In 1992 the structure of the English football pyramid changed forever. Amidst the influx of ever-growing TV revenue and commercial interest 22 clubs resigned from the football league to found what is now commonly portrayed as the most watched and most exciting sporting competition in the world, the Premier League.
In the twenty four resulting seasons that began with a Brian Deane goal, thousands have graced English football’s top flight from Roker Park to Stamford Bridge. Of these thousands, many have disappeared into obscurity or fan ‘cult hero’ status and are by and large confined to the history books. A select few however, have used the Premier League as a foundation to become household names around the world.
Whilst not all of the following select characters have achieved such acclaim, they have in one way or another had enough of a significant impact on England’s top-flight to justify their rank in my ‘Greatest 100 Premier League Players’. I have made my selection choices based on several contributing factors including but not limited to sheer talent, longevity and success enjoyed. Of course there will be room for debate, not least because of any omissions I have made but also due to my age and lack of engagement with the premier league and its budding stars during the formative years of 92-96. Anyway, here we go…
- Kevin Davies
PL appearances / goals (444 / 88)
Is there a greater way to begin than with a good old-fashioned English centre forward? Davies became a fan favourite at Bolton Wanderers after spending time at Southampton and perhaps more notably at Blackburn where he failed to live up to the expectations his £7.5million transfer fee demanded. A striker who wasn’t afraid of hustling and bustling even the best of centre halves, Davies is often regarded as the player guilty of committing the most fouls in premier league history. An integral part of Sam Allardyce’s Bolton side that reached such great heights including consecutive top-eight finishes and UEFA cup campaigns, Davies was very much the spearhead for attacks. Whilst not always on the score sheet, Davies’ contribution should not be underestimated as he was regularly either a direct provider or involved in the build-up play in many goals during Bolton’s mid-00s successful period.
- Graeme Le Saux
PL appearances / goals (337 / 12) PL Titles 1
A consistent yet fiery wing back, Le Saux was rated as the best in his position during the 1990s. Blackburn Rovers won the Premier League in 1995 and Le Saux was an ever-present in Kenny Dalglish’s expensively assembled championship winning squad. An English record transfer fee for the defender to Chelsea followed. Perhaps his finest 90 minutes came at Old Trafford where newly appointed Claudio Ranieri made him captain for his first game. Le Saux provided all three assists for Chelsea in a thrilling 3-3 draw.
- Leighton Baines
PL appearances / goals* (343 / 26)
The Second of three wing-backs to be featured in this post, Leighton Baines achieved promotion to the Premier League with Wigan in 2005 and has never looked back. An impressive start to life at the highest level resulted in a move to Everton the following season. Known for his precision in dead ball situations and penalties, Baines became the first Toffee since Neville Southall to appear in the PFA team of the year since 1992.
- Lee Dixon
PL appearances / goals (305 / 10) PL Titles 2
Part of the famous defensive line that brought Arsenal so much success prior to and during the Premier League era, Dixon was an attacking right-back and a regular fixture throughout his entire career at Highbury, even into the millennium as he fought off competition from Lauren and Oleg Luzhny. Dixon retired after Arsenal’s title success in 2002, making him part of an elite group of players to have won England’s top flight in three separate decades.
- ‘Pepe’ Reina
PL appearances / clean sheets (285 / 134)
Reina’s goalkeeping statistics in the Premier League are incredible. The Spaniard kept clean sheets in almost 50% of the games he played in for Liverpool. He was instrumental in Rafa Benitez’s side that had cemented Champions League football every year and were more often than not vying for the title. He was known as a penalty saving expert and yet despite not ever being crowned a champion, Reina won three consecutive Golden Glove awards in the early part of his Anfield career for the most clean sheets in a season. Brendan Rodgers’ decision to allow the longstanding Spaniard to leave in favour of the less experienced Simon Mignolet will still bemuse some of the Kop faithful to this day.
- Kevin Phillips
PL appearances / goals (236 / 92)
Sunderland’s return to the top flight in 1999 will be remembered fondly by their supporters for the ‘little and large’ partnership between Phillips and Niall Quinn. The former bagging a staggering 30 goals which helped propel the Black Cats to a seventh placed finish that year. With such a tally, Phillips won the European Golden Boot and remains the only Englishman to win the award to this day. Unfortunately the goals eventually dried up for Phillips on Wear side but a couple of decent seasons at Southampton showed critics that he could still compete at the highest level. Overall, Phillips was a deadly goal scorer who is fondly remembered by the majority of club’s fans’ he turned out for.
- Darren Fletcher
PL appearances / goals* (264 / 20) PL Titles 5
An unsung midfielder during the period of Manchester United’s revitalised success, Fletcher is a tenacious hard-working, ball-winning central midfielder known for his high work ethic. Fletcher will always be remembered by Manchester United fans as a player for the big occasions who would always give 100%. Sir Alex Ferguson paid homage to Fletcher in his farewell speech of 2013 following the midfielder’s battle with illness and in 2015 Louis Van Gaal decided to let the Scot join fellow Premier League outfit West Bromwich Albion. Fletcher’s return to form and continued influence as captain will only be of great delight to the Baggies’ fans.
- Robbie Keane
PL appearances / goals (349 / 126)
Robbie Keane will be remembered mostly for his spells as the ravenous marksman for Tottenham Hotspur. At the turn of the century the talented youngster had indifferent spells at Inter Milan and Leeds following an impressive one season stint at Coventry City. Keane was lightning quick and a great finisher who became a constant name on the score sheet during the 00s and moved him up to thirteenth on the Premier League’s all-time scorer’s list. Unfortunately a brief spell at Liverpool didn’t work out and eventually he moved on to the MLS where he remains a potent threat to this day.
- David James
PL appearances / clean sheets (572 / 169)
James epitomised the definition of longevity. He was a mainstay for Liverpool since the Premier League’s formation in 1992 and continued to be a presence for various other clubs until 2010. Despite being known by some as ‘calamity James’- he was on the whole a consistent and dependable goalkeeper who until recently held the record for the most all-time Premier League clean sheets.
- Dimitar Berbatov
PL appearances / goals (229 / 94) PL titles 2
An often enigmatic figure, Berbatov was almost unique in his style of play. The Bulgarian arrived at Spurs in North London in 2006 and enjoyed two seasons of success at White Hart Lane until a big money move to Manchester United came about in August 2008. At Old Trafford the languid Berbatov complemented the attacking flair of Ronaldo, Rooney et al. whilst also contributing more than his fair share of goals culminating in winning the Golden Boot in 2010-11 season. Berbatov was sometimes criticised by pundits and fans for appearing lazy or disinterested but many of his fans, myself included, admired his hold up play, off the ball work, deft touch and deadly accuracy when striking the ball.