Aaron Gales examines the foreign players he believes has made the biggest impact in Premier League history.
Over the last twenty years the Premier League has undoubtedly established itself as the greatest domestic league in the world. This has led to many foreign players clamouring to come and join the league. This has seen hundreds of players flock to try and chance their arm in the tough world of English football. However some players more than others have taken English football to their hearts and created some brilliant memories for football fans across England. This article contains my personal favourite top ten foreign players. I am sure many of you will disagree, but that's the beauty of football. It's a game of opinions, and this is mine.
10. Sami Hyypia
Appearances: 460. Goals:35
Trophies: FA Cup (2001, 2006), Football League Cup (2001, 2003), FA Community Shield (2001, 2006), UEFA Cup (2001), UEFA Champions League (2005), UEFA Super Cup (2001, 2005)
I'm sure that this will be the selection that will cause the greatest deal of controversy with all of you who are reading it, and I can understand why. However when I was considering who should make the cut into the top ten I found that I just couldn't leave Hyypia out. He made an outstanding contribution to English football and was the rock on which all of Liverpool's most recent success was built upon. Arriving in the summer of 1999, Hyypia took a couple of months to settle into the demands of the English game but after that he never looked back. Making a staggering 460 appearances for Liverpool over the course of his ten year spell at the club his time at Liverpool brought much silverware to the club including the famous Champions League victory over AC Milan in 2005, though the Premier League title would elude Hyypia as it has Liverpool since 1991. His finest season at the club was undoubtedly the famous treble winning year of 2001. He played a staggering 58 games during this campaign, contributing four goals as Liverpool, led by Gerard Houillier completed the unique treble of UEFA Cup, FA Cup and League Cup. Hyypia left the club after ten glorious years to play out his career in Germany. The evidence is there to support my claims and he is thoroughly deserving of his place in the top ten foreign players to play in the Premier League and his performances will live long in the memory of Liverpool fans for years to come.
9. Didier Drogba
(Chelsea 2004 - Present Day)
Appearances: 314. Goals: 145
Trophies: Premier League (2004-05, 2005-06, 2009-10), Football League Cup (2005, 2007), FA Cup (2007, 2009, 2010), FA Community Shield (2005, 2009).
Undoubtedly one of the most controversial players to play in the Premier League, nobody can argue with the contribution of Dider Drogba since he signed for Chelsea in 2004. He has been a key part of the Roman Abramovich era scoring nearly 150 goals and counting for the London Club as he has racked up trophies and personal honours galore. A tall, powerful, pacy player Drogba has been the scourge of Premier League centre halfs. He has never been without controversy with numerous exampls of petulant behaviour throughout the years but English football has undoubtedly taken him to their heart. He is a two time winner of the Premier League Golden Boot, and a two time member of the PFA Team of the Year. Drogba is now winding down his career but there is no doubt that he still has the ability to terrorise even the best defences across England and Europe and Andre Villas Boas is clearly a big fan of the Ivorian. There will still be many more goals and moments of controversy to come from the world of Didier Drogba.
(Manchester United 1991-1999) (Aston Villa 2001-2002) (Manchester City 2002-2003)
Appearances: 460. Goals: 2
Trophies: Premier League (1992-92, 1993-94, 1995-96, 1996-97, 1998-99), FA Cup (1993-94, 1995-96, 1998-99), Football League Cup (1991-92), FA Charity Shield (1993, 1994, 1996, 1997), UEFA Champions League (1998-99), UEFA Super Cup (1991).
The only goalkeeper to make the list, just edging out Edwin Van Der Saar and Petr Cech, Schmeichel is undoubtedly the greatest foreign goalkeeper to play in the Premier League and his contribution to Manchester United during his eight years at the club was immense. Signed before Sir ALex Ferguson had managed to bring the Premier League trophy back to Old Trafford it was arguably the big Dane who made the biggest difference in helping United move from the shadow of Liverpool and into an era of unprecedented dominance. Ferguson always claimed that Schmeichel was worth 10 points a season to United and nobody who saw him play could argue with this. He was a dominant goalkeeper who would scare the life out of his defenders in front of him but also provided great security should a team ever manage to breach the dominant United back line. His finest season at United was undoubtedly his last. This was the season where United completed their famous treble of Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League title. His last game for the club was the famous 2-1 victory over Bayern Munich before leaving to go and play for Sporting Lisbon in Portugal for two years. He missed the passion of the English game, though and returned signing a one year contract to play for Aston Villa. He had lost none of his old reflexes and had an excellent season for Villa before making a controversial move to play for United's great rivals Manchester City. This was to be his final season before retirement and there was still time for him to establish another record. Manchester City beat and drew with Manchester United in the two Manchester derbies to maintain his proud record of being unbeaten in Manchester derbies. A great player and one who will always be remembered.
7. Jaap Stam
(Manchester United 1998-2001)
Appearances: 120. Goals: 1
Trophies: Premier League (1998-99, 1999-00, 2000-01), FA Cup (1999), UEFA Champions League (1999)
Jaap Stam only played in the English league for three seasons but the impact he had during his time at Manchester United was incredible. During his time at the club Manchester United won the league every season, completing a hat trick of titles. He was also part of the United side that won that incredible treble in 1999. He was the final piece of the puzzle for Sir Alex Ferguson in his quest for the Champions League title and built a magnificent partnership with Ronny Johnson at the heart of the United defence. He was sold, though, in 2001 to Italian club Lazio, after he alleged in his autobiography that Ferguson had illegally approached him before signing in 1998. However perhaps the greatest compliment you could pay Stam is that he is the only player that Ferguson admits to regret selling. Talking about the transfer fee they recieved from Lazio Ferguson said, "It was an offer I couldn't refuse. But in playing terms it was a mistake. He is still playing for Ajax at a really good level." Stam was also voted in to the PFA Team of the Year by his fellow professionals in every season he played in England. A truly great centre half.
6. Gianfranco Zola
Appearances: 287. Goals: 80
Trophies: FA Cup (1997, 2000), FA Charity Shield (2000), Football League Cup (1998), UEFA Cup Winners Cup (1998), UEFA Super Cup (1998)
One of the most naturally talented players to ever player the game and a true legend in the history of Chelsea Football Club. Signed in 1996 at the age of 30 years old, many observers felt that Zola's best days may be behind him. How wrong they all were, In his first season he helped Chelsea to a win in the FA Cup and was voted Player of the Year by the Football Writers Association. The following year the success continued winning the League Cup, UEFA Super Cup and UEFA Cup Winners Cup. Zola didn't start the final of the Cup Winners Cup as he was still recovering from injury but he still made his mark on the game. Coming off the bench he memorably scored the winning goal after just 21 seconds on the pitch. In following years Zola wasn't always a regular starter for Chelsea but he was still capable of moments of genius that would leave fans across the country with their mouth gaping open. His legacy was secured at Chelsea and he was voted Chelsea's greatest ever player and his number 25 shirt was retired in his honour. Zola has maintained his love of English football and was manager of West Ham for a brief spell and has expressed a desire to one day manage Chelsea. Few would bet against it one day happening.
5. Eric Cantona
(Leeds United 1992, Manchester United 1992-1997)
Appearances: 220. Goals: 95
Trophies: Leeds United, Football League First Division Title (1991-92), Charity Shield (1992); Manchester United, Premier League (1992-93, 1993-94, 1995-96, 1996-97), FA Cup (1993-94, 1995-96), Charity Shield (1993, 1994, 1996)
The charismatic Frenchman enjoyed a wonderful five year spell in English football during the 1990's. However despite the quality of his football his time in England was marred by controversies both on and off the pitch as his volatile temperament got the better of him on more than one occasion. Signing for Leeds in 1992 he helped them win the last ever Football League First Division title before the advent of the Premier League. At the beginning of the following season he starred as Leeds beat Liverpool 4-3 in the Charity Shield, with Cantona helping himself to a hat trick. It was performances like this that helped catch the eye of Sir Alex Ferguson who signed him at the end of November 1992. Despite returning to Elland Road and being fined for spitting at a fan Cantona's peformances galvanised an inconsistent United side and they romped to their first title in 26 long years, making Cantona the first man in English football to win back to back titles with different clubs. However in 1994 with United chasing their third consecutive title Cantona was involved in an incident that made headlines around the world. Having been sent off in a match against Crystal Palace, he was leaving the pitch before jumping into the stand and launching a kung fu kick against Palace supporter Matthew Simmons. At a hastily arranged press conference following this incident he said his most famous quote. "When the seagulls follow the trawler, it's because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea." Cantona later admitted that this quote had meant nothing and had merely said it to amuse himself. His punishment was an eight month ban and he didn't play again till the following season. Without him United missed out on the title to Blackburn Rovers. Cantona then played a further two years for United adding two more league titles to his ever expanding collection. Eric Cantona was 30 years old and at the peak of his career. He then announced that he was retiring from football. It was a typical enigmatic decision of the man. He went out at the very top. He has since admitted that he thinks he retired too early but he has gone on to make a career for himself in acting, starring in the critically acclaimed Ken Loach film 'Looking for Eric'. He is now back in football working for New York Cosmos. He will always be remembered for the breathtaking goals, arrogance and the upturned collar. Who knows how much he could have achieved if he hadn't quit the game so young.
4. Dennis Bergkamp
Appearances: 380. Goals: 104
Trophies: Premier League (1997-98, 2001-02, 2003-04) FA Cup (1997-98, 2001-02, 2002-03, 2004-05) FA Community Shield (1998, 2002, 2004)
Dennis Bergkamp signed for Arsenal in 1995 by Bruce Rioch following two very unhappy seasons in Italy playing for Inter Milan. He struck up an instant understanding with Ian Wright but it wasn't until the arrival of Arsene Wenger that Bergkamp started to showcase his best form. The 1997-98 season was a personal highlight for Bergkamp as Arsenal completed a League and FA Cup double. He scored 17 goals in that season was voted PFA Player of the Year by his fellow professionals and became the first player to have come first, second and third in Match of the Day's Player of the Month competition. In total he won three league titles and four FA Cups during his time at the club. I will leave the last world on Dennis Bergkamp to something journalist Simon Kuper wrote about Bergkamp in an article in 2006.
"One night last year some legends of Dutch football gathered for dinner in an Amsterdam house. Around midnight conversation turned to an old question: who was the best Dutch footballer ever? Dutchmen have been voted European Footballer of the Year seven times, more than any other nationality except Germans. Yet Jan Mulder, a great centre forward turned writer, chose a player who had never even threatened to win the award nor, at the time, a Champions League: 'Bergkamp. He had the finest technique,' said Mulder. Guus Hiddink, the great Dutch manager, nodded, and so the matter was settled."
3. Patrick Vieira
(Arsenal 1996-2005, Manchester City 2010-2011)
Appearances: 452. Goals:40
Trophies: Premier League (1997-98, 2001-02, 2003-04), FA Cup (1998, 2002, 2003, 2005), FA Community Shield (1998, 1999, 2002, 2004) Manchester City: FA Cup (2011)
If Dennis Bergkamp was the artist at the head of Arsenal's great teams under the reign of Arsene Wenger then Patrick Vieira was the driving force. Signed from AC Milan's reserve side Vieira was the most dominant central midfielder that the Premier League had ever seen. He could do it all. He was a box to box midfielder, he could score goals, was a great passer of the ball, was a ferocious tackler and was a phenomenal leader. He won three Premier League titles and four FA Cups during his time with Arsenal, but after years of speculation Vieira announced that he was going to be signing for Juventus in the hope that he would be able to win an elusive Champions League title. However, despite much success in Italy with Juventus and Inter Milan he was never able to get his hands on that famous trophy. After falling out of favour with Jose Mourinho he was signed by former manager Roberto Mancini to provide some much needed steel in his evolving Manchester City side. Although he was never a first choice player during his time at the club his influence could never be overlooked and his final career appearance came as a substitute as Manchester City won the FA Cup last season. A fitting end to a monumental career. A giant of the modern game.
2. Cristiano Ronaldo
(Manchester United 2003-2009)
Appearances: 292. Goals: 188
Trophies: Premier League (2006-07, 2007-08, 2008-09), FA Cup (2004), League Cup (2006, 2009), FA Community Shield (2007), UEFA Champions League (2008), FIFA Club World Cup (2008)
Cristiano Ronaldo is arguably the best player in the world today, and it was Manchester United and Sir Alex Ferguson who set him on that path to greatness. Signed as a goofy, gangly teenager from Sporting Lisbon, there were a couple of seasons of frustration as Ronaldo slowly adapted to the demands of the English game. His main problem seemed to be knowing when to release the ball, often choosing one stepover too many rather than passing to a team mate or shooting himself. However after three seasons of English football Ronaldo's star finally exploded. Scoring 23 goals in 53 games Ronaldo helped United to their first title in four years. He capped off this season by being voted PFA Player of the Year and PFA Young Player of the Year, the first person to do that since Andy Gray in 1977. However it was the following season that was to be his crowning glory in the red shirt of Manchester United. Scoring 42 goals in 49 matches as he helped them to another Premier League title and the UEFA Champions League. At the end of this year he was voted World and European Footballer of the Year. He was strongly linked with Real Madrid during the summer of 2008 but he was persuaded to stay for one more season, helping himself to a League Cup, Premier League title and another Champions League Final appearance before completing a world record £80 million move to Real Madrid. The goals have continued to come at an astonishing rate for Real Madrid as he and Lionel Messi fight for the title of world's best footballer. Ronaldo will undoubtedly go down in history as one of the greatest players of all time.
1. Thierry Henry
Appearances: 369. Goals: 226
Trophies: FA Premier League (2001-02, 2003-04), FA Cup (2002, 2003, 2005), FA Community Shield (2002, 2004)
When writing this piece and trying to decide which players should make the top ten I had some tough decisions to make. The easist decision I made was installing Henry as the best foreign player in Premier League history. After a poor season in Italy for Juventus he was rescued by his former boss Arsene Wenger for a fee of around £11 million. Initially playing as a winger Henry initially struggled to adapt to the English game. However once he got his first goal Henry never looked back. During his spell at the club he won two league titles, three FA Cups and was part of the famous Invincibles team that went through a whole campaign without losing a game. He was also part of the team that got through to the final of the Champions League in 2006 before eventually losing to Barcelona in the final. His goalscoring record whilst at the club is quite staggering scoring 226 goals in 369 games to become the greatest goalscorer in the history of Arsenal Football Club, whilst also contributing 92 assists. He was a scorer of great goals, whether it was a a spectacular volley, a cheeky backheel or a mazy dribble. During his time in England he was a three times Football Writers Player of the Year, a two time PFA Players Player of the Year, a four time Premier League Golden boot winner and was named in the PFA Team of the Year six years in a row. His love affair with Arsenal and english football ended when he signed for Barcelona in the summer of 2007 to chase his dream of finally winning the Champions League title which he achieved during his three year spell at the Catalan giants. He is now plying his trade in the MLS at New York Red Bulls as his career winds down. It was one of the greatest travestys in the history of football that Henry was never crowned World Player of the Year because without doubt he would have been a worthy recipient of the award. The stylish footballer was undoubtedly the greatest foreign player to grace English football.