20 Greatest English Footballers of the Last 20 Years

Nick Akerman@NakermanFeatured ColumnistJune 28, 2013

20 Greatest English Footballers of the Last 20 Years

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    The English national team may do nothing but heap steaming piles of despair on its countrymen, but it's fair to say the home of football has produced a number of world-class talents across the last twenty years.

    Taking a look through the archives, it's time to decipher which English individuals have been the greatest throughout this time period. Before we move on, important criteria needs to be discussed.

    Note—players will be judged on their full contribution across the past two decades. Individuals who retired during this time are likely to be lower down the list. For example, while Gary Lineker should be placed as one of England's greatest ever players, he retired in 1994 and therefore gets a lower ranking on this rule of judgement. The same can be said for individuals such as Matt Le Tissier, Paul Gascoigne and John Barnes.

    Major trophy success and individual triumphs also play a huge part in the process.

Honorable Mentions

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    Some players didn't quite make the cut. This could be for a number of reasons, including retirement close to the date these rankings judge from, or like Michael Owen, maybe their legs fell off.

    Matt Le Tissier

    John Barnes

    Stuart Pearce

    Steve Bruce

    Michael Owen

    Les Ferdinand

    Sol Campbell

    Ian Wright

    Steve McManaman

    Gary Lineker


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    20. Andy Cole

    19. Kevin Phillips

    18. Ian Wright

    17. David Seaman

    16. Robbie Fowler

    15. Bryan Robson

    14. Martin Keown

    13. Teddy Sheringham

    12. Tony Adams

    11. Jamie Carragher

10. Gary Neville

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    It's easy to forget a time when Gary Neville wasn't a well-respected, thought-provoking and highly intelligent Sky Sports pundit.

    The former Manchester United captain was a mainstay of Sir Alex Ferguson's side until his retirement in 2011 and is easily the best right-back England has ever produced. His willingness to bomb down the flanks appeared when attacking full-backs were far less popular and helped the Red Devils dominate the Premier League era.

    Neville was fine crosser of the ball, hard tackler and always ready to put his body on the line for United. His passion—as seen many times throughout his careerwas also rather explosive.

    Major Honours—Premier League winner (x8), FA Cup (x3), League Cup (x2), Community Shield (x3), Champions League (x2), Intercontinental Cup, FIFA World Club Cup.

9. Wayne Rooney

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    Wayne Rooney really should be higher up this list. He has the potential to be England's greatest player ever, but the Manchester United man has struggled with a number of vices throughout his career.

    Although it's not fair to judge Rooney's playing ability on his desire to get intimate with elderly women, his passion for junk food has certainly halted his progress in recent years.

    At his best, Rooney is an unstoppable powerhouse who can score stunning goals from nothing, He'll track back, work doggedly and put his team before personal glory. At his worst, Rooney's energy levels run low, his distribution lacks accuracy and his temper becomes uncontrollable.

    Despite being one of the country's biggest ever stars, Rooney's career is defined by a combination of heroics and annoyances.

    Major Honours—Premier League (x5), League Cup (x2), Community Shield (x3), Champions League, FIFA World Club Cup.

8. John Terry

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    It's everybody's favourite charmer, Captain Fantastic, The Brave John Terry.

    Again, it's worth skimming over Terry's off-the-field antics. Chelsea's long-serving defender has been an integral part of the club's success. His influence at Stamford Bridge is ridiculous (as many managers would tell you) and his presence in the back four has seen an ever-changing squad continue to win trophies.

    There's no denying Terry has slowed down massively over the past year. He remains an excellent reader of the ball and powerful in the air. His goal-scoring prowess has also hushed the opinion of many critics at just the right time throughout his career.

    Major Honours—Premier League (x3), FA Cup (x5), League Cup (x2), Community Shield (x2), Champions League, Europa League.

7. Rio Ferdinand

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    The Ferdinand family is famous across English football, but no one stands taller than Rio. The Twitter-loving, cap-wearing centre-back has spent a decade winning major trophies at Manchester United and staking his claim as one of England's best ever defenders.

    Ferdinand has always had to rely on athletic ability over instinct and intelligence. Even so, his 2012/13 season highlighted a man who has worked tirelessly to adapt his game alongside the presence of aging legs. The 34-year-old posted one of his best campaigns ever this year, indicating he still has plenty in the tank.

    Alongside Nemanja Vidic, United's long-serving defender also formed one of the Premier League's greatest ever centre-back partnerships.

    Major Honours—Premier League (x6), League Cup (x2), Community Shield (x4), Champions League, FIFA World Club Cup.

6. David Beckham

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    David Beckham is an icon of English football. The fashionable winger has it all: dashing good looks, a pop star wife and even the ability to kick a ball.

    When Beckham does decide to kick a ball, it goes where he wants. Although the former Manchester United man has never flaunted amazing pace, his passing accuracy and vision competes with the world's best. Furthermore, Beckham's free-kick stance is known throughout the globe and often ends with a spectacular result.

    Ol' D. Becks is also one of England's most well-travelled players. Stints in the USA, Italy and France have proven successful, but the famous No. 7 will always be best known for his floppy-haired time at Old Trafford and match-winning antics in an England shirt.

    Major Honours—Premier League (x6), FA Cup (x2), Community Shield (x4), Champions League, Intercontinental Cup; La Liga, Spanish Super Cup; MLS Cup (x2), MLS Supporters' Shield (x2), MLS Western Conference (x3); Ligue 1.

5. Ashley Cole

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    Arsenal fans may label Ashley Cole as Judas, but the left-back has captured nine trophies since moving to Chelsea in 2006. Needless to say, the Gunners have won nothing in that time.

    Cole is another player who often draws headlines away from the pitch, but his footballing ability is unquestionable. At the height of his form, Cole was arguably the best full-back in Europe. His speed, positioning and tackling prowess continues to place him in the England squad above Leighton Baines, who couldn't be any unluckier.

    He may be an unlikeable fellow, but Cole has been dependable for many years. His haul of FA Cup medals is also ridiculous, winning the competition seven times since 2001/2002.

    Major Honours—Premier League (x3), FA Cup (x7), League Cup, Community Shield (x3), Champions League, Europa League.

4. Alan Shearer

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    Alan Shearer remains the last great striker England has produced. The Euro '96 Golden Boot winner still holds the all-time Premier League goalscoring record and is undoubtedly Newcastle United's most legendary player.

    The former Blackburn Rovers forward could finish the ball from any angle, whether it be from a thunderbolt shot or pinpoint header. His one-handed run still prevails as one of English football's most recognisable celebrations, and deep down, the country is awaiting the arrival of an out-and-out goalscorer whose powerful centre-forward presence can consistently win matches.

    Despite being a truly terrible manager for the Toon Army, Shearer is still the greatest English forward to grace the Premier League.

    Major Honours—Premier League.

3. Steven Gerrard

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    When Steven Gerrard looks back on his career, it's likely one thing will be missing.

    Gerrard's inability to secure the Premier League trophy will forever haunt the Liverpudlian midfielder. His career is defined by match-winner performances for his boyhood club, whether it be via a long-ranged goal, neatly-placed penalty kick or physical display of endurance.

    England's current captain continues to propel his club side towards greater results. His loyalty to the Anfield faithful should be admired and respected, as Gerrard has always acted with Liverpool's best interests at heart.

    A truly fantastic player, but has he missed the chance to become Premier League champion?

    Major Honours—FA Cup (x2), League Cup (x3), Community Shield (x2), Champions League, UEFA Cup, UEFA Super Cup (x2).

2. Frank Lampard

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    If this article was written a few years back, Frank Lampard would have been placed below Gerrard. Not only have Chelsea continued to win major trophies in recent times, Lampard's endless run of classy performances have seen him make history at Stamford Bridge.

    The midfielder became Chelsea's record goalscorer at the finale of the 2012/13 season. Despite many doubting his credentials alongside the Blues' new generation of young starlets, he continues to rack up important goals and assists. Unlike Gerrard, he has also managed to sit on the throne of English football.

    Fat Frank has remained at Chelsea throughout the Roman Abramovich era. He has won pretty much everything at club level (bar the FIFA World Club Cup and UEFA Super Cup) and represents his team with dignity wherever he goes.

    Major Honours—UEFA Intertoto Cup, Premier League (x3), FA Cup (x4), League Cup (x2), Community Shield (x2), Champions League, Europa League.

1. Paul Scholes

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    By the time Paul Scholes retired, even his terrible tackling ability became revered.

    I have never seen a player spray the ball as accurately and consistently as Scholes. His vision and passing ability helped Manchester United dominate the last two decades, and his famous blasts from outside the area often gave the keeper no chance.

    Barcelona legend Xavi perhaps said it best during his 2011 interview with The Daily Mail:

    In the last 15 to 20 years the best central midfielder that I have seenthe most completeis Scholes. I have spoken with Xabi Alonso about this many times. Scholes is a spectacular player who has everything.

    He can play the final pass, he can score, he is strong, he never gets knocked off the ball and he doesn't give possession away. If he had been Spanish then maybe he would have been valued more.

    If Xavi's compliments aren't enough, Zinedine Zidane also rates Scholes amongst the elite, as noted in his chat with The Daily Mirror (reported by The Daily Mail):

    You rarely come across the complete footballer, but Scholes is as close to it as you can get. One of my regrets is that the opportunity to play alongside him never presented itself during my career.

    He was an extremely tough opponent to play against. You didn't get any time on the ball when he was around. He would close you down and make your life terribly uncomfortable.

    He is the type of player you want on your side, not in opposition because he could do so much damage. He is very gifted. He makes the game look easy because he's so much natural ability.

    Every successful team needs a player like Scholes. His unending coolness in possession and ability to produce key passes is something David Moyes will need to replace at Old Trafford. Scholes is the best English player from the most dominant English club across the last twenty years, can his spot at number one be argued?

    Major Honours—Premier League (x11), FA Cup (x3), League Cup (x2), Community Shield (x5), Champions League (x2), Intercontinental Cup, FIFA World Club Cup.


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