The English Premier League kicks off its 30th season this weekend. In honor of the occasion, The Athletic has come up with a list of the 60 greatest players of the Premier League era. Here is the list, along with the team[s] for which each player starred during his prime years:
1. Thierry Henry (Arsenal)
2. Alan Shearer (Blackburn and Newcastle)
3. Eric Cantona (Manchester United)
4. Ryan Giggs (Manchester United)
5. Cristiano Ronaldo (Manchester United)
6. Frank Lampard (Chelsea)
7. Roy Keane (Manchester United)
8. Steve Gerard (Liverpool)
9. Wayne Rooney (Manchester United)
10. Sergio Aguero (Manchester City)
11. Rio Ferdinand (Manchester United)
12. David Silva (Manchester City)
13. Patrick Vieira (Arsenal)
14. John Terry (Chelsea)
15. Denis Bergkamp (Arsenal)
16. Eden Hazard (Chelsea)
17. Peter Schmeichel (Manchester United)
18. David Beckham (Manchester United)
19. Paul Scholes (Manchester United)
20. Ashley Cole (Arsenal and Chelsea)
21. Vincent Kompany (Manchester City)
22. Andy Cole (Manchester United and Newcastle)
23. Tony Adams (Arsenal)
24. Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City)
25. Mohamed Salah (Liverpool)
26. Gareth Bale (Tottenham)
27. Didier Drogba (Chelsea)
28. Ian Wright (Arsenal)
29. Peter Cech (Chelsea and Arsenal)
30. Gianfranco Zola (Chelsea)
31. Yaya Toure (Manchester City)
32. Cesc Fabregas (Arsenal and Chelsea)
33. Harry Kane (Tottenham)
34. Luis Suarez (Liverpool)
35. Ngolo Kante (Leicester and Chelsea)
36. Michael Owen (Liverpool)
37. Sadio Mané (Liverpool)
38. Rahim Sterling (Liverpool and Manchester City)
39. Virgil van Dijk (Southampton and Liverpool)
40. Gary Speed (Leeds, Everton, Newcastle and Bolton)
41. Jamie Vardy (Leicester)
42. Robbie Fowler (Liverpool)
43. David Ginola (Tottenham)
44. James Milner (Newcastle, Aston Villa, Manchester City, and Liverpool)
45. Matt Le Tissier (Southampton)
46. Claude Makélélé (Chelsea)
47. Edwin van der Sar (Fulham and Manchester United)
48. Robert Pires (Arsenal)
49. Robin van Persie (Arsenal and Manchester United)
50. Ruud van Nistelrooy (Manchester United)
5l. Luka Modric (Tottenham)
52. Sol Campbell (Tottenham and Arsenal)
53. Teddy Sheringham (Tottenham and Manchester United)
54. Paolo Di Canio (West Ham)
55. Gary Neville (Manchester United)
56. Jürgen Klinsmann (Tottenham)
57. David de Gea (Manchester United)
58. Carlos Tevez (Manchester United and Manchester City)
59. Jamie Carragher (Liverpool)
60. Les Ferdinand (Queens Park Rangers, Newcastle, and Tottenham)
A few observations. First, slightly more than half of these players (32 of them, by my count) are from outside of Britain and Ireland. The influx of foreign stars is the hallmark of the Premier League era.
Second, Leighton Baines, Everton’s great left back, should be on the list. He holds the EPL record for most assists by a defender. He was the EPL’s best left back for multiple seasons. He was good enough to play 30 times for England.
The exclusion of Baines reflects two biases — bias against players from non-top teams and bias against fullbacks. Only two fullbacks made the top 60 — Ashley Cole (a left back) and Gary Neville (a right back).
Third, the late Gary Speed is the only player on the list who played for Everton during his prime. And Speed left the team in the middle of a relegation battle due to the team’s lack of “professionalism” (mainly alcoholism, I think). Wayne Rooney played for us before and after his prime. David Ginola was with us briefly near the end of his career.
Speed was a fine player, but I’m not sure he belongs in the top 60. The Athletic cited his professionalism and longevity. The Welsh midfielder played 23 seasons and appeared in 667 top flight matches (some of this was pre-EPL).
However, I rate Gareth Barry, another super-professional midfielder who played for Everton plus three other EPL teams, more highly. Barry broke Ryan Giggs’ record for EPL appearances in 2017. He played 53 times for England (though some England fans wish he had played fewer).
Fourth, I like the list overall. It’s a great reminder of the talent we fans have had the privilege of enjoying.
Fifth, for what it’s worth, my top five would be (1) Shearer, (2) Giggs, (3) Henry, (4) Lanpard, (5) Keane. John Terry should possibly be in the top 10 and, in any event, should rank above Rio Ferdinand, I think. Ferdinand was a more modern-style center back, but Terry was a more effective player, in my view.
Articles about each of the top 60 are available at The Athletic, but only to subscribers.