Since its inception in 1992/93, the English Premier League has gone from strength to strength, establishing it as one of the best leagues in the world. Many top players from all around the world have graced the league over the years even gaining the status of club legends. Therefore, it is very hard to compile a list of all time best eleven Premier League players where parameters of comparison do not always borders on objectivity.
Keeping the old school formation of 4-4-2, I am here to select best eleven players of the league who fits in to the formation nicely. It is not a question of whether those players can play side by side or how the team would be tactically benefitted, but it is all about players who are very best among the whole lot of great stars.
Peter Schmeichel (Manchester United, Denmark)
He was elected as “The World’s Best Goalkeeper” in 1992 and 1993. And Sir Alex Ferguson described his deal in 2000 as the “bargain of the century”. He spent the bulk of his career at Manchester United where he won 5 league titles, 3 FA Cups and 1 Champions League (including the historic treble). He is the most capped player for Denmark and has scored 12 goals in his career, a very unusual feat for a goalkeeper.
His expertise in keeping clean sheets is remarkable. Incredibly 42% of his game ended without conceding a goal. But most importantly, he will always be remembered for his heroics in big games. Who can forget the saved penalty of Dennis Bergkamp in 1999 FA Cup semi-final against Arsenal?
Schmeichel was something extra. His contribution to Manchester United and Denmark is unparalleled. His acrobatic saves over the years are a joy to behold. Probably that’s why he was voted as the best goalkeeper by fans all over world ahead of Lev Yashin and Gordon Banks.
Honorable mention: Shay Given, David Seaman, Brad Friedel and Edwin van der Sar.
Ashley Cole (Arsenal & Chelsea, England)
He has to be the best left back produced on English soil post 1990. He was his own competitor and thereby excelled to newer heights with every passing season. He won two Premier League titles with Arsenal and one with Chelsea and until now has two runners-up medals in the Champions League. He became the first player to win six FA Cup winners medals.
A world class left back with an outstanding capability of reading the game he could probably make an entry into any of the top sides in the world. His adventurous style of football made him attractive to watch while defensively he was equally solid. He became England’s Player of the Year in 2010 and was included twice in UEFA Team of the Year.
Honorable mention: Nigel Winterburn.
Gary Neville (Manchester United, England)
English players generally are associated with a ‘bull-dog spirit’. Gary Neville epitomizes that spirit to the fullest with an added quality.
A dyed-in-the-wool Manchester United fan, he was head and shoulders above his contemporaries in terms of commitment, performance, long career and technical abilities. The most admirable aspect of his career was consistency. He was the most capped right back for England. His trophy cabinet is enough to be a criterion for selection. Plus he was selected in Premier League’s ‘Team of the Decade’ (1992/03-2001/02).
Honorable mention: Lee Dixon.
John Terry: (Chelsea, England)
The modern decade saw the rise of the Chelsea, breaking the stranglehold of Arsenal and Manchester United. John Terry, an out and out Chelsea defender, broke through the club’s academy and established himself not only as one of the super stars of Premier League but made his name across the globe. A maverick, he led Chelsea to three league titles and captained England too.
It is a pride for the nation that a defender from their league has been given highest accolade in Europe and the world for more than one season. Terry won UEFA’s club Defender of the Year in 2005, 2008 and 2009 and was included in FIFPro’s World XI for four consecutive seasons from 2005 to 2008. Four times he was selected in UEFA’s team of the year. Those who are wondering what the big deal with FIFPro is, John Terry was accompanied by few so called World Class defenders in that prestigious award like Maldini, Nesta, Cafu, Thuram, Cannavaro, Zambrotta, Puyol, Ramos and Vidic. Not bad, would you say?
Honorable mention: Nemanja Vidic, Jamie Carragher, Sol Campbell and Sami Hyypia.
Rio Ferdinand: (Manchester United, England)
Sometimes, objectivity is not enough to judge the caliber of a player. Rio Ferdinand twice broke Premier League’s transfer record, so he has to be there in the list of all time best.
He was one of those rare breed from England who developed great technical abilities like the European footballers. Positional play, accurate tackling, distribution, reading the game and other important tactical aspects were mastered by this Englishman. Subjective? Yes, but there can be no denial that Manchester United’s huge success post 2006 is bestowed on the defensive partnership of Ferdinand and Vidic, of which the senior man played a major contribution.
He has been a member of three FIFA World Cup squads, winner of five Premier League medals, one Champions League and two League Cups.
Success is not an essential barometer here, performance is. Those who have watched Ferdinand’s game minutely over the years will have to agree that he has been a ‘Rock of Gibraltar’ for his club and country.
Honorable mention: Ledley King, Tony Adams and Jaap Stam.
Ryan Giggs (Manchester United, Wales)
This longest service player for Manchester United has to be the greatest ever winger to have graced the Premier League. An age-less genius, he holds the club record for most competitive appearance.
Don’t ever ask the Welshman about his trophy cabinet. He has bagged 12 league titles, 4 FA Cups, 4 League Cups, 2 UCL and many more medals in his illustrious career. Under the tutelage of Sir Alex, Giggs achieved almost everything a footballer can wish to, except the sad story of not playing at the World Cup.
He was selected in the PFA Team of the Century, won the prestigious BBC Sports Personality of the Year in 2009 and was included in UEFA Champions League’s 10 seasons Dream Team (1992-2002).
He is the most decorated player in the Premier League and the league itself is fortunate to have witnessed a maverick blazing the green blades of Old Trafford for two decades.
Honorable mention: John Barnes, Gareth Bale, David Ginola, Marc Overmars and Arjen Robben.
Cristiano Ronaldo (Manchester United, Portugal)
First, why not David Beckham? Beckham is a world class footballer like Ronaldo and a legendary figure for Manchester United. Known for his great free kicks and passing – he has given Premier League a different taste of brand.
But Ronaldo is Ronaldo. This is a team of individuals, and Ronaldo is a type who could win you matches by himself. His case is a bit subjective. It is not easy to fill the boots of a club legend, especially coming from a different land while expectations are sky high.
Hence, Manchester United was not Ronaldo’s comfort zone. It was during those times that Chelsea emerged as new champions and it seemed like United’s dominance in English football had ended. He was one of the main figures who brought Man United back on track in terms of silverware. The club went on to win three consecutive league titles, also becoming the kings of Europe in 2007-08.
He helped United off the pitch which fans might have a different view of, but nevertheless he was very significant. His transfer to Real Madrid fetched £80million to Manchester United, at a time when the club was suffocating under the burden of gargantuan debts while the entire country was hit by recession.
The winner of 2008 Ballon d’Or and Fifa World Player of the Year, he has been a joy to watch every time he took the field. The Premier League has produced many gems over the years, but this boy from Madeira has to be one of those very special of the lot.
Honorable mention: David Beckham, Darren Anderton and Anders Limpar.
Paul Scholes (Manchester United, England)
The choice was easy. Admired by his contemporaries around the World, Scholes was not a typical English midfielder. He is a complete midfielder, whose main strength was ball distribution and accurate passing. He had great technical abilities which are rarely found amongst English players.
Both Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola and Xavi consider him as the best central midfielder of this generation.
Honorable mention: Steven Gerrard, Cesc Fabregas, Xabi Alonso, Roy Keane and Paul Gascoigne.
Patrick Vieira (Arsenal, France)
The selection of Vieira was tough. There are so many competitors who are as good as him, if not better. Roy Keane and Steven Gerrard easily come to mind.
Vieira was as inspirational as Keane and a typical box to box midfielder who excelled in top European leagues after leaving Arsenal. His contribution to the French national team is equally enviable.
Vieira was calm, composed on ball. His passing ability, defensive aspects of the game and intelligent movements off the ball brought a touch of European class to ‘that’ invincible Arsenal side.
Honorable mention: Frank Lampard, Gianfranco Zola, Matthew Le Tissier and Claude Makelele.
Thierry Henry (Arsenal, France)
Thierry Henry flourished at a time when Man United had a prolific goal scorer named Ruud van Nistelrooy scoring goals at his mercy. The comparison was always there. Henry is a complete striker, more than just a goal machine. His overall contribution to the game (contrary to van Nistelrooy’s one dimensional game) helped Arsenal win two league titles and three FA Cups. He was the heartbeat of the Arsenal side that remained unbeaten throughout the season.
Arsenal never had a problem of getting silverware with Henry. His skills and techniques were sublime. Who can forget that mesmerizing goal against Liverpool jinking past 5 to 6 Liverpool players, like a snake moving on green grass?
His individual achievements thereby speak for himself: Four times winner of Premier League Golden Boot, twice winner of European Golden Boot, five times included in UEFA team of the year and many other milestones. Henry was included in the English Football Hall of fame in 2008 and his aura will be cherished for many more years to come.
Honorable mention: Ian Rush, Jurgen Klinsmann, Wayne Rooney, Denis Bergkamp, Michael Owen, Robin van Persie and Ruud van Nistelrooy.
Alan Shearer (Newcastle, England)
The English Premier League without Alan Shearer is like detective genres without Sherlock Holmes. He has to be there. A classic English centre forward having strong physical presence and powerful shots, he has scored 283 career goals, including a record 260 in the Premier League with goals to game ratio of 0.667, which equates to just over two goals every three games he has played throughout his career at every level and competition.
Sadly, apart from winning one league title with Blackburn, he had no major silverwares to flaunt, but his amazing performances for his club and country stand him apart from the competition.
Winning the domestic and overall Player of the Decade awards rightly sums up his contribution towards the Premier League. He was the best English striker then and probably still holds that status.
Honorable mention: Didier Drogba, Andy Cole, Robbie Fowler, Eric Cantona, Paulo Di Canio, Ian Wright and Teddy Sheringham.
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