The 25 Most Extravagantly Gifted Premier League Players of All Time
Over the past 22 years, dozens of world-class footballers have made their mark on the Premier League thanks to their skill, flair and the unforgettable moments they have created.
Here, B/R has rounded up 25 of the most extravagantly gifted players ever to have graced the league in a list that is sure to evoke some brilliant memories and some joyful blasts from the past.
Take a look through, then leave your suggestions for other flair players from the annals of Premier League history in the comments section below.
What Jose Dominguez lacked in height, he more than made up for in skill.
The diminutive Spanish winger played for three seasons at Tottenham in the late '90s, and his speed and skill were dazzling.
Considering how exciting he was to watch, it's incredible that he only actually scored four league goals for the Lilywhites.
He may have looked like a middle-aged bank manager, but Attilio Lombardo made a huge impression on Crystal Palace when he graced the Premier League between 1997 and 1999.
The Italian striker quickly gained legendary status at Selhurst Park, thanks to his exceptionally quick feet, close control and eye for goal.
The "Bald Eagle" only played 49 games for Palace, but he still earned a place in their all-time XI, showing the impact his skills had on the Croydon side.
The Czech Republic made it all the way to the finals of Euro '96, losing out to the Germans to a silly golden goal.
The star of their team was undoubtedly tricky midfielder Karel Poborsky, who scored the cheekiest of cheeky lobs to win the quarterfinal match with Portugal.
The Czech starlet was immediately snapped up by Manchester Utd, where he immediately helped them win a league title and reach the Champions League semifinals.
Sadly, owing to the rise of a young man named David Beckham, Poborsky wasn't given a fair crack of the whip thereafter and made his exit for Portugal in January 1998.
Paolo Di Canio
Paolo Di Canio had a very short fuse—referee Paul Alcock can attest to that fact—but the fiery Italian was also an exceptionally gifted player.
After arriving at Upton Park from Sheffield Wednesday in 1999, Di Canio immediately won the adulation of Hammers fans for his skill, passion and tendency to score rather special goals.
His effort against Wimbledon in March 2000 is still considered one of the best ever scored in the league.
During the mid-1990s, Middlesbrough assembled an attractive team, with imports such as Fabrizio Ravanelli and Juninho.
The petite Brazilian midfielder made the surprising move to Teesside from Sao Paulo in October 1995 and became an instant hit. He reached the peak of his powers in 1996/97, when he scored 10 goals and guided Boro to the FA Cup and League Cup finals (they lost both).
Juninho didn't quite live up to old times when he rejoined the club in 2002, but he was an absolute pleasure to watch, regardless of which team you supported.
Jay-Jay Okocha: the midfielder who was so good they named him twice.
Four years after Paris Saint-Germain paid €24 million for the Nigerian, he joined Bolton Wanderers, where he instantly became a fan favourite as his goals steered the club away from relegation.
In the seasons that followed, he proceeded to humiliate Premier League defences up and down the land, skipping past them with the ball at his feet as if they didn't exist.
Undisputed football genius Paul Gascoigne actually enjoyed his greatest successes in English football in the pre-Premier League days at Newcastle and Tottenham. However, he also enjoyed stints at Middlesbrough and Everton later in his career, so he definitely warrants a place on this list.
What is there to say about "Gazza" that hasn't already been said? He is a joker, a larger-than-life character and one of the most skilful English players ever to set foot on the field. For evidence of this, refresh your memory of the goal he scored against Scotland at Euro '96.
Gascoigne life has been blighted by his demons, but his irresistible combination of power and flair has rarely been seen elsewhere.
Of all Manchester City's highly paid stars, the most skilful is David Silva. After seeing his deadly attacking prowess in combination with David Villa at Valencia, Roberto Mancini brought the tricky Spaniard to Eastlands in June 2010.
Thanks to his uncanny ability to maintain possession and his knack of picking out inch-perfect passes that few other players would see, Silva has earned the nickname "Merlin" among his teammates.
Most wizards could only dream of having a wand as magical as his left foot.
Thanks to the kind of theatrics he showed in the 1990 World Cup, Jurgen Klinsmann battled with a reputation as a diver when he arrived at Tottenham in 1994. However, with 29 goals in his debut Premier League season, the German striker soon became an idol at White Hart Lane.
Not only was "Klinsi" prolific, but he also possessed dazzling ability on the ground and in the air. When he returned to Spurs on loan in the 1997/98 season, he scored four goals in a match against Wimbledon, effectively saving the Lilywhites from relegation. (With fellow flair artist David Ginola and the likes of Les Ferdinand on the team, it is perplexing that they were anywhere near the danger zone, but they lived to fight another day with Klinsmann's help.)
Contrary to popular belief, there is a lot more to Arjen Robben's game than charging down the right wing, cutting in on his left foot and taking a long-range shot. There's also the diving.
Of course, that's a charmless joke, as the Dutchman proved his precocious talents at Chelsea between 2004 and 2007. Much like Gianfranco Zola before him (more on him shortly), Robben knew how to unlock a defence with blistering pace and blink-and-you'll-miss-it skill, even if it occasionally comes at the expense of selfishness.
Robinho never quite lived up to his record-breaking £32.5 million transfer fee at Manchester City, but he provided more than his quota of flair on the field.
His stepovers, back heels and juggling bamboozled Premier League defenders for two seasons, before he fell out of favour and was returned on loan to Santos.
Now at Milan, Robinho still hasn't fulfilled his destiny as the next Pele, but he is still incredibly entertaining to watch.
The hipster's choice for the greatest Premier League player of the 1990s is surely Georgi Kinkladze.
In a period when Manchester City were a fairly gloomy prospect, the Georgian midfielder was a beacon of light. In Manchester derbies between 1995 and 1998, Kinkladze was always the man who could swing the game to the blue side, while City's October '95 clash with Middlesbrough was billed as a battle of the flair players, as he faced the aforementioned Brazilian Juninho.
Not only is Gianfranco Zola a thoroughly nice man (I used to go to the same gym as him and he was very courteous), but he is also one of the greatest foreign imports to grace English football.
The little Italian spent a decade playing in Serie A before he made the move to Stamford Bridge in 1996, where his trickery and panache with free-kicks earned him the adoration of Chelsea fans that still exists today.
Zola admitted that he learned his craft by "spying" on Diego Maradona while he was at Napoli. "I used to spy on him every time he trained and learned how to curl a free-kick just like him," he told Football Italia. Never has football espionage been more effective.
In light of the manner in which his career tapered off, it's easy to forget that Michael Owen was one of the quickest and most exciting strikers in the world when he burst onto the scene with Liverpool in 1996.
As a 17-year-old, Owen made his full debut for the Reds in the penultimate game of the 1996/97 season, scoring in a loss to Wimbledon. The following season, his flair-driven performances won the Premier League Golden Boot, the PFA Young Player of the Year and the Premier League Player of the Season award.
In the summer of 1998, he showed the entire world his enviable pace and skills with a career-defining goal against Argentina at the World Cup.
After a trophy-laden stint at Parma, Faustino Asprilla became a Newcastle Utd player in February 1996.
The Colombian was the Mario Balotelli of the '90s: a hugely entertaining character off the field and an enticing prospect on it. "Tino" was responsible for many of the Toon's free-kicks, and when he found the net, he would almost always celebrate with his cartwheel and fist-pumping routine.
In fact, he once celebrated by removing his shirt, placing it on the corner flag and waving it around like it was a flaming torch and he was leading an angry mob.
His finest moment was surely the Champions League match against Barcelona in September 1997, where he scored all three of Newcastle's goals in a stunning 3-2 victory at St. James' Park.
As he was rising through the West Ham youth system, Joe Cole was touted as the next big thing in English football. The 5'9" winger could never really be described as big, but he certainly lived up to the hype when he broke through to the first team.
In the infancy of his career, Cole was the undisputed king of showboating. Few players could boast the ratio of touches-to-trick shots that he pulled off, often with success.
Cole's powers may have waned in recent years, but he will always be remembered for his unadulterated flair. And that haircut.
Bulgaria's most successful export since Hristo Stoichkov graced the Premier League in 1996, when he joined Tottenham from Bayer Leverkusen for €16 million.
The "Berba" took a few months to adapt to the English game, but it wasn't long before he showed himself to be a class act, netting 23 goals in his debut season.
His talents soon caught the attention of Manchester United, where his predilection for astounding hat-tricks and impressive goals shone through once again.
Berbatov is known for his relaxed demeanour on the field—just imagine his potential if he actually looked like he was in a hurry now and then!
His time in England may have been blighted by constant reports of his extracurricular antics, but Mario Balotelli usually let his feet do the talking on the field.
For a man who struggled to put on a bib, the Italian striker showed exceptional composure and coordination at Manchester City, scoring 10 goals in 28 appearances in his debut season.
"Super Mario" proved to be an integral part of City's title-winning team in 2011-12, combining his power, pace and effortless technical ability to bury 13 league goals. The troubled striker was also a skilled dead-ball specialist and one of the most reliable penalty takers in world football.
For one reason or another, there isn't a great proportion of English players on this list, which makes the silky skills of Steve McManaman a valuable commodity.
His close control, dizzying runs and ability to find the net from long range were virtually unparalleled among his countrymen during his nine-season spate with Liverpool, earning him a high-profile transfer to Real Madrid, where he became the most successful Englishman ever to play abroad.
Watching David Ginola as a fan of an opposing team was extremely frustrating. Not only did his penchant for diving cause ire, but his sublime skill also meant he could turn a game on its head within seconds. Just look at the way he glides while dribbling the ball: It oozes finesse.
While at Newcastle, the long-maned Frenchman set the league alight with his style on the field and charismatic charm off it. He earned the BBC Goal of the Month for September 1996 with this effort.
Ginola continued to impress at Tottenham, where he won the hearts of fans with this incredible individual goal at Barnsley.
It was with a heavy heart that Sir Alex Ferguson let Cristiano Ronaldo move to Real Madrid for €94 million in 2009, as he was letting go of what he has now referred to as the "most gifted player" he has ever worked with, per Jack de Menezes of The Independent.
When a skinny 17-year-old with a shock of curly greasy hair turned up at Old Trafford from Sporting Lisbon in 2003, few saw the potential of a player Utd had given their hallowed No. 7 shirt to.
In addition to his huge arsenal of tricks—of which the stepover was a prominent component—Ronaldo was a born goalscorer. In his pomp in 2007/08, he was the top goalscorer in the Premier League and the Champions League. At Real Madrid, his powers have shown no signs of letting up.
The man responsible for every single schoolboy in the U.K. popping his collar in the playground during the '90s was Manchester Utd legend Eric Cantona.
The French forward joined Manchester Utd from Leeds in 1992 and helped guide the Red Devils to their first English title since 1967. After winning with Leeds the previous season, he became the first player to win back-to-back titles with different clubs.
Cantona had a bit of a temper—red cards were peppered through his career, and he received a four-month ban for his infamous kung fu kick at Crystal Palace—but his discipline and arrogance issues were outweighed by the sublime skill he frequently put on show.
Matt Le Tissier
Matt Le Tissier—or "Le God" as he was known on the south coast—is surely one of the most underrated English players of all time.
The Guernsey-born midfielder spent his entire career at Southampton and scored some of the best goals the league has ever witnessed. Any Premier League fan will have fond memories of the chip he placed over Peter Schmeichel in the Saints' infamous 6-3 victory over the champions at the Dell in 1996 (well, the memories of Utd fans might not be so fond).
That he didn't make more of a mark on the England national team is a travesty.
You don't get a statue outside of a Premier League ground without earning it through some game-changing commitment to the team.
When Thierry Henry joined Arsenal from Juventus in 1999, Arsene Wenger transformed him from a wide player to a striker, where he steadily became the most prolific player in his position.
Thanks to his goalscoring prowess and phenomenal skills, the Frenchman won the Premier League Golden Boot four times and managed 228 goals across eight seasons. In 2008, Henry was voted the greatest Arsenal player of all time in a fan vote.
Non-flying Dutchman Dennis Bergkamp may have a phobia of air travel, but he took Arsenal to new heights during 11 seasons in North London.
The second striker from Amsterdam had one of the best first touches in the game—as he deftly showed at the World Cup in France—and his vision was second-to-none. Bergkamp was as comfortable placing 40-yard passes on the head of a pin as he was scoring golazos from distance.