By Boluwatife Ezekiel Olaleye
A new season gets underway on Friday, As Arsenal – fresh from the lifting of the Community Shield against Chelsea at Wembley last weekend – host 2015-16 champions Leicester City.
To mark the new season – and the previous 25 – we look back on the 25 greatest players to have played in the Premier League.
25) David Beckham (Manchester United 1995-2003, 265 games, 62 goals)
His impact on the Premier League was enormous, from his iconic halfway line goal on the opening day of the 1996-97 season to his deadly free-kicks, corners and crosses. Scored 62 goals but created countless others.
24) Matt Le Tissier (Southampton 1992-2002, 270 games, 100 goals)
One of the most mercurial players of his era, the one-club man has one of the best highlights reels around, and at times it felt as if he single-handedly kept Southampton in the Premier League.
23) Teddy Sheringham (Nottingham Forest 1992, Tottenham Hotspur 1992-1997 and 2001-03, Manchester United 1997-2001, Portsmouth 2003-04, West Ham United 2005-07, 418 games, 146 goals)
Played until his 40s and never lost the mental sharpness and game intelligence that marked him out as one of the Premier League generation’s finest forwards.
22) Nemanja Vidic (Manchester United 2006-2014, 211 games, 15 goals)
The Serbian centre-back was one of Sir Alex Ferguson’s most astute signings when he brought him in from Spartak Moscow in 2006 and is one of the best defenders the Premier League has seen.
21) Sergio Aguero (Manchester City 2011-present, 181 games, 122 goals)
He is still going strong, having scored arguably the most iconic goal in Premier League history to win his team the title on the final day of the 2011-12 season, and has a remarkable goals-to-games ratio.
20) Gianfranco Zola (Chelsea 1996-2003, 229 games, 59 goals)
The skilful Italian was one of the major imports who ushered in a new era for English football and got Chelsea playing some dazzling football long before Roman Abramovich bought the club.
19) Rio Ferdinand (West Ham United 1996-2000, Leeds United 2000-02, Manchester United 2002-2014, Queens Park Rangers 2014-15, 504 games, 11 goals)
A classy defender who served local club West Ham well before a big-money move to Leeds. Later became a mainstay of Ferguson’s title-winning teams at United.
18) Gareth Bale (Tottenham Hotspur 2007-2013, 146 games, 42 goals)
His explosion during the 2012-13 season, in which he scored 21 goals in 33 games and won a host of individual awards, earned him a record-breaking move to Real Madrid.
17) Tony Adams (Arsenal 1992-2002, 255 games, 14 goals)
The big defender, a recovering alcoholic, was not expected to survive under Arsene Wenger at Arsenal but instead he thrived, leading his team to the title in 1997-98.
16) Didier Drogba (Chelsea 2004-12 and 2014-15, 254 games, 104 goals)
One of the deadliest finishers to grace the Premier League, the Ivorian was a central figure in the club’s four title wins during his time in London.
15) Peter Schmeichel (Manchester United 1992-1999, Aston Villa 2001-2002, Manchester City 2002-03, 310 games)
Without doubt the greatest goalkeeper ever to play in the Premier League, the Dane was a key member of Ferguson’s early title-winning teams and often made spectacular saves look routine.
14) John Terry (Chelsea 1998-2017, 492 games, 41 goals)
Not everyone’s cup of tea off the field, but the Londoner’s presence and impact on it are undeniable, winning five titles and consistently proving one of the most difficult opponents for a multitude of top-class forwards.
13) Luis Suarez (Liverpool 2011-2014, 110 games, 69 goals)
Another who was not universally liked for his antics, but his ability was – and still is – undeniable. His 31 goals in 33 games in 2013-14 almost carried Liverpool to the title, and he joined Barcelona that summer.
12) Frank Lampard (West Ham United 1995-2001, Chelsea 2001-2014, Manchester City 2014-2015, 609 games, 177 goals)
Had to work hard to win over the doubters early in his career, but his longevity and goalscoring ability from midfield, especially in his hugely successful spell at Chelsea, marked him out as one of the best players to grace the Premier League.
11) Wayne Rooney (Everton 2002-2004 and 2017-present, Manchester United 2004-2017, 460 games, 198 goals)
His career will be bookended by spells with his boyhood heroes, Everton, but it his time at Manchester United that most fans will remember. A deadly finisher and intelligent user of space on the field, he will be hoping for a glorious finale at Goodison Park.
10) Paul Scholes (Manchester United 1994-2013, 499 games, 107 goals)
Revered by top players around the world, one-club man Scholes exuded quality in central midfield or just behind the strikers, scored some stunning goals and won 11 titles.
9) Steven Gerrard (Liverpool 1998-2015, 504 games, 120 goals)
The only thing missing from his Premier League CV is a winner’s medal but he came close on several occasions and often carried hometown club Liverpool when they were short of overall quality.
8) Patrick Vieira (Arsenal 1996-2005, Manchester City 2010-11, 307 games, 32 goals)
The beating heart of Wenger’s ‘Invincibles’ in 2003-04, the Frenchman was an all-round midfielder, who mixed skill and subtlety with power and physicality, occasionally overstepping the mark.
7) Dennis Bergkamp (Arsenal 1995-2006, 315 games, 87 goals)
When players such as Zola and Bergkamp began arriving in the Premier League, it lifted not only the on and off-field standards, but also the credibility and status of the league around the world.
6) Cristiano Ronaldo (Manchester United 2003-2009, 196 games, 84 goals)
Ronaldo’s career is often broken down into the Real Madrid and pre-Real Madrid phases, but he won the first of his four Ballon d’Or awards while at United, prompting Madrid to break the world transfer record to sign him.
Cristiano Ronaldo became a global superstar during his time at Manchester United.
5) Roy Keane (Manchester United 1993-2005, 326 games, 33 goals)
The rivalry between Keane and Vieira was a fitting compliment to the ability and aggression of both players at a time when their teams battled for English supremacy. The Irishman could do it all: tackle, pass, lead and chip in with the occasional big goal.
4) Alan Shearer (Blackburn Rovers 1992-1996, Newcastle United 1996-2006, 441 games, 260 goals)
The greatest goalscorer of the Premier League era, Shearer was also a relentlessly hard-working forward. In and the around the box, he was always a threat, whether with his powerful right foot or his head, and won the title with Blackburn in 1994-95.
3) Eric Cantona (Leeds United 1992, Manchester United 1992-1997, 156 games, 70 goals)
Few players have left such a mark on English football as Cantona. He came to define Ferguson’s United, arguably providing the final piece in the puzzle that allowed them to become the dominant force they were in the 1990s. By launching a ‘kung-fu kick’ on Crystal Palace fan Matthew Simmons, after being sent off in 1995, his notoriety matched his ability.
2) Ryan Giggs (Manchester United 1992-2014, 632 games, 109 goals)
Giggs’ durability was stunning. He finally called time on his career shortly before his 41st birthday, having won 13 Premier League titles. Having started out as a blisteringly-quick winger, the Welshman reinvented himself as his career progressed, and will be remembered as one of the greatest players to play in English football.
1) Thierry Henry (Arsenal 1999-2007 and 2012, 258 games, 175 goals)
Whenever a highly-regarded overseas talent has a difficult first season in the Premier League, the example of Henry is often quoted in the context of how tricky it can be to settle in England.
Yet the Frenchman scored 17 goals in each of his first two seasons, before going on to score 24, 24, 30, 25 and 27 in the next five. To put Henry’s “early struggles” in context, Michael Owen – widely regarded as one of the best goalscorer of the same era – never scored more than 19 goals in a Premier League season.
The reality where Henry is concerned is that his first two seasons were good but what followed was remarkable. He came to define Wenger’s great teams, winning the title in 2001-02 and 2003-04, and his impact and influence are still being felt today.