Ranking the Top 20 Players in Premier League History

Sam Tighe@@stighefootballWorld Football Tactics Lead WriterApril 23, 2012

Ranking the Top 20 Players in Premier League History

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    The English Premier League is the most exciting, most entertaining and most iconic footballing competition in the world.

    Since the league's reincarnation as the Premier League, we've seen some incredibly talented footballers grace the turf of our football stadiums.

    Who's the best, though? It's a debate which consistently rages across the United Kingdom and, in fact, across the world.

    Read on to find my ranking of the top 20 players we've seen so far, along with some honourable mentions.

    Enjoy the slideshow and comment if you have an alternate opinion!

Honourable Mentions

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    Francesc Fabregas

    Sol Campbell

    Paul McGrath

    Brad Friedel

    Jamie Carragher

    Ian Rush

    Neville Southall

    Andy Cole

    Michael Owen

    Nemanja Vidic

20. Robbie Fowler

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    Robbie Fowler is the fourth-highest goal scorer in Premier League history, notching 162 goals over the course of 15 seasons.

    He was a force for Liverpool, whether he was partnered with Ian Rush, Emile Heskey or Michael Owen, and bagged 128 of his goals for his boyhood club.

    He has since forged his career in Australian football, but is currently without a club having recently turned down a deal at Blackpool.

    That doesn't tarnish the memories though, as Fowler will always be recognised as a true poacher.

19. David Beckham

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    David Beckham spent 10 fantastic years at Manchester United, swinging crosses in and creating goals.

    He is England's most-capped outfield player, amassing 115 caps over six different major international tournaments.

    Third in the all-time Premier League assist charts with 152, Beckham is more or less the reason there's a "Designated Player" rule in the MLS.

    Had he spent more time on English playing turf, he likely would have topped those charts.

18. Rio Ferdinand

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    Rio Ferdinand has twice set the record for the most expensive British transfer—£18 million from West Ham to Leeds, then £33 million from Leeds to Manchester United.

    Both high fees have been fully justified, too, as Ferdinand has been a standout central defender throughout the Premier League's existence.

    He has five league titles to his name, a UEFA Champions League final victory over Chelsea and 81 international caps which he can dwell upon fondly.

    He's had to change his game over the past two seasons as he adapts to his ageing body. His turn of pace has gone, but his reading of the game remains as consistent as ever.

17. John Terry

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    Unfortunately for John Terry, he'll forever be remembered for that infamous penalty miss against Manchester United in the 2008 UEFA Champions League final.

    That miss encapsulated what kind of a player he is though, as he represents one of the bravest men I've ever seen play football. I wouldn't have stepped up in a sudden-death situation like that.

    This picture is another testament to his bravery, as he dived head first to try and block the ball for England against Slovakia.

    Terry has picked up a knack of winning the FA Cup throughout his Chelsea career, and could be set to add a fifth triumph in the competition this season to his already long list of achievements.

16. Steven Gerrard

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    Steven Gerrard's career has entered its twilight phase but is still very much valued by Liverpool football club.

    He's been a consistent match-winner throughout his time at Anfield, capable of scoring an absolute cracker when necessary.

    Unfortunately, the Premier League crown has evaded him to date and it doesn't look like he'll ever achieve it.

    He has had one absolutely unforgettable night in Istanbul though, as a historic comeback against AC Milan to grab a UEFA Champions League is definitely worth shouting about.

    Gerrard will forever be remembered as a clutch player who could come up with the goods when it mattered.

15. Matt Le Tissier

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    Sometimes Matt Le Tissier is omitted from discussions revolving around the most skillful players to have graced the Premier League-not this discussion.

    Matt Le Tissier kept a poor Southampton side respectable with his incredible technique and goal-getting ability.

    His reputation amongst the Saints fans is sky highhe remained at the South Coast club for his entire career despite constant interest from larger clubs.

    His nickname, "Le God," is more than suitable considering some of the unbelievable goals he's scored.

14. Frank Lampard

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    Frank Lampard has been Mr. Consistent for Chelsea since signing from West Ham as a boy. Acquiring him was the best thing Claudio Ranieri did as manager.

    He consistently reaches the 20-goal mark each season and has a reputation for being in the right place at the right time.

    He has particular fun against Aston Villa and Bolton, two teams he scores against with insane regularity, and has laid on over 90 assists from teammates during his Premier League career.

    The only thing missing is a UEFA Champions League medal. Can he get it this season?

13. Gianfranco Zola

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    Gianfranco Zola was an exciting young player who wasn't able to find a place in Carlo Ancelotti's Parma side.

    Thank you to Chelsea football club, who brought him to England and allowed him to showcase his talents in the Premier League.

    Claudio Ranieri described the Italian striker as a wizarda description perhaps vindicated by the featured goal against Norwich.

    Zola is a big fan favourite, not just with the Stamford Bridge side, but with football fans worldwide. His broad smile is intoxicating.

12. Wayne Rooney

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    Wayne Rooney, or "Wazza" if you fancy it, has had a remarkable career so far which will only become more medal-laden as the years go on.

    He was brought to Manchester United as a kid under a huge price tag. Check Andy Carroll for how that can go horribly wrong.

    It didn't though, did it? He's already tied for fourth in the all-time Manchester United goalscoring charts and has countless medals under his belt.

11. Eric Cantona

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    Eric Cantona was great for Leeds, but superb for Manchester United.

    The iconic No. 7 scored some absolutely outrageous goals on his way to four Premier League titles with the Red Devils.

    Perhaps most famous for his disciplinary record and charge of assault against a fan, the Frenchman is revered in United circles but hated in others.

    Allegiances aside, he was an incredible talent.

10. Roy Keane

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    Roy Keane was not only successful and gifted, but also carried a fear factor which saw him win the midfield battle every time.

    He was at the centre of the engine room for Manchester United for more than a decade and rarely lost a tussle.

    He ended Alf-Inge Haland's career and was less than remorseful about it, cementing his reputation as an ultimate hard man. 

    Don't doubt it though, he was a footballing talent. Take Sir Alex Ferguson's word for it, remarking on Keane's performance against Juventus in 1999.

    "It was the most emphatic display of selflessness I have seen on a football field. Pounding over every blade of grass, competing if he would rather die of exhaustion than lose, he inspired all around him. I felt it was an honour to be associated with such a player."

9. Peter Schmeichel

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    Peter Schmeichel was voted World's Best Goalkeeper in 1992 and 1993.

    He's captained Manchester United to a historic treble in 1992, was part of the Denmark team who won the 1992 European Championships and, if that wasn't enough, remains the most-capped Danish player with 129 international appearances.

    He spent his better years under Sir Alex Ferguson, then moved onto Aston Villa and Manchester City for some less successful spells.

    Best goalkeeper the Premier League has ever seen. Period.

8. Patrick Viera

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    Patrick Viera was one of the key components in Arsenal's invincible season.

    He anchored Arsene Wenger's midfield, often alongside Gilberto Silva, with proficiency to allow his attacking teammates space and time.

    Even his nine red cards can't sour his record, which stands three Premier League titles and four FA Cup triumphs.

    He came back for a final spell with Manchester City having swapped London for Italy in 2005, picking up one last trophy for the road.

7. Alan Shearer

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    Alan Shearer doesn't have the medals that compare with most on this list, but we all know how much quality this guy possessed.

    He was a traditional, direct striker who averaged 0.667 goals per game during his professional top-flight careerjust over two goals every three games.

    The former England international was a threat anywhere on the pitch but especially in the air. He was constantly able to get the better of defenders during aerial duels.

    He is the leading Premier League all-time scorer and holds that same record for Newcastle United as well.

    His 260 league goals will take some beating.

6. Tony Adams

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    Tony Adams is one of the best central defenders the English game has seen and a was standout performer in the Premier League during his playing days.

    A very influential figure at the back, Arsenal benefited from his presence and have thanked him appropriatelya statue of him stands outside the Emirates Stadium.

    Omitting defenders is an easy mistake to make when compiling lists like this, but Tony Adams is an unforgettable player.

    Adams featured in the Team of the Decade for the Premier League's first 10 seasons, cementing his place as one of the best defenders to feature on our screens.

5. Cristiano Ronaldo

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    Cristiano Ronaldo is, hands down, one of the best players to have ever graced the game.

    He didn't spend as long as most on this list in the Premier League, but that doesn't mean he can't achieve a high place on this list. He's the second-best player in the world, after all.

    The 42-goal season he produced with Manchester United was absolutely sensational and whilst many thought he'd crumble under an £80 million price tag, he's more than replicated that form at Real Madrid.

    Didier Drogba probably wishes he'd never enlightened the Portuguese winger as to how he strikes his free kicks.

4. Thierry Henry

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    He took a little while to get going, but the Juventus outcast positively lit up the Premier League once he found his spiritual home in Arsenal's attack.

    Able to operate centrally, but even more effectively off the left side, Thierry Henry brought us almost endless joy with some superb goals over the years.

    Endeared by the fans, he was even brave enough to take in a second spell in the Premier League this January by signing on-loan from New York Red Bullsa move few players are able to pull off.

3. Dennis Bergkamp

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    The non-flying Dutchman was an insanely skilled player who enjoyed a fabulous 11-year career with Arsenal.

    The incredibly gifted support striker is the only Dutchman ever to be inducted into the FIFA Hall of Fame thanks to his mastering of the "hole" role in Arsene Wenger's formation.

    His vision, dribbling and finishing skills were truly dazzling to watch. "That" goal, featured above, is one of the all-time jaw-dropping moments in Premier League history.

    Bergkamp has one of the most impressive sets of individual accolades ever, receiving numerous Football of the Year awards and was the 1992 European Championships top goal scorer.

2. Paul Scholes

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    Should they claim the crown, Paul Scholes may well be one of the fundamental reasons why Manchester United win the Premier League title this season.

    Having been hauled back from retirement after a glittering career, he's continued to show prowess and poise combined with a deadly, fizzing shooting threat.

    Ten league titles and two UEFA Champions League winners medals shows the pedigree of a man who has stood out amongst the rest for over 15 years.

    Zinedine Zidane called Scholes his toughest ever opponent and Socrates admitted he'd be good enough to play for Brazil.

    An absolute shame he was used as a left midfielder for the England national team, rather than centrally where he could have been decisive.

1. Ryan Giggs

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    Ryan Giggs has been simply incredible.

    It's difficult to find anyone who has been revered as heavily as the Welshman and deservedly sohe has been a loyal servant to Manchester United with the silverware to show for it.

    There are few other men so decorated in their respective careers. Giggs has an astonishing 12 Premier League titles, eight Community Shields, four FA Cups, four League Cups and two UEFA Champions League trophies under his belt.

    He's made the left midfield slot in Manchester United's formation his over the last 20 years and is still the source of crucial goals when his team need them the mosteven at 38 years of age.

    It's an absolute certainty that the No. 11 jersey will be retired when he finally does.


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    Thanks for reading. Don't hesitate to share your opinions below. The beauty of this sport is its ability to create schools of thought and hard-hitting opinions.

    It was a difficult task to compare these players and rank themespecially considering they don't play in the same position.

    Ultimately, it came down to a number of factors, with pure enjoyment value and respect being the decisive ones.

    How would you rank these guys?


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