Jurgen Klinsmann and the Top 20 Foreigners to Star in the Premier League

Thomas CooperFeatured ColumnistOctober 18, 2011

Jurgen Klinsmann and the Top 20 Foreigners to Star in the Premier League

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    For Tottenham Hotspur it was one of the most iconic moments in the club's post-Paul Gascoigne era, for the Premier League, it too was something of a symbolic moment. On the first day of the 1994/95 season, Spurs were 3-2 up away at Sheffield Wednesday when, on his debut, Jurgen Klinsmann leapt to head in Darren Anderton's perfectly delivered cross. The German striker then proceeded to poke fun at his own reputation and celebrated with a jubilant dive across the Hillsborough turf.

    Klinsmann was not the first foreign arrival in England or the Premier League, nor was he even the first star of World Cup '94 to score that day, Wednesday's new Romanian defender, Dan Petrescu, took that honour. But, it truly hit home the fact that the Premier League now had a true superstar of the global game in its midst.

    Others from that summer's tournament arriving in England that year, including the aforementioned Petrescu, Stefan Schwarz at Arsenal, Brian Roy at Nottingham Forest and Daniel Amokachi at Everton. Klinsmann was the pick of the bunch, as he won the football writer's player of the year award in a memorable campaign. Sadly, for Spurs fans, he would join Bayern Munich the next summer, before he returned in 1998 to help stave off relegation.

    Post-Klinsmann, more Premier League clubs would look to the stars of the World Cup and European Championships for new signings, and for the players themselves, they saw a country willing to pay good money for their services and fans who would forever adore them should they deliver.

    The likes of Eric Cantona and Peter Schmeichel had already established themselves in England. But, soon too, arrived Dennis Bergkamp and Gianfranco Zola, Roberto Di Matteo and Patrick Viera. With such a list of names already, you should get the impression of the calibre of players that will be featured on this list.

    Narrowing it down to just 20 is far from simple, and some worthy and successful players will have missed out. But the top 20 foreigners to star in the Premier League, as written about here, all made a considerable impact on the English game. To start with, an already mentioned great Dane...

    (NOTE: Those players that come from other parts of Britain and Ireland have for so long been part of the English game that there hasn't been a point in this writer's lifetime, at least, when they've been regarded as foreign in the way others have. For the purpose of this article 'foreign' will mean those players from outside of those nations.

Peter Schmeichel

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    Peter Schmeichel wasn't the only key piece in the puzzle that established Manchester United as the most successful side of the Premier League's early years. But, more than most, it is intriguing to ponder how the Red Devils would have fared without such a strong proposition between the sticks. You only have to look at the problems following the goalkeeper's departure in 1999.

    Fortunately for Sir Alex Ferguson, that was an issue he did not have to deal with.

    After joining from Brøndby in 1991, Schmeichel was, for the best part of a decade, the Premier League's best goalkeeper, and arguably the finest in the world. By the time of the 1992/93 season, the newly rebranded top division of English football's first, the Dane had developed a great understanding with the Parker-Bruce-Pallister-Irwin back four that so often played in front of him. It was a defensive unit that would prove so important over the course of the ensuing two title-winning campaigns.

    As good a defence as it was, Schmeichel was a big-difference maker. So dominant in the face of attackers, and clearly in-control of the organisation of those in front of him.

    Schmeichel's list of honours from his time at Old Trafford is, like so many of his team-mates of the era, extensive to say the least. In the five Premier League titles won in his time, this great Dane was definitely a significant factor behind each.

Thierry Henry

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    Thierry Henry was already regarded as one of the brightest young talents in Europe when he joined Arsenal in 1999. He had caught the eye at Monaco and had a decent showing at the World Cup in 1998.

    But, after stuttering during his brief spell with Juventus, it would take his move to Arsenal to really get his career in full-flow. And, once he got going, Henry could not be stopped.

    In all competitions, Henry would score a staggering 226 goals in 370 competitions, as he became the Gunners' top scorer. You can further measure Thierry Henry's Arsenal career by the two Premier League titles he would win, one of which was of course the unbeaten campaign of 2003/04 season. There, too, came three FA Cups and a Champions League runners-up medal.

    But, really, with Henry it was about the spectacle he consistently provided so thrillingly on the pitch. The Frenchman was so often nothing less than scintillating, in the goals he scored and the overall contribution he made to Arsenal's renowned and unmatched (in Britain at least) style of play.


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    There were to be more successful foreign imports in the Premier League, but not many captured the imagination in the way Juninho did upon landing in England in 1995.

    The Brazilian, especially in those first two seasons in England, was a delightful concoction of great dribbling, trickery and general watchability. That this talented young player turned up on Middlesbrough rather than one of the division's more glamorous destinations made him all the more enjoyable to watch.

    The Boro fans quickly fell for their new attacker, and he lit up the then newly opened Riverside stadium with many delightful displays.

    After the club's relegation in 1997, Juninho joined Atletico Madrid. He returned twice more to Teesside, where he would further endear himself to Middlesbrough's supporters. Although his legendary status with them had already been cemented in his first spell, the Brazil international's role in the 2004 Carling Cup win (the club's first major honour) did not hurt.

David Ginola

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    It was an annoyance to Sir Alex Ferguson that in the 1998/99 campaign that would see his Manchester United side win a historic treble, none of his players went home with the PFA player of the year award. That honour went to David Ginola, then of Tottenham Hotspur.

    It took someone of Ginola's brilliance and daring to beat the likes of Dwight Yorke, Andy Cole and Roy Keane, because, make no mistake, Ginola was in inspired form that season. The Frenchman had even played a part in possibly denying United a quadruple, scoring in Spurs' quarter-final victory over them on their way to winning the Worthington Cup final.

    The previous season Ginola's role at Spurs was of even greater importance, in a difficult year at White Hart Lane, the French winger helped keep Tottenham alive as relegation threatened for much of the year.

    Then there was of course the Newcastle United years. Part of the Kevin Keegan side that so thrillingly entertained the Premier League in 1995/96, Ginola's flair on the left wing was a big part of a side that gelled together to supreme effect for much of the season. That their title challenge fell away so late on made sure it became one of the big 'what might have been' moments in English football history.

    Still, Newcastle and Spurs fans alike won't soon forget the magic Ginola created in his time at both clubs.

Gianfranco Zola

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    In this writer's opinion, Gianfranco Zola remains the greatest Premier League foreign import to this day. Others may have been more successful overall, but the little Italian that all of Chelsea fell in love with was both a supreme talent and an all-round class act.

    Zola's reputation would of course grow to a high level in his time at Stamford Bridge, but outside of Napoli and Parma, where he most famously played in his native Italy (prior to the post-Chelsea spell at Cagliari), he was not as highly regarded. The failure of the country's big clubs to secure a move for the attacker allowed Chelsea to purchase his services and reap the rewards.

    It seems like such a long time ago now, but before Roman Abramovich bought Chelsea and the financial problems that proceeded it, it was the arrival of foreign stars like Ruud Gullit, Roberto Di Matteo and, of course, Zola that helped transform the Blues into one of the Premier League best and most consistent outfits.

    Much of Zola's tenure was characterised by success in cup competition, with a League Cup, two FA Cups and a Winners' Cup win adding to Chelsea's trophy cabinet. The latter success saw the Italian come off the bench to score the winner.

    The most prestigious acknowledgement of his contribution to the club came in 2003, when supporters voted him their greatest ever player. Despite Chelsea's success since, you would have to assume that the likes of Frank Lampard and John Terry might still have trouble usurping Zola of that title.

Eric Cantona

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    Eric Cantona had already made an impact on English football prior to his debut Premier League season, when he helped Leeds United win the last of the old First Division titles. In the same year, it was his signing with their rivals, Manchester United, that got their title winning 1992/93 season off and running after a slow start.

    Like the signing of Schmeichel, Cantona was one of those key signings that, in hindsight, made a difference in making United so strong in those early Premier League years. Without him, there was already a very good strong team, and, of course, the depth of young talent that would be assembled as Alex Ferguson's second great United side in Cantona's last two seasons. But the Frenchman undoubtedly added a touch of flair and arrogance that put them ahead (besides in 1994/95) of strong competitors in Aston Villa, Blackburn Rovers and Newcastle United in his time at the club.

    Few players in the last decades have been as captivating as Cantona for so many reasons. But to focus on the positive, he was an exceptional talent on the pitch, a creative force that augmented the team but was not averse to embracing his own individuality.

Nicolas Anelka

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    Nicolas Anelka was one the first young talents of European football to make his way his way over to the Premier League when he joined Arsenal, aged 17, in 1997. In this respect, he was something of a trailblazer, but the early goalscoring impact he made for the Gunners that has been so consistently followed since in spells at four other Premier League clubs has also marked him out as one of the division's great scorers.

    The French striker broke into the Arsenal first-team in 1997/98, with his goals firing the Gunners to a tremendous league and cup double. One of the great 'what if's?' is to wonder how strong an already great side might have been had Anelka remained there beyond 1999, but they did fine, and their precocious young forward moved onto Real Madrid.

    While it did not work out in the Spanish capital, a spell back with his first club Paris Saint-Germain saw Anelka's form return, and he arrived back in England with Manchester City via a loan spell with Liverpool. His goals at City helped establish the club back in the top division after a brief yo-yo spell out of it, but the traveller in Anelka saw him take a move to Fenerbahçe before returning to England's north-west with Bolton.

    For such a full career already, you had to remind yourself that Anelka was still only 28 when he signed for Chelsea after a successful spell with Bolton. At Stamford Bridge, he has settled down for the time being, and while not the main striker, as with his previous clubs, he has still contributed significantly, including in the 2009/10 campaign that saw him win his second English double.

Sami Hyypia

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    Sami Hyypia was a pillar of consistency for Liverpool in his decade there. While the much-longed after league title would still escape them by the time he departed for Germany, their rock of a defender could still look back at his time at the club with his head held high.

    The Finnish international was snapped up for a couple of million pounds and paid the Reds back in abundance with his reliability. He partnered with Stéphane Henchoz early on as Liverpool won a cup treble in 2001. After Rafael Benitez took charge, it was Jamie Carragher that more often than not slotted alongside Hyypia in defence.

    That partnership was vital in Liverpool's glorious run to the Champions League in 2005. It remained an integral part of Benitez's Liverpool team for a while after, before age gradually caught up with Hyypia.

    Still, though he was no longer an automatic choice at centre-back, the veteran was somebody for his younger teammates to look up to, and still someone to do a job when called upon.

Petr Cech

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    There is a convincing argument to be made for Edwin Van Der Sar's place on a top twenty list of the Premier League's foreign imports, so make no mistake, it is no affront to him that Petr Cech gets the nod ahead of his goalkeeping peer. It just says it all about how important the latter has been to his club.

    Like Peter Schmeichel a decade or so earlier at Manchester United, Chelsea's signing of Cech in 2004 gave them a top-class performer to immediately start in goal. It was a stroke of luck for the incoming Jose Mourinho that this deal had been arranged, and the new boss reaped the benefits of it in a dominant two title-winning campaigns for the Blues.

    The head injury suffered at Reading was a bad blow for Cech, but that he was able to return to the game was a blessing for the Czech Republic international, considering it might have been much worse. It is testament to his ability that, on the whole, he managed to regain his pre-injury form.

    Cech is still is a reliable last line of defence for Chelsea. Besides John Terry and Ashley Cole, the defensive lineup in front of him has been subject to chance for some time now. Having a goalie like Cech has gone some way to ensuring this selection that inconsistency hasn't become a major problem.

Dennis Bergkamp

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    Arsene Wenger inherited a pretty good squad at Arsenal when he took charge in 1996. The player already there that would prove most conducive to the style of play he hoped to implement was, of course, Dennis Bergkamp.

    Signed by the previous manager, Bruce Rioch, the season before, it had taken a little while for the Dutchman to settle, but once he found his feet, he was soon enough lighting up the Premier League.

    There was a great partnership formed with Ian Wright. Playing off of him, Bergkamp's creativity brought the best out of his partner as Wright raced away to become Arsenal's record scorer (until Henry later took the mantle). The young buck, Anelka, would also benefit from Bergkamp's assists and all-round enabling of his game.

    As the likes of Henry, Robert Pires, Freddie Ljunberg and Sylvain Wiltord all came in, Bergkamp found himself with the calibre of teammates his own talent deserves. Arsenal supporters would enjoy some great times watching them all in full-flow.

Jay-Jay Okocha

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    Jay-Jay Okocha was one of several imports crucial in stabilising Bolton Wanderers in the Premier League in the early part of last decade. The likes of Ivan Campo, Fredi Bobic and Nicolas Anelka all would come in and contribute for various lengths of time as Sam Allardyce blended some continental flair with a tough, direct style of play that proved so effective.

    It was the Nigerian Okocha who worked most successfully, though. The attacking midfielder's penchant for mazy dribbles and exciting ventures forward with the ball was an exciting watch for the Bolton supporters, but it was also key in helping them keep the ball, a must in the Premier League.

    In buying them time, Okocha allowed his teammates to impose themselves on games in a way that bellied their reputation for just hitting it long and hoping someone would be there to capitalise on Kevin Davies' flick-ons. Okocha was hugely important in helping them inject that variety into their play in the final third. He was also, of course, prone to hitting some pretty impressive free-kicks from time to time.

    After helping keep them up in 2003, Okocha enjoyed some good times in his spell at the Reebok stadium. They returned to a major cup final with their run through the Carling Cup in 2004, though that wasn't to be. There too, was some notable displays against the likes of Arsenal and Liverpool. Such memories were only possible because of the role Okocha played in getting them there in the first place.

Jimmy Floyd Hasseilbank

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    Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink scored goals wherever he went during his stays in the Premier League and is surely up there with the best forwards to play in England at any point over the past two decades.

    Hasselbaink's two seasons with Leeds United saw him play a major role in the rejuvenation of a club that had stuttered following their championship win in 1991/92. First under George Graham and then David O'Leary, the Dutch striker was the explosive threat of a burgeoning young side. He would move on to a solitary season with Atletico Madrid before Leeds' thrilling but, ultimately, costly adventures at the top at home and in Europe, but he had helped set them on their way.

    Returning to England in 2000 with Chelsea, Hasselbaink took up where he left off. The highlights would come in particular during the 2001/02 campaign in which he scored 23 goals as part of a hugely effective partnership with Eidur Gudjohnsen.

    Hasselbaink stayed a year into the Abramovich revolution and top-scored once more, despite the influx of expensive new signings, but in 2004, he was off to Middlesbrough.

    It was a quietly successful spell at Boro for Hasselbaink, a fact that is somewhat neglected. There were 34 goals in all competitions from his two seasons on Teesside, with double figures in both Premier League campaigns. He also scored along the way as Middlesbrough went all the way to the UEFA Cup final in 2006, a brilliant achievement for the club, before they were dismantled 4-0 by Juande Ramos' superb Sevilla.

Cristiano Ronaldo

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    It was doubly so if you were a Manchester United fan, but there was a certain enjoyment to see Cristiano Ronaldo develop over the course of his stay in England. From the young Portuguese winger of great potential with an addiction to step-overs, he matured into one of the most lethal stars in world football.

    It was perfect timing that Ronaldo hit his stride around the 2006/07 season, just as the previous two year's champions, Chelsea, began to stutter. Along with the likes of Wayne Rooney, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes in attack, and the solid defense featuring the Ferdinand-Vidic partnership with Van Der Sar behind, Ronaldo blossomed into a seriously effective talent.

    The following season saw him truly stake his claim as one of the world's best players, with 31 Premier League goals firing the Red Devils to a second successive title. Now, increasingly being deployed not just as a winger but as an attacker of some freedom, his overall tally was a staggering 43, with nine in United's run to a third European Cup title.

    After Alex Ferguson secured one more season out of him, Ronaldo contributed another overall 25 the next year as United won a third title in a row. But, with his heart set on Real Madrid, United took the £80 million knowing they had got a great deal and some great years out of their boy.

Paolo Di Canio

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    Paolo Di Canio was a damn entertaining watch. The Italian exuded drama on the pitch, and in those rare moments that weren't so thrilling, he was still so passionate that you knew your eyes would not be off him long.

    At Sheffield, Wednesday, there was the incident against Arsenal which saw him push referee Paul Alcock to the ground. If his action there can't be condoned, then the way in which straight afterwards he frightened the moronic Nigel Winterburn was a redeeming moment.

    At West Ham United, in a game against Everton, he famously caught the ball when he had a chance to score so as the Toffee's goalkeeper Paul Gerrard could get treatment for an injury. In terms of the actual football, there was a winner for the Hammers at Old Trafford, and, of course, the stunning volley at Old Trafford.

    Unlike most of the names on this list, Di Canio would not win trophies during his stay in England. But, he was proof there is so much more to football than that.

Didier Drogba

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    Not everyone likes Didier Drogba, but even if you don't, you have to admire the man's resilience.

    There have been several instances in his time at Chelsea when a dispute with a manager, injury, illness or just poor form while others have excelled has created a suggestion that Drogba might move on. But, each time, it hasn't taken long for the Ivorian international to more than prove his worth.

    Signed by Jose Mourinho, his first three years at the club saw Drogba become a regular as the head of his Portuguese coach's team. Up front, he would use his strength and pace to batter defenders into submission where upon he could take advantage of them with his tremendous striking ability. So often the theory goes that, at top form, the Ivorian is unplayable.

    It was a great spell for Drogba as he helped his team to two league titles as well as various domestic cup success. Perhaps, though, the Ivorian's greatest achievement at Chelsea came after his failure to get along with Luiz Felipe Scolari.

    When the Brazilian was dismissed in early 2009 and Guus Hiddink took over, Drogba's form begun to resurface. With Carlo Ancelotti in charge for the following season Drogba enjoyed his most successful season yet as Chelsea won a league and FA Cup double. Three goals in the latter complemented a very impressive 29 goals and 10 assists, which helped fire the Blues to the title.

Jaap Stam

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    Sir Alex Ferguson regards selling Jaap Stam in 2001 as perhaps his biggest mistake in charge at Manchester United. Even in a more negative moment of reflection for the Scotsman, as is more often than not the case with him, you have to agree.

    Ferguson's decision to sell Stam to Lazio left a gaping whole that wasn't properly filled until the establishment of the Vidic-Ferdinand partnership in 2006/07. It wasn't that the likes of Wes Brown, John O'Shea or the aging Laurent Blanc, who was drafted in as a replacement, were bad, it was just they could not provide the level of solidity that Stam had.

    The Dutchman was good, no doubt about that. In his three seasons at Old Trafford Stam was a major part of a strong defence that took United to three successive Premier League titles, the first of which coming in the treble winning season of 1998/99 that also brought the Champions League.

    Had Stam stayed longer, there would have been no guarantee United would have stopped Arsenal and then later Chelsea, winning the four titles between them as they did. The Red Devils would have gone through a transitional period either way. But there is a good chance that with Stam to help steer them through it, they may have been more successful than they were.

Tim Cahill

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    Tim Cahill is not just a Premier League success story. Having made his way over to England from Australia, he got his start in the Football League with Millwall, where he plied his trade until grabbing attention with strong performances in the Lions' so-close yet so-far run to the 2004 FA Cup Final.

    Joining Everton that summer, Cahill has, ever since then, become a prominent figure in David Moyes' tenure that has seen the Toffees so often come agonisingly close to different levels of success.

    Sixty-eight goals in all competitions has been the impressive return the Australian midfielder has delivered. In a side that has often played with one or no recognised striker at all, Cahill has been an important source of goals, with them often coming in the form of his dominant aerial threat.

    How much longer the 31-year-old will remain at the top level remains to be seen. But the man who had a habit of boxing the goal flag when celebrating a goal has already played a significant role in making sure Everton have remained a contender this past decade.

Patrick Vieira

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    Probably the most shrewed piece of business performed by Arsene Wenger at Arsenal was ensuring his new club bought Patrick Vieira from AC Milan when he took the job.

    Here was a player with great physical attributes, more than capable of holding his own against competitive English midfielders, but also one who had an element of class to his game, evident in his solid passing game. Looking back now, they are overall qualities that many of Wenger's most recent purchases are lacking, but ones back then he knew were crucial if his new side were to thrive under his tutelage.

    That they did, with Vieira quickly settling into the Premier League. Alongside Emmanuel Petit in midfield, the French duo dominated the area in the late-1990s, providing the axis that allowed Arsenal's strong defence to quickly and effective move the ball forward into a sparkling attack.

    Following on from the 1997/98 double winning campaign and the retirement of Tony Adams, Vieira was given the captaincy and only grew in stature. Even the departure of Petit did not slow him down, and the following years saw him lead his side to two more Premier League titles, along the way embarking on some memorable battles with the other great midfielder of the era, Roy Keane.

David Silva

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    Arguably the best foreign player in the Premier League right now, David Silva hasn't achieved half of what he will hope for by the time he is done with Manchester City. But, with an FA Cup winners medal to his name and a deservedly renowned reputation for his role at the heart of everything great about City on the pitch, he is not out of place with the company on this list.

    This season has begun brightly for Silva with his growing influence in City's style of play helping to ensure they are both an entertaining watch and genuine title challengers.

    Those who saw him at Valencia, or in his performances with Spain (particularly at Euro 2008), knew of his creativity. For many others in England, it has been an eye-opening experience to watch this maestro perform.

Mark Viduka

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    There have probably been better foreign strikers to play in the Premier League era that haven't even made this list, but such was the memorable, if ultimately destructive, nature of Leeds United at the turn of the last decade, that it only seems right that one of their best players of the time be mentioned here.

    Mark Viduka was not the first Australian to play in England, but alongside his compatriot, Harry Kewell, he made a telling impact in his time in Yorkshire in particular. After goal-heavy spells in Australia, Croatia and Scotland, Viduka made his debut in the Premier League in the 2000/01 campaign.

    Leeds' unexpected march to the Champions League semi-final was of course representative of the failed spend-to-win policy that took them so close but hurt them so much in the end. But, at the time, it was undoubtedly exciting to see them return to the heights of their mid-1970s peak. Viduka scored four goals in that European campaign, while 14 domestically saw them finish fourth in the league.

    The goals would keep coming for Viduka, his 20 in the 2002/03 campaign helped Leeds avoid relegation as the financial gloom begun to take hold at Elland Road. By the following season, the Australian forward's 13 goals would not be enough as they finally capitulated.

    For Viduka, a decent spell at Middlesbrough followed, for Leeds, it has been years of hell in the Football League for the once mighty club.


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