It's a subject of much debate, many candidates and countless potential hours spent poring over old matches and seasons, but exactly who are the best foreign imports to have graced the Premier League?
The discussion over whether foreign signings hamper the progress of home-grown players might be valid where second-rate players are signed up, but the players involved here could only be of benefit to their team-mates, teams and fans, and thus the league as a whole.
Here are the 100 top imports of the Premier League era.
We won't be revealing the full criteria for selection, but suffice to say, a lot of time and thought over each selection went into the process.
Their respective fees, what they achieved whilst in England and other important factors were also considered to determine the final positions.
Players' "peak" level and abilities are what were ultimately considered as relevant to their positioning, rather than lowering them for staying in the league after their biggest influence had waned.
Of course, there are some "imports" who have to be discounted, including such deals as bringing back English players who had been abroad (such as David Platt) or signings who arrived pre-Premier League era.
Therefore, you will not find stellar names from yesteryear such as Shaka Hislop, Andrei Kanchelskis or Anders Limpar on this list—all worthy of recognition for their achievements—as they were all already based in the top flight or lower divisions in England before the inception of the Premier League itself.
Two absolute certainties for top-five places are also excluded by the same criteria: Both Eric Cantona and Peter Schmeichel arrived in English football before the Premier League began.
These are a selection of imports who, for one reason or another, failed to make the eventual cut. Some received significantly more consideration than others, but all just miss out in the end.
Brad Guzan, Jerzy Dudek, Magnus Hedman
Kolo Toure, Frank Lebouef, Thomas Vermaelen, Martin Skrtel, Sylvain Distin
Thomas Gravesen, Tugay Kerimoglu, George Boateng, Nani, Ilie Dumitrescu, Antonio Valencia
Juan Pablo Angel, Mark Viduka, Tony Yeboah, Fabrizio Ravanelli, Robinho, Savo Milosevic, Marian Pahars
And a small selection from recent transfer windows who could go on to merit inclusion if performances continue impressively:
Claudio Yacob, Philippe Coutinho, Fernandinho, Michu, Mesut Ozil, Dejan Lovren, Leroy Fer, Joris Okore, Alvaro Negredo
Markus Babbel joined Liverpool on a free transfer in 2000 and had one outstanding season with the club before his career was essentially ruined when he was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome.
A marauding and speedy right-back, Babbel attacked down the flank with gusto, contributing not only going forward with his crosses and accurate passing but also chipping in with a few goals, netting four times that season in all competitions.
Defensively he was outstanding, adding height and awareness in spite of being predominantly an attacking outlet. He could easily have gone on to be one of the top full-backs around—but made just four further league appearances and went on loan to Blackburn Rovers after recovering from illness.
Babbel won three trophies in 2001 before he took ill.
Ji-Sung Park might not have been an automatic starter every week for Manchester United, but it was rare that a big game passed the team by without Park playing an important role.
Favoured by his manager for a prodigious work-rate, good tactical discipline and versatility, Park lasted seven seasons at Old Trafford, during which time he played 133 times and won four league titles and the 2008 Champions League.
Park also played a season at QPR later on before departing the Premier League.
Costa Rican striker Paolo Wanchope arrived in England in 1996 at the rather meagre setting of Derby County, but he went on to spend almost a decade in the Premier League with three clubs, making a good impact with all.
A slaloming, mazy, debut goal against Manchester United gave league viewers a glimpse of what was to come, with the rangy, skilful striker able to wind his way improbably past defenders and produce moments of real talent.
Injury (and relegation) disrupted his time at Manchester City after a good single season with West Ham, leaving Wanchope with a total of 50 goals in just over 150 Premier League games.
Dan Petrescu spent a season apiece at Sheffield Wednesday, Bradford City and Southampton, but it was his five-year spell at Chelsea which marked him out as one of the finest attacking full-backs of the mid 90s.
Playing usually from right-back, the Romanian's ability to raid down the flanks and deliver telling crosses saw him feature from right wing on occasion, as he could also contribute to goalscoring.
Petrescu played 150 times in the Premier League for Chelsea, adding another 60 or so games with his other clubs, while he won the FA Cup, League Cup and Cup Winners Cup during his time at Stamford Bridge.
Peruvian winger Nolberto Solano spent a full decade in the Premier League, with four spells at three clubs, though it is his initial stint at Newcastle United which made him such a memorable player.
Raiding down the right flank with regularity, Solano was known for his excellent crossing ability and set piece threat, as well as boundless energy and capable defensive work.
He was part of Newcastle's FA Cup final squad in 1999 and also played for Aston Villa, Newcastle a second time and West Ham.
Stephane Henchoz signed in at Blackburn Rovers in 1997, but it wasn't until two years later when he moved to Liverpool that he established himself as one of the top defenders in the Premier League.
Brave, quick in the tackle and a good reader of the game, Swiss international Henchoz was part of Liverpool's all-cup-conquering 2001 defence and one of the foundations upon which Gerard Houllier's successful team was built.
Later on in years, Henchoz also played briefly for Wigan and Blackburn again, but his finest spell certainly came in his 174 league appearances for the Reds. He never scored a Premier League goal in more than 200 games for the three clubs combined.
Former Manchester United defender Gabriel Heinze was tough and uncompromising in the tackle, yet assured in possession and offered good energy going forward.
He played both at left- and centre-back, though featured most regularly for United in the former role.
In his three years at United, he won many admirers, though a long-term injury disrupted the middle campaign and he was phased out of the side thereafter by his manager. He was still regarded as enough of a talent for Alex Ferguson to refuse his defender a move to rivals Liverpool, instead selling Heinze to Real Madrid.
Newcastle United's current captain Fabricio Coloccini has been with the club since 2008 and, after a difficult start—and a relegation—has bounced back to establish himself as one of the league's most improved and consistent centre-backs.
Strong in the air and fearless in the challenge, Coloccini has emerged as a sought-after player in his later years and frequently wins plaudits for his reliability, despite the Newcastle defence often changing.
He is fast closing in on 150 Premier League appearances and the memories of him being dropped for poor form as the club slid out of the top flight are just as quickly fading.
Alvaro Arbeloa currently plays for the Spanish national team and Real Madrid but spent two-and-a-half years in the Premier League with Liverpool.
He man-marked Lionel Messi out of a Champions League game on his debut and went on to be a pivotal part of the side that reached a Champions League final and finished runner-up in the Premier League.
A great competitor with more-than-reliable defensive abilities, good stamina to provide support higher up the field and incredibly consistent, Arbeloa could have been seen as one of the great full-backs had he had more to his game going forward but certainly warrants his place in his current teams regardless.
Aston Villa's midfield general Stiliyan Petrov was a big part of the team from 2006 to 2012 when he had to withdraw from the playing team through illness. Petrov retired a year later as he continues to battle leukaemia.
Playing in the centre, he became Villa captain and played more than 200 games for the club, able to dictate games and create chances as well as defend and organise those around him.
He netted nine goals in the Premier League for his club before retirement.
Belgian midfielder Marouane Fellaini has yet to have any sort of impact at all after joining Manchester United in the summer, but for five seasons at Everton, he was an important lynchpin in the team and, later in those years, a focal point for the attack.
Playing either as a deep defensive midfielder or a battering ram of an attacking player, Fellaini's strength and aerial ability made him an uncompromising opponent and a difficult player to stop.
In 141 league games he scored 25 times for Everton, though he has yet to score for United.
Another of the old guard still playing, Jussi Jaaskelainen joined Bolton Wanderers in the 1997-98 season as the club were relegated from the Premier League, but he was the undisputed first choice by the time they returned in 2001-02.
The Finnish goalkeeper played 11 campaigns in the top flight for Bolton, playing every game in six of those seasons, before moving to West Ham United in 2012.
At his best, he has been an agile goalkeeper capable of making wonder saves, a reliable presence between the sticks and a long-serving player to manager Sam Allardyce, at both Bolton and West Ham.
Czech Republic attacking midfielder Patrik Berger joined Liverpool in 1996 and stayed in the Premier League for more than a decade, with his best years coming at Anfield.
His ability to run with the ball at his feet was an underrated trait but understandable because of his chief assets. Berger was capable of picking passes from anywhere on the pitch and possessed a thunderous shot on his left foot, scoring many a wonder goal for Liverpool, Aston Villa and Portsmouth.
Berger netted 28 in 148 league games for Liverpool, though both numbers would surely have been higher were it not for a succession of injuries.
One of Rafael Benitez's first signings after joining Liverpool, Luis Garcia arrived in England in 2004 and departed three years later after a blizzard of goals, moments of genius and other moments of infuriating his own fans.
Capable of the sublime and the ridiculous, Garcia blasted spectacular goals in vital cup matches against Juventus, Bayer Leverkusen, Chelsea and others, while he also netted the goal in the Champions League semi-final to send Liverpool to the final itself, playing a part in winning the tournament.
He played more than 100 games for Liverpool, scoring 18 league goals in the process.
Newcastle's French midfielder Laurent Robert was volatile, unpredictable and perhaps a little too inconsistent ever to make the greatest use of his talent, but there's no doubting that the left-footed winger had bucket-loads of ability.
Great acceleration enabled him to beat a man, while his fearsome shot was legendary—Robert made the art of free-kick taking look simultaneously easy and exhilarating.
He enjoyed a spell in the Champions League with Newcastle while also playing more than 150 league games for them, scoring 27 goals in the process, before later also playing at Portsmouth and (briefly) Derby.
Tottenham's centre-back Jan Vertonghen quickly proved himself a top defender in the league after arriving in the summer of 2012, operating on the left of the back line as well at times.
Rarely beaten by an opponent, he was quickly accepted as the best part of Spurs' back four—but he also has plenty of attacking instincts which see him surge upfield with confidence and purpose.
He has played just shy of 50 games so far, with five goals to his name, though a long-term injury has curtailed his involvement somewhat this term.
There are not shedloads of goalkeepers who have come in from abroad to make long-lasting impacts on the Premier League, especially outside of the top three or four teams, but Finnish stopper Antti Niemi certainly qualifies as one of them.
Having been north of the border at Rangers and Hearts, Niemi made the move to England with Southampton before also playing for Fulham.
A very talented shot-stopper, solid in the air and a good organiser, Niemi was a perfect man between the sticks for middle-of-the-table clubs to know they had a reliable last line of defence who could often make the difference between an important point and a defeat.
The "Baby-faced Assassin" was a predatory striker for Manchester United during the mid-to-late 1990s, with his role changing to a wide player later on.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer remained at the Old Trafford club for more than a decade in total, plundering close to 100 Premier League goals all told—though his first season at United was actually his best in that regard, with a haul of 18.
Injuries and increased competition meant he featured little in his final four or five seasons, but Solskjaer had more than played his role in United's team by then—never more so than his telling late goal in the '99 Champions League final.
Tino Asprilla only had two years in the Premier League, but they were memorable and electric all the same.
An outrageously gifted forward, Colombian Asprilla could have been much more of a star had the application and attitude been right, but he was special to watch on his day regardless.
Newcastle United had the front man at their disposal for barely more than 50 matches, but a string of solo performances, moments of genius and a hat-trick against Barcelona in the Champions League were just some of the highlights of that time.
Harry Kewell was signed by Leeds United in 1995 as a teenager and broke through to the first-team ranks by age 17.
A fast and flashy left winger, he combined assists with goals in a youthful, attacking and exciting Leeds team and had plenty of overseas admirers.
He eventually moved to Liverpool in 2003, but his time there was beset by injuries, making just 133 appearances all told in five years. The Australian totalled 57 Premier League goals in 274 games for both teams, though his best campaigns certainly came as a younger player at Leeds.
A resolute and dependable tower of strength in the centre of Tottenham's midfield, Sandro is perhaps under-appreciated at times and most noted when he is absent.
A talented passer of the ball, the Brazilian's main function is to control the area in front of Spurs' defence and win back the ball, both of which he does with aplomb.
Sandro has so far made 76 appearances, a figure which would be increased if he were able to avoid injury more often.
Tottenham's goalkeeper Hugo Lloris is what could best be described as an offensive goalkeeper—always looking to snuff out danger from the opposition and start his own team's attacks as soon as possible.
Lloris' starting position and penchant for rushing out quickly might cause him the odd problem, but it solves far more for Tottenham.
Great reflexes, good distribution and a high level of consistency have quickly seen him established as one of the top few 'keepers in the league.
Arsenal right-back Bacary Sagna has held down his spot in the team for seven seasons now, playing nigh on 200 Premier League games in the process.
Always a good outlet for his team down the flank with his pace and stamina and his willingness to break forward quickly, Sagna is a consistent performer rather than a spectacular one going forward, while being similarly reliable without being utterly unbeatable in his defensive work.
Sagna is yet to win a trophy with Arsenal, but with 265 appearances in all competitions to his name, he has more than held his own as a good player in the league.
Another who has recently departed the Premier League scene, Newcastle United signed Yohan Cabaye in 2011 and made around a £15 million profit on him when selling the midfielder to PSG in this most recent transfer window.
Cabaye proved himself an excellent midfielder, whether in a deeper controlling role or a more offensive, creative position behind the attack.
Great passing range, work rate and accuracy in shooting were all part of his repertoire, and the French international was a stand-out member of Newcastle's otherwise energetic but lacking in quality midfield.
Chelsea's Brazilian defender David Luiz divides opinion somewhat at times due to his occasional habit of committing errors of judgement and his preference for abandoning his centre-back spot for rampaging runs downfield.
However, his technique and defensive capability is not in question, and the more advanced role in midfield, initially played under Rafa Benitez and now once more under Jose Mourinho, seems to suit him far more.
Excellence in passing and an adventurous style make him a threat going forward, as does his long-range shooting from time to time, while he can still be relied upon to be an extra defensive man when needed.
Arsenal's current central defender Laurent Koscielny could be an even better player than he is if he managed to maintain the sorts of concentration levels and consistency that his partner does, but the Frenchman is nevertheless a capable performer.
Now in his fourth season at the Emirates, Koscielny has already played more than 100 league games, and his reading of the game and ability to make quick interceptions make him difficult to beat.
He also has good pace, enabling him to recover quickly and cover behind his team-mates when required.
Brazilian playmaker Oscar has only been in the Premier League for minimal time, but already he has shown the capabilities that lead viewers to expect much, much more from him in the future.
Although an attacking player by nature, Oscar does not shirk his share of defensive work and will happily press and make challenges high up the pitch, while he can play advanced or in a more central midfield as part of a three.
On the ball, his dribbling and vision make him a threat for the opposition, something which should naturally become more reliable and consistent as the seasons go on.
Brazilian left-back Sylvinho joined the Premier League with Arsenal from his home country in 1999 and went on to spend two good seasons with the club before heading for Spain.
A short spell with Manchester City followed some years later, but it was with Arsenal that he was at his best in England.
Fast to break forward down the left side, blessed with good crossing ability and the ability to hit the odd worldie, Sylvinho was a regular for the Gunners around the turn of the century and made 55 Premier League appearances for them, scoring three times.
French midfielder Emmanuel Petit was a defensive shield for the Gunners, winning the ball and preventing opposition players from having a big impact against Arsenal's defence, while also supporting the more offensive players in the team.
Petit enjoyed three years at the heart of the team before moving to Barcelona.
Later on he rejoined the Premier League with Chelsea, enjoying two more seasons of regular football before injuries effectively ended his career. He totalled 140 Premier League appearances.
A member of the Chelsea side of the late 1990s, Dutch goalkeeper Ed de Goey was a dominant presence for the Blues for three or four years.
The moustachioed giant was noted for his ability to pluck aerial balls out the sky from anywhere in his penalty area, as well as having a formidable reach to make saves.
He set a new Chelsea record for clean sheets in a season and won three major trophies with the club, making more than 120 Premier League appearances for them before losing his place and moving on.
Liverpool centre-back Daniel Agger joined the Reds in 2006 and has been with the club ever since, graduating from a young back-up defender to become the team's vice-captain.
Though troubled with injury at many points throughout his Anfield career, the Danish international's defensive ability and technique make him one of the stand-out players when fit and in form.
Now aged 29, he has made well over 200 appearances for Liverpool and for a time was regarded as one of the top centre-backs in Europe, something he might have established over a longer period if not for his habit of succumbing to injury.
One of the best attacking playmakers from the early years of the Premier League, Israeli Eyal Berkovic initially joined Southampton on loan in 96-97, making a big name for himself with his creative talents from the attacking midfield area.
He joined West Ham United permanently thereafter, scoring several important goals as well as displaying his creative instincts on a regular basis before a falling-out with a team-mate led to a transfer to Celtic.
Later he rejoined the Premier League with Manchester City, but his best years were behind him by then and a move to Portsmouth followed. Berkovic could easily have joined a far bigger team and perhaps would have done had his arrival coincided with a period later on when more teams turned to a No. 10.
One of the most reliable long-serving central defenders to have played in the Premier League era, Olof Mellberg spent seven seasons at Aston Villa.
During that time, he only failed to hit the 30 league games per season mark on one occasion, such was his consistency and level of ability.
Strong and domineering both on the ground and in the air, Mellberg captained Villa with distinction early on and proved the better of many attackers down the years. All told, he made 232 Premier League appearances, netting eight times.
One of the longer-serving members of the current Manchester United squad, Patrice Evra arrived midway through the 2005-06 season and has been first-choice left-back ever since.
The Frenchman has rarely been left out through poor form or injury, often captaining United's team in later seasons and bringing his own brand of attacking full-back play to the team.
Evra has good pace, often sticks to wide areas of the pitch and overlaps his team-mates well to look to provide telling cutbacks and crosses.
Still young, still learning and still making mistakes—but David de Gea is set for a goalkeeping career right at the top. In spite of those at-times high-profile errors, de Gea has still won more games for Manchester United than he has lost since signing from Atletico Madrid in 2011.
Even now, aged only 23, he has already totalled more than 100 appearances for United with his magnificent agility, reflexes and speed of thought enabling him to make improbable saves.
De Gea will only continue to climb these lists as the years go on.
Everton signed centre-back Joseph Yobo from French side Marseille, with the Nigeria international spending around eight seasons as part of the Toffees' first-team squad.
Toward the end of that period, he lost his place and suffered a dip in form, but for his first five or six years, he was a solid and reliable presence in one of the tightest defences around, with his pace and strength in the air making him a very tough opponent.
Yobo was thought of as one of the best defenders in the league in his early years at Everton.
Gael Clichy joined Arsenal in 2003 and immediately became a part of the "Invincibles" team, playing eight seasons with the Gunners before joining Manchester City for the past three campaigns.
A marauding and fleet-footed left-back at his best, Clichy has assets at both ends of the pitch and the stamina to perform both tasks, though he has at times suffered with inconsistency.
Even now he is only 28 years old, despite having been in the Premier League more than a decade, so further good times should still be ahead; Clichy has racked up two league titles so far and has played more than 250 times in the top flight.
Current Arsenal midfielder Tomas Rosicky has been in the Premier League since joining the Gunners in 2006 from Borussia Dortmund.
The Czech creative midfielder has had a somewhat up-and-down time over the years due to injuries, but over the past three seasons or so, he has arguably reached his best level of all.
Able to play with either foot, versatile positionally and as capable of making space with a neat dribble as with an incisive pass, Rosicky continues to be an important player for his team; if not for injuries, he could feasibly have been seen as one of the top all-time imports.
Former Chelsea midfielder Roberto Di Matteo is also a former Chelsea manager, of course. Having won the Champions League in his time as boss, it's difficult to say in which capacity he is more fondly remembered by the fans.
As a player, Di Matteo was a classy and elegant, yet robust and aggressive, central midfielder who got around the pitch efficiently and linked defence to attack with ease.
His biggest threat, though, was his long-range shooting, the source of many memorable goals including one inside a minute of kick-off in the 1997 FA Cup final. Di Matteo played 119 Premier League matches for Chelsea but had to retire after a triple leg break ended his 2000-01 season.
Norwegian defender Ronny Johnsen was an important part of Manchester United's squad during the late 1990s, mixing an elegant playing style with ruthless and aggressive defending.
He played both at centre-back and in a holding midfield role for the Red Devils, featuring most often in his first three years at the club before injuries took hold and resigned him to being a squad player. He was a starter for United as they won the Champions League in '99 and also won numerous league titles.
After 99 league appearances for United, he joined Aston Villa for two years, playing a further 49 league matches. A three-game stint at Newcastle ended his career in England.
Nwankwo Kanu was a rangy and unpredictable striker, a forward who could win games on his own or miss crazy chances from close range.
Although he was used extremely often as an impact substitute, he did indeed have enough of an impact to warrant being a regular in the Arsenal squad for more than four years. His hat-trick against Chelsea was undoubtedly the individual highlight of that time, though the team won plenty of trophies, too.
Later on he played for West Brom for two seasons and Portsmouth for four Premier League campaigns, though much of the latter was spent battling relegation from the bench. In total, he played 273 times in England's top division, netting 54 goals—30 of them for Arsenal.
Chelsea's skilful Belgian winger Eden Hazard is a young player with the world at his feet.
Not yet two years in the Premier League, the Belgian has made 58 league appearances in the top flight in England and can perhaps claim to have hit his best heights in around half of that tally; enough to leave everybody convinced there is far, far more to come but not enough to justify a place amongst the greats just yet.
Blinding pace, dribbling ability and ever-improving finishing are amongst his best traits. Watch this space.
Gus Poyet is currently struggling as manager to keep Sunderland in the division, but back in the late 1990s, he was an attacking midfielder for Chelsea famed for scoring headed goals in particular.
He managed four consecutive seasons of hitting double figures in league goals, three for Chelsea and one for Tottenham, as he made a big impact in England after moving from Real Sociedad in 1997.
Poyet was a clever attacker with good movement and strength on the ball, a fine shot from range and great consistency.
Sam Allardyce's Bolton Wanderers team were well-known for incorporating fallen stars into the side and rejuvenating their careers, but none were more well-received or exciting to watch than Jay Jay Okocha.
The Nigerian midfielder was a showboating, instinctive playmaker—but he did everything with purpose and with the aim of getting the ball closer to goal. His powerful shots from range, as much as his tricks and passing, made him a stand-out in England.
He spent four years in the Premier League with Bolton, playing 124 games and scoring 14 times.
Wherever he went, Paolo Di Canio guaranteed (and indeed as a coach now still guarantees) goals and controversy.
The maverick Italian forward first arrived in the Premier League at Sheffield Wednesday in the 97-98 season before going on to play for West Ham United and Charlton Athletic.
His best times certainly came at the Hammers, with some virtuoso performances and stunning goals being mixed with criticisms of attitude and the odd red card. His push on referee Paul Alcock will live as long in the memory as his ridiculous volley against Wimbledon.
Nicolas Anelka has played for every Premier League team, ever.
Well, not quite, but the French forward has managed to rack up quite the number of clubs on his list of employers: Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester City, Bolton Wanderers, Chelsea and West Bromwich Albion are all included along with his exploits in mainland Europe and China.
The French striker's goal tally hit its highest heights in the blue of Chelsea, netting 19 in 2008-09, while he has managed 126 all told in England's top flight. Once a lightning-quick, penalty-box predator, Anelka has evolved into a threat from wide areas, a deeper play-making forward and now merely a veteran attacker who adds a little bit of everything.
How many Premier League greats have been Georgian? One, and that's all we need because that one was Georgi Kinkladze.
Kinkladze arrived at Manchester City in 1995 and was a spectacular addition to the top flight with his wonderful dribbling technique, quick change of pace and willingness to taunt defenders.
He scored several impressive solo goals and was a massive fans' favourite, but he could not help prevent relegation and played two seasons in the old Division One. He later signed up with Derby County after a spell in Holland but never really recaptured his top form.
His career could have been so much better, but a move to a top team in England never materialised when he was at his peak.
Jurgen Klinsmann was one of the top forwards in European football when Tottenham Hotspur managed to convince him to join the Premier League adventure. He soon made himself a big fan favourite with his goals and energetic performances.
The German striker played just one season in England, but his exuberant displays made him stand out, while a haul of 20 goals in 41 games in the league didn't hurt either.
He had a loan spell back at Tottenham late in his career, adding another nine goals to his Premier League tally.
Arsenal's Premier League transfer history is littered with quality, clever attacking midfielders and Santi Cazorla is no different.
Signed from Malaga in 2012, he immediately made himself an important part of the Gunners' attack with his wonderful movement, technique and one-touch passing. Not a natural winger, he nevertheless often plays from the flanks with his ability to use space well providing chances for himself and others.
Cazorla has played more than 50 times so far in the Premier League, with 16 goals across his campaign-and-a-half.
Norwegian Henning Berg became the first player to win the Premier League with two different clubs after successes with both Blackburn Rovers and Manchester United.
Playing either at right-back or centre-back, Berg was a big part of Blackburn's early Premier League side after signing in January 1993, spending four-and-a-half years there in total.
He joined United in '97 and enjoyed even more success there, though, of course, increased quality competition for places meant games were harder to come by. Berg played 274 Premier League games all told, including a shorter spell back at Blackburn after leaving United.
Liverpool signed Spanish midfielder Xabi Alonso in 2004 to form part of their new-look team, and he had a decidedly impressive impact in his debut season.
As he got to grips with the tough-tackling side of the English game, Alonso allied that aggression to his superb passing range and vision to become quite the all-round deep midfielder. He scored in and won the Champions League final that season, with an FA Cup win following the season after.
His first and last of his five years in England were his best, and he made 143 Premier League appearances all told before heading back to Spain with Real Madrid.
Fabien Barthez was an eccentric but excellent French goalkeeper who played for Manchester United for three seasons between 2000 and 2003, for a time being seen as one of the best in the world.
His mental resilience as much as his agility and shot-stopping feats were behind much of his success as he helped the Red Devils to two Premier League titles, though he lost his place at the end of the final campaign and was loaned back to France with Marseille thereafter.
As many highs as lows could be recalled about Barthez, but at his best, he was certainly a big influence on United winning titles in 2001 and 2003.
Dietmar Hamann was a defensive midfielder who used his reading of the game and positional skills to great effect to patrol and protect the defences of Newcastle United, Liverpool and Manchester City.
His seven years at Liverpool took in the prime of his career, winning six major trophies along the way including the Champions League and UEFA Cup.
Hamann also had a fine shot from long distance and was a good tackler, and though plenty of stories from team-mates have hinted at the German not being the best trainer in the world, there were few who matched his consistency and level of performance once out on the pitch.
All told, he made well over 250 Premier League appearances between the three clubs.
Right-back Pablo Zabaleta has established himself as perhaps the best offensive full-back in the Premier League over the past couple of seasons, mixing his natural inclinations as a former wide midfielder to a tenacious and conscientious defensive approach.
The Argentine defender has featured more than 150 times in the top flight in England with City, with five goals to his name.
There might be quicker full-backs out there, or some with more of a goal threat or better crosses, but none can match his ability to create space near the byline, link with his midfield and put dangerous passes into the penalty area on a regular basis.
Liverpool signed Dutch forward Dirk Kuyt from Feyenoord in 2006 and he went on to score more than 50 Premier League goals in his time at the club.
A hard-working but also intelligent player, Kuyt played either as a central striker or, later on, from the right flank, offering tactical solidity and no shortage of final-third contribution—though he wasn't as prolific as he would have wanted.
Kuyt formed an important part of the team which reached a Champions League final and came runner-up in the Premier League, playing 208 games in the competition all told, before leaving for Fenerbahce in Turkey in 2012.
One of the very best goalkeeping imports to have graced the Premier League, yet Brad Friedel almost never made it across at all.
Brad Friedel had a move to Liverpool cancelled when he failed to get a work permit awarded but finally joined the club two years later in 1997-98. Three frustrating years of on-and-off first-team action came to an end when the American moved to Blackburn Rovers; from there on, Friedel's star shone brightly.
In 11 seasons at Rovers, Aston Villa and Spurs, he missed only five league appearances, a lengthy run which came to an end with the arrival of more competition at Spurs, his current club. The burly stopper has played a total of 448 Premier League games to date.
Arsene Wenger's search for the perfect controlling midfielder led him to sign Gilberto Silva in 2002, with the Brazilian defensive midfielder being a key performer for the Gunners over the next five seasons.
He was a big part of the "Invincibles" team which went unbeaten in 2003-04, screening the back four with his tackling and interceptions, keeping the ball-playing simple and letting those around him create danger.
A long-term injury and additions to the squad meant his influence decreased on the team, and he left after six seasons, 170 games and one Premier League title.
South African centre-back Lucas Radebe was a makeshift part of a transfer for Leeds United to sign forward Phil Masinga.
Masinga would have little impact, but Radebe went on to captain the club and make almost 200 Premier League appearances for them.
As well as being a tough tackler and good talker at the back, Radebe was fast over the ground and athletic, making him a very difficult opponent to best.
He spent 11 seasons with Leeds in the top flight, being a regular for five or so of those campaigns before injuries took hold.
Carlos Tevez somehow ended up at West Ham where, after an initial struggle, he played a big part in them avoiding relegation, but it was his subsequent spells in Manchester where he really took off in England.
First he joined United, playing 99 games and scoring 19 times in the Premier League, though he was mainly third choice as a forward and didn't really impose himself on the team.
Later, at City, he was one of the highest-rated forwards in the league, hitting more than 50 league goals in 113 games and, either side of a self-imposed exile, showed a mix of terrific work rate and all-round, on-the-ball ability to win games.
One of the early Premier League imports to make a big impact in England was Middlesbrough's capture of Brazilian midfielder Juninho Paulista.
The diminutive playmaker made 126 appearances in two spells for Boro, with his first period in England notable for more success.
His dribbling, through passes and movement off the ball was something of a novelty from his advanced midfield role at the time, and his success no doubt paved the way for future expansive, exciting signings from abroad to come to England.
William Gallas has played with the three biggest teams in London: Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur, in that order.
He joined the Blues in 2001 and spent the longest period with them, initially playing centrally in his usual role but later on also playing at right- or left-back.
The defender wanted to move on where he would play in the middle more often and joined Arsenal in the deal that saw Ashley Cole join Chelsea. Gallas went on to captain Arsenal in his four years there.
After leaving for Spurs, he spent three seasons with the club, the first of which showed he was still a strong defender but with the latter two blighted by injury. All told, Gallas played well over 300 times in the Premier League and won the title twice whilst at Chelsea.
Marcel Desailly was one of the very, very best defenders in the world at his prime, though naturally, being already 30 when he joined Chelsea, he was perhaps just past this peak.
Nevertheless, he was a formidable player still, a great leader and a major presence in the Blues' back line.
Desailly spent six seasons at Chelsea, playing 158 times in the Premier League and winning the FA Cup along the way.
A classy and technical forward, Dimitar Berbatov has only recently departed the Premier League scene after arriving in 2006.
Capable of both creating and scoring, the Bulgarian hit more than 80 goals in the Premier League all told, for Tottenham, Manchester United and later Fulham.
His languid style of play occasionally meant he attracted criticism, but he has always produced results in his time in England—a time that's now over, having left on loan for Monaco.
Marc Overmars spent three years at Arsenal as a high-impact winger, mainly from the left flank, where his ability to beat full-backs and find the back of the net made him a huge contributor to the Gunners' title fights.
His first season, 1997-98, saw him score important goals against then-leaders Manchester United and Everton in the final weeks to wrap up the Premier League title, while he also scored in the FA Cup final soon after.
All told, the Dutchman made exactly 100 top-flight appearances in England, scoring 25 goals.
Tottenham pulled off a major transfer coup to land a cut-price Rafael van der Vaart on deadline day in 2010.
The Dutch attacking midfielder was a great source of goals playing just off the front man for his two full seasons at the club, scoring 24 all told while also linking play effectively and bringing the best out of Spurs' strikers.
Van der Vaart left after 28 goals in 77 games for Spurs in all competitions.
Arjen Robben joined Chelsea from PSV Eindhoven and made a big impact on the Premier League in his three seasons, despite not always being entirely fit.
His dribbling, acceleration and ability to cut infield and shoot at goal made him a massive threat, especially on the counter-attack, though his individualism on occasion was more noticeable than the team collective at that early stage in his career.
Robben played 67 Premier League games, scoring 15 goals, in his time at Chelsea.
One of the worst sights for Premier League players had to be Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink running up to take a free-kick whilst they were stood in the wall.
The Dutch striker had a tremendously powerful shot on him with either foot and was fond of hammering the ball into the back of the net from any angle, any range.
After two goal-laden seasons with Leeds United, he departed for Spain for a year before returning to four seasons at Chelsea, two at Middlesbrough and a short time at Charlton Athletic late in his career. He totalled 129 Premier League goals all told, in a little less than 300 matches.
asselbaink's best period came at Chelsea when he netted 23 in consecutive seasons.
Setting aside the bizarre deal that took him to West Ham United and a manager who knew not how to use him, Javier Mascherano was one of the very top defensive midfielders anywhere in the world.
After failing to gain a spot for the struggling Hammers, Liverpool took Mascherano on loan in early 2007 and he immediately became a huge part of the midfield, playing his part in the run to a Champions League final and, in following seasons, in title fights.
Ferocious in the tackle, with great acceleration over the ground and an uncompromising style of play even in possession, he was the perfect protector of the back line for the Reds in his 139 games for the club.
Chelsea current defender Branislav Ivanovic has established himself as one of the top defensive names in the league after five years at the club.
Though he has played plenty in the centre of defence, it is at right-back that he has made the biggest impact most often, combining his natural abilities at the back with good physical strength to get forward and provide width in the final third.
Ivanovic is also a major set-piece weapon for his team at both ends.
One of the real giants of the world game throughout the 2000s, Michael Ballack joined Chelsea from German side Bayern Munich in 2006 and spent four years with the London club.
Despite persistent question marks over whether Chelsea really quite saw the best of him, he certainly picked up his form after a slow start and played a big part in the Blues title win in 2010, as well as featuring in two FA Cup final wins for them.
Great all-round midfield attributes, including his tackling and passing, made him a real stand-out in the centre of the park, despite his career being blighted by final defeats.
Samir Nasri moved to Arsenal from Marseille in 2008 and since then has starred for both the Gunners and Manchester City.
The attacking midfielder has shown himself to be extremely creative and clever on the ball in tight situations and is capable of hitting the back of the net too, though only once has he reached double figures for a season.
The French international remains an integral part of City's team and has totalled more than 160 Premier League appearances to date.
Former Spurs attacking midfielder Luka Modric currently plays in Spain with Real Madrid, having spent four years at White Hart Lane in the Premier League.
After initially playing from either the left side or in an advanced midfield role, Modric also had notable success as a central midfielder with Spurs.
Good passing ability, vision and dribbling make him a good all-round playmaker, while he also grew into the more hard-working and defensive nature of the central role, making him a vital part of the team.
Think skilful Premier League winners and it's a fair bet that David Ginola is one of the first names to spring to mind.
The flying Frenchman was possessed of excellent dribbling qualities and impressive upper-body strength, allowing him to best many a defender even when he wasn't the paciest of wide men.
Ginola wowed the Newcastle crowd for more than 50 league games before a century of Premier League appearances in a Tottenham shirt, with another clutch for Aston Villa and Everton. He netted 22 goals in the competition in total.
Another Spaniard in the Premier League, David Silva has been a wonderful signing for Manchester City and brings a real touch of elegance and finesse to their midfield.
The playmaker plays off either flank, frequently coming infield to have a big impact on build-up play and creating scoring chances for his team-mates. If he could add goals himself, he'd be a world beater; as it is, he's still one of the most reliable in the league at present for fashioning chances for others.
Silva has featured more than 100 times in the league for City, scoring 18 goals.
Liverpool signed Pepe Reina in 2005 as a talented young goalkeeper from Villarreal and, over the coming years, he grew into one of the leading No. 1s in world football.
Reina, at his peak, was possessed of excellent shot-stopping abilities, was amongst the finest distributors from in goal and organised his defence with precision, communicating effectively and dominating his penalty box.
A dip in form saw him loaned out and replaced, but Reina still has his place amongst the game's top names during his 395 appearances for Liverpool.
In his early days at Chelsea, Michael Essien was one of Europe's powerhouse midfielders, a central player who could perform at both ends of the field and have a big impact on his side's fortunes.
A non-stop engine, good passing and tackling ability and a fiercely competitive nature made him a true all-round box-to-box player. He was a big part of Chelsea's midfield from 2005-08, though injuries hampered him thereafter.
A year spent out on loan in Spain did not drastically alter his fortunes and he remained a squad player for Chelsea until his move to AC Milan in January.
All told, Essien made more than 150 league appearances in England.
One of the younger imports when he arrived, Cesc Fabregas joined Arsenal from Barcelona as a 16-year-old and stayed with the Gunners until he rejoined his boyhood club after eight seasons in London.
Cesc's ability to find and utilise space meant he was always a regular provider of chances for his team-mates, with unerring passing and good vision combining to allow the offensive midfielder to be the fulcrum of Arsenal's attack.
Though not usually noted as a regular scorer in his time at Arsenal, he hit 15 in the 2009-10 campaign which accounted for almost half of his entire Premier League total; he managed 35 in just over 200 games all told.
Not too many players get an entire positional role on the field named after them, but that's how good Claude Makelele was. Sorely missed by Real Madrid when they sold him, he instead helped Chelsea fashion the next best team in England instead.
Playing as the defensive midfielder who stopped everything heading toward his team's goal, Makelele also—an under-appreciated facet of his game—got Chelsea's transitions started with quick, simple passes into the midfield line to team-mates in space.
He enjoyed five seasons playing with Chelsea, winning two league titles along the way and making 144 Premier League appearances.
Edwin van der Sar had already enjoyed a wonderful career in Holland and Italy, and when he moved to Fulham in 2001, it was perhaps seen as a winding-down part of his career.
Instead, after four impressive seasons with the Cottagers, he joined Manchester United and spent an even better six years as their No. 1 stopper, winning four league titles and a Champions League medal amongst others.
Impeccable organisational skills and reading of the game were key to the Dutchman's success, but he was also an athletic and agile goalkeeper even past his 40th birthday.
Another current player now and perhaps the best centre-back of the 2013-14 season to date is Arsenal's Per Mertesacker.
The giant German had an unsteady start to life at Arsenal but has quickly adjusted to the league and is now one of the most reliable, consistent and able centre-backs around.
After joining Arsenal in 2011 from Werder Bremen, he has gone on to make just over 100 appearances so far and, at age 29, looks set to continue to be a rock for them over the coming seasons.
There will be lots of expectation on Juan Mata to deliver over the next 18 months or so, but the Spanish attacker has already shown he is more than capable of starring in the Premier League.
Mata enjoyed a good debut season and Chelsea, switching between the right side and a central role, but it was in 2012-13 that he enjoyed enough success to be one of the three top talents in England.
He created almost 100 chances that season and scored more than 20 goals for club and country combined, meaning it was no surprise when he completed a massive £37 million move this January to Manchester United, despite barely featuring for Chelsea over the last six months.
Many Scandinavians have come to play in the Premier League in England and many have carved themselves out very notable careers there, but none have had the level of impact and longevity attained by Arsenal's Freddie Ljungberg.
The wide midfielder had a knack of scoring important goals, had great one-touch technique and the tactical flexibility to operate either as a real wide man or joining up play centrally.
After more than 300 games for Arsenal, during which time he netted nearly 50 Premier League goals, Ljungberg also briefly played for West Ham United in the top flight.
One of the great forwards of the last few years, Robin van Persie came to Arsenal an impressionable youngster, moved to Manchester United the complete forward and since then has established himself as one of the top forwards in world football.
Van Persie is a dead-accurate striker of the ball, can take set pieces, links play from deep areas and brings out the best in others' movement around him.
With 131 goals and counting, nobody sees van Persie slowing down any time soon.
Manchester United centre-back Nemanja Vidic will likely go down in history as one of Alex Ferguson's later truly great signings, with the Serbian joining United in 2006. He took a few months to find his feet but since then has been one of the league's best defenders.
Having now totalled more than 200 appearances in the Premier League, Vidic's influence is perhaps on the wane, but at his best he was an impassable block of might and strength.
His tackling and heading have always been superb, but his reading of the game was always one of his biggest assets.
Liverpool pulled off one of their signings of the last decade when they brought Fernando Torres to the Premier League from Atletico Madrid.
The Spanish striker was an instant hit with the Reds and enjoyed the best years of his career at Anfield, hitting 24 league goals in his first season, a record for a debutant foreigner in the Premier League. Injuries robbed him of the chance to hit even greater heights, but he managed 81 goals in all competitions in 142 games before moving to Chelsea.
He has been a regular in the Blues' team for three years, but despite playing more games, he has registered barely half the number of goals he managed at Liverpool. So far Torres has 84 Premier League goals in 201 games, but it's clear his best days are well behind him now.
The best goalkeeper overall in the Premier League over the past decade, bar none.
Czech goalkeeper Petr Cech has an excellent clean sheets record, is capable of amazing saves as well as doing the basics with consistency and generally provides an outstanding last line of defence for Chelsea.
A head injury and a dip in form a couple of years ago might have signalled start of a slide, but he has arguably become even better since recovering from that. He has three league titles to his name in England so far, having surpassed the 300 appearances mark for the competition this season.
One of Arsenal's best Premier League signings, arguably, was that of Robert Pires from Marseille in 2000.
The French winger played out six seasons with the Gunners before a late return to England with Aston Villa, though he was well past his best by then.
In his prime, though, Pires was a fleet-footed wide man who could beat a defender on either side and cross or pass with accuracy, while he also hit the target with regularity himself—especially in his middle seasons with the club; 63 goals in fewer than 200 league games was testament to his talents.
Now into the top 13 and the true echelon of top Premier League imports who stand head and shoulders above the rest; here we separate the outstanding and the great from the merely exceptionally good.
Manchester City central midfielder Yaya Toure is something of an icon for the modern game: a huge transfer fee, huge wages and huge returns on the field. A real monster in his ability to affect play all over the park, Toure combines great athleticism with penetrating through passes and an eye for goal.
A key part of the team, he has won the league title already and has amassed more than 120 league appearances with 30 goals.
One of the earliest signings for Manchester City after they were introduced to the world of extravagant transfers, yet one of the cheaper ones—and perhaps the best value for money, too.
Vincent Kompany has marshalled City's back line since the 2008-09 season and proven himself up there with the greatest in Europe, not just the Premier League, with his excellent reading of the game and ability to win the ball on the ground and in the air.
The City captain has had injury problems but has still totted up well over 150 league appearances in his time at the club, lifting the league title in 2012.
Gianfranco Zola was a skilful, creative forward who excelled for Chelsea between 1996 and 2003, playing seven seasons as a regular first-team member, even when several of those campaigns saw him used off the bench.
Trickery in and around the penalty area and an ability to find team-mates in tight areas were Zola's big strengths, though he regularly chipped in with between eight and a dozen goals himself each season.
Though he left before Chelsea really strengthened enough to win the title, he won two European trophies with the Blues and is fondly remembered as one of their greatest attackers after 58 Premier League goals in more than 200 matches.
Another current Manchester City star, Sergio Aguero joined the Premier League in 2011 and, in almost three years at the club, he has risen to become one of the top strikers in the world game.
The Argentine forward has great acceleration and strength, can shoot with either foot and shows great consistency in general performances and in goalscoring. Of course, Aguero's greatest moment to date was his last-second title-winning goal in 2012.
So far he has managed 50 goals in only 81 games in the Premier League.
Right alongside Aguero with his goal return over the past couple of seasons and even above him with consistency and all-round performances is Liverpool's Luis Suarez.
The Uruguayan is a match-winner all by himself, working hard and beating defenders with equal pleasure whilst scoring a range of unstoppable goals.
He has so far hit 61 goals in 96 games—46 of them in 52 games over the last two seasons.
Making a case for being Manchester United's greatest all-time defender, not just in the Premier League era, is Jaap Stam.
The indomitable Dutchman was a pillar of strength for his team in the three full seasons he spent at Old Trafford, nigh on unbeatable both in the air and on the ground.
He was certainly sold too early and had much more to offer—but had already cemented his place as one of the top imports after three league titles in his three years, playing 79 games all told.
Many of the Premier League imports have managed a fantastic level of ability over a period of years, but few spend a full decade or more in the league in the service of a single club.
From 1999 to 2009, Sami Hyypia wore the red of Liverpool with distinction, captaining the club, winning numerous trophies at home and in Europe, and making more than 300 Premier League appearances in the process.
A great reader of the game and almost unbeatable in the air, Hyypia was a model of consistency for seven years, and even after that, when his game time was reduced somewhat, he remained an important figure whenever he took to the field.
One of the most successful imports of the fledgling Premier League was Arsenal's signing of Dennis Bergkamp in 1995.
The Dutch attacker played a huge role in the Gunners' team over the next decade or so, usually playing just off the striker where his creative tendencies could come to the fore.
Amazing technique, vision and control blended to make Bergkamp an unstoppable talent in the final third, and though the goals very much dried up by the turn of the decade, he remained a key player for his team and totalled more than 300 appearances and 87 goals for Arsenal, winning three league titles along the way.
If Zola is one of Chelsea's greatest forwards, certainly in the Premier League era, then Didier Drogba is the other.
The Ivorian striker was a big-money arrival in 2004 but, after a slow start, eventually proved more than worth the outlay as he bullied and powered his way past every opposition defence in sight.
The 100 goals in 226 league games doesn't begin to tell the story: He set the tone and the foundation for his team's attacking emphasis, occupying space and centre-backs for other team-mates to take advantage of. He won three league titles and the Champions League whilst with Chelsea.
One of the best two or three midfield generals in the entire Premier League history, Patrick Vieira was a scintillating player for Arsenal for around a decade, dominating opponents and excelling at both creating and destroying through the centre of the park.
Initially as a more offensive midfielder through the middle, he played searching passes for his front players to chase whilst his athleticism enabled him to, in time, take on a full directorship of Arsenal's midfield at both ends.
Vieira went on to captain his team, won three league titles and played more than 300 Premier League games, the last handful for Manchester City as he joined them late in his career.
Cristiano Ronaldo joined Manchester United in 2003 as a wide forward full of flair but with too little in the way of end product.
By the time he left in 2009, he was a genuine match-winner in his own right and well on his way to being one of the best players in the world—something he has since attained while at Real Madrid.
At United, though, Ronaldo took three years to really align his potential with the player he could become, then the next three to have a devastating impact on the Premier League. He hit 17, 31 and 18 goals in his last three campaigns, winning three league titles in his time at Old Trafford.
Dramatic acceleration, great strength and power and a fierce shot when cutting in from the left flank were, and remain, the hallmarks of the Portuguese captain's game. He managed 84 goals in 196 games in the Premier League.
Dutch striker Ruud van Nistelrooy spent five years with Manchester United—and spent most of that time scoring goals.
He was an absolute monster of a forward, rattling in at least 20 league goals every year except one—where he missed most of the campaign injured.
Anywhere in the box, any angle, any part of his body and van Nistelrooy would inevitably hit the target. His unerring finishes made him a nightmare for goalkeepers while his speed of thought and movement meant defenders struggled to get close.
Van Nistelrooy won the league once in his time at the club, with 95 goals in 150 games in the Premier League.
The greatest import of the Premier League era, though, is Arsenal's Thierry Henry.
A French World Cup winner, Henry played eight seasons with Arsenal in the Premier League, scoring 174 league goals across that time in just 254 games. This made Henry the highest-scoring import of the Premier League era, while he also added another two goals and four games to those tallies in a loan spell back to the Gunners later in his career.
Lightning pace, dribbling ability, rocket shots from range or side-footed finishes from inside the box; Henry had it all.
And after a difficult start from the left flank, the forward set about breaking all records with his unstoppable attacking play. He won two league titles in his time at the Gunners.