil team boasting the talents of Pele and Garrincha narrowly beat them.

    After the tournament, Jones joined Spurs and went on to great success, but it had been as a Swansea man he played his part in a Welsh team that made history.

Tottenham Hotspur: Jurgen Klinsmann

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    Even in Tottenham Hotspur's relatively lean years of the 1990s and early 2000s, they still counted players of international pedigree among their ranks. One such man was current USA coach and former Germany striker Jurgen Klinsmann.

    Klinsmann was not the first Tottenham player to win a major tournament or score bundles of goals at international level (Ossie Ardiles and Ricky Villa for the first, Jimmy Greaves for both). His durability and quality over several years and multiple tournament cycles makes the striker stand out.

    A member of six tournament squads, Klinsman's goals contributed to German successes in the 1990 World Cup (as West Germany) and 1996 European Championships, the latter of which he was captain of the team.

    In an age of some particularly clinical and stylish forwards—Gabriel Batistuta, Roberto Baggio, Romario and Ronaldo—Klinsmann more than stood comparison, both statistically and for entertainment value.

West Bromwich Albion: Bryan Robson

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    So synonymous is Bryan Robson with Manchester United, it can be easy (at least for those of us not born) to forget he spent most of the first decade of his career with West Bromwich Albion.

    It was as a Baggie that Robson made his debut for his country, selected by Ron Greenwood shortly before the 1980 European Championships. Robson missed out on the tournament, but he would make his mark soon enough.

    English football's "Captain Marvel," the bravery and commitment so characteristic and crucial to Bryan Robson's game also led to the injuries that stopped him playing even more for his country. 

    Even so, he still remains one of England's best midfielders ever. More than just a determined ball-winner (albeit an exceptional one), Robson was also sensible and effective in his distribution and was a genuine goal threat coming deep from midfield.

    Against France in the 1982 World Cup, he scored from such a position (one of two strikes), finding himself unmarked to score one of the competition's fastest-ever goals.

    Made captain by Bobby Robson, his appearances in the World Cups of 1986 and 1990 were restricted by injury. Denied the chance to make the impact on major tournaments he would have liked, Robson's hardworking contributions when he did wear an England shirt will ensure he is never short of admirers

West Ham United: Bobby Moore

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    Captain of the 1966 World Cup winning team, Bobby Moore was one of England's greatest players, and definitely West Ham United's best ever.

    Moore's introduction to the England defense was one of the key factors in the process that led to the triumph under Alf Ramsey's management on home soil. He would represent his country 108 times, astonishingly 90 times as captain.

    That spoke volumes about the leadership of a player who was also one of football's most elegant defenders ever. Moore was equally comfortable on the ball as he was winning it in the first place. His reading of the game was exquisite.

    This calm and coolness translated to his leadership both on and off the pitch. In 1966, it was in his exemplary marshaling of a defense that did not concede a goal until the tournament's semifinal.

    In 1970 it was tested more severely when, prior to the World Cup, he was wrongly accused of stealing jewellery. Though undoubtedly a frustrating situation, Moore kept his head and was ready for England's first game, barely missing a step. Days later he would engage with Pele and Brazil in one World Cup football's greatest defender versus forward battles.

Wigan Athletic: Ali Al-Habsi

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    If Leighton Baines proves successful in taking Ashley Cole's place as England left-back, the former Wigan Athletic man might find his name on a list similar to this one day.

    For now, though, it is current Latics and Oman goalkeeper Ali Al-Habsi who can claim to be their best international ever.

    Al-Habsi has racked up 79 appearances for Oman since 2002 and is currently their captain. Though yet to make a World Cup, they did enjoy success in the 2009 Gulf Cup of Nations.

    Hosting the tournament and in their third consecutive final, after drawing 0-0 the "Red Warriors" beat Saudi Arabia 6-5 on penalties.

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