Over its 25 year history, the Premier League has played host to some of the most incredible talents in world football. It has seen outstanding teams, brilliant managers, and has produced some of the most exciting moments ever witnessed on a football field. This is why picking a Premier League best XI is so difficult, but at the same time, having to go back through years of great memories with great players is a very fun problem to have. Anyway, down to business…
Chris – Sport/Music
GK: Peter Cech – Chelsea/Arsenal
An extraordinarily consistent goalkeeper who was a stalwart of Chelsea’s first three premier league titles. With 149 clean sheets since 2004, Cech is the record holder for the most clean sheets in the Premier League era and his commanding presence and excellent defensive organising capabilities helped Chelsea keep 25 clean sheets in the 2004/2005 season. A record which still has not been broken.
Highlight season – 2004/2005
LB – Ashley Cole – Chelsea/Arsenal
When Cristiano Ronaldo has to consistently change wings against you, this near enough says it all. 3 PL titles and major part to play in arguably two of the greatest PL teams of all time (Arsenal’s Invincibles & Chelsea 09/10), Cole offered outstanding balance to his teams with steely defensive performances and excellent touchline hugging attacking support to his forwards. This was probably my easiest selection in my all-time Premier League 11.
Highlight season – 2009/2010
CB – John Terry – Chelsea
Sadly just as known for his off-field activities but John Terry really was the heart of Chelsea in the Abramovich era. His excellent aerial and leadership ability, no nonsense tackling and underrated ability on the ball, helped Chelsea build the most formidable defence in the premier league era.
Highlight season – 2004/2005
CB – Rio Ferdinand – West Ham United/Leeds United/Manchester United/QPR
Many eyebrows were raised when Sir Alex Ferguson decided to make Rio Ferdinand the most expensive defender in the world. 15 years on and possibly it was one of the greatest transfers ever. Boasting of searing pace, excellent reading ability and underrated leadership skills, Ferdinand was part of the team that had the longest consecutive run without conceding a goal (14 games). He helped re-populised the ball playing centre back role, where players such as John Stones and Virgil Van Dijk have caught eyes from. That initial 30 million pound investment was one that not only changed United but also English football.
Highlight season – 2008/2009
RB – Gary Neville – Manchester United
Possibly the least technical player on this list but potentially the most dependable player on this list. Neville’s intelligence, work rate, excellent tactical awareness and excellent communication meant that he was staple of 8 of United’s title wins, forming brilliant partnerships with Beckham, Solskjaer and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Highlight season – 1998/1999
DM – Claude Makélélé – Chelsea
So good, he had a role named after him. After being infamously casted away by Real Madrid president, Florentino Perez, Makélélé was spearheaded Chelsea to two consecutive titles with excellent positioning, tackling and tempo dictating passing ability.
Highlight season – 2004/2005
CM – Vieira – Arsenal/Man City
Captain. Legend. Leader. A colossus of a midfield player and arguably the greatest Premier League centre midfielder of all time. Providing an excellent balance between defence and attack, Vieira dominated games with the ability to ghost past players as well as excellent tackling ability. Vieira was a key component of the Arsenal side that managed to go 49 games unbeaten in the Premier League.
Highlight season – 2003/2004
CM – Yaya Toure – Manchester City
Possibly the most controversial pick in my 11 but Yaya’s quality in the premier league has near enough gone overshadowed by his birthday cake complaints. Combining the Vieira’s tenacity, Scholes’s off the ball intelligence and Lampard’s ruthlessness in front of goal, Yaya Toure was City’s most important player in their two Premier League wins.
Highlight season – 2013/2014
LW – Thierry Henry – Arsenal
Possibly the greatest. Yes, the greatest. The greatest Arsenal player ever, the greatest premier league forward ever and arguably the greatest and most exhilarating player that ever played in the Premier League. Thierry Henry dominated with the Premiership with exhilarating pace, ice-cool finishing and devastating creativity. Henry was also the ultimate match winner, producing jaw dropping moments in the big games scattered across his 8 years at Arsenal.
Henry was truly within the special breed of footballers who appear once every ten years.
Highlight season – 2002/2003
RW – Cristiano Ronaldo – Manchester United
Ronaldo may have cemented his legacy in Spain but he created the ever popular CR7 brand in Manchester. Cruelly dubbed as an ineffective show pony and amazingly shunned by Ruud Van Nistelrooy in his early years in Manchester, Ronaldo transformed over summer 2006 into a ruthless monster who dismantled defences across Europe. Ronaldo now added intelligent movement, a steely balance and an eye watering hang glide to his already amazing quick feet. This helped bring 3 consecutive titles, 2 consecutive play of the year awards and an amazing 31 goals from a fluid left wing position in the 2007/2008 season.
Despite leaving the Premier League at 24 years old, Ronaldo’s powerful performances have left him ingrained in many of Premiership fans memories.
Highlight season – 2007/2008
CF – Alan Shearer – Blackburn Rovers/Newcastle United
Despite only picking up one honour in his career, Alan Shearer had to be a part of this illustrious 11. Despite retiring in 2005, Shearer remains far away as the greatest goal scorer of the premier league era, netting 260 goals in 441 games with an incredible goals per game ratio of 1 every 1.7 games.
Shearer’s old school no.9 playing style made him a handful for defenders spanning two generations in the premier league.
Shearer’s goal record (still 60 goals ahead of Wayne Rooney) has ensured that his legacy will remain long intact.
Highlight season – 1995/1996
Manager: Sir Alex Ferguson
Subs: GK: Peter Schmeichel – CB: Sol Campbell – CB: Nemanja Vidic – CM/RM: David Beckham – CM: Frank Lampard – CM: Roy Keane – ST: Eric Cantona
Byron – Sport/Culture
So of course, when doing things like this, the first two things you’ve got to consider are (1) what approach you’re going to go for, fantasy or realistic? Do I want to make sure my team is well balanced with a clear defensive structure? Or do I want to pack as much flair on to the pitch as possible? Once this has been decided you then move on to (2) which formation will allow me to execute what I decided to do in (1)?
I decided to go for the “we’ll just out score them” approach, which is why I’ve gone for a 3-1-4-2 formation. Schmeichel goes in between the sticks; don’t think I need to offer much explanation on that one to be honest. Rio Ferdinand, John Terry and Jaap Stam form the likely-to-be-overworked back three. Patrick Vieira will act as the steel in midfield. Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard will prove that they can in fact play together in front of Paddy, with Cristiano Ronaldo and David Beckham providing width. Playing as the second striker is Thierry Henry with Sergio Aguero leading the line. Two words… Hella. Goals!
Let me break it down. In Lampard, I possess Chelsea’s all-time top goal scorer and one of the most prolific hitmen from midfield anywhere, ever. To his right we’ve got Gerrard and Beckham who are two of the most clutch players in history. The mere mention of Olympiakos will have you screaming “OOOOOH YOU BEAUTYY!” and let’s not even talk about Beckham whipping it in top bins in the last minute against Greece…
On the left we have Ronaldo, the trickiest wide man to ever grace the Premier League who then developed in to an unapologetically lethal goal-getter. Although his best goal scoring seasons came after his time in the Premier League, Ronaldo still bagged 31 goals from a wide position which was only a sprinkle of what levels he would go on to reach at the Bernabeu.
Up top we have the most iconic striker in Premier League history and Arsenal’s all-time leading marksman, Henry, alongside the man with the best goal to game ratio in Premier League history and Manchester City all-time leading marksman, Aguero. One can only imagine the amount of carnage these two would create playing together, but I do know that it would be beautiful.
Ernest – Sport/Music
GK: Peter Schmeichel – Man Utd/Aston Villa/Man City
When it came to Peter Schmeichel, Man Utd found themselves a goalkeeper that they could depend on to do exactly what he was there to do. Schmeichel often pulled off outrageous saves and quickly became one of Utd’s most valued players, frustrating some of the league’s best strikers time after time. Voted the World’s Best Goalkeeper in 1992 and 1993 and being an instrumental part in five Premier League titles for Manchester Utd (including the treble winning season), there no doubt that he deserves his place in an all-time XI Premier League side.
LB: Ashley Cole – Arsenal/Chelsea
I’d be considerably surprised if there was any Premier League XI that did not include the wondrous Ashley Cole. He was a left back that hardly any winger got the better of over his career at both Arsenal and Chelsea, this including the great Cristiano Ronaldo. Not only was he a fantastic defender he also provided attacking support when needed. It can also never be forgotten how many goal line clearances he has to his name, this showing his brilliant anticipation and ability to be in the right place at the right time. Key part in the 3 league titles to his name. How anyone thought Arsenal got the better of the Cole/Gallas deal is beyond me.
CB: Sol Campbell – Spurs/Arsenal/Portsmouth
Showing he had serious balls by leaving Spurs for their local, bitter rivals were a sign of things to come from Sulzeer. With Arsenal in need of a new, younger centre back, Sol Campbell joined the club ready to do nothing but win. His leadership qualities and no nonsense defending proved to be key in the two league titles that he won with Arsenal including the “Invincibles” season. He even came back in the 09/10 and provided some much needed stability in the Arsenal defence. [Disclaimer: John Terry will never make my Premier League XI]
CB: Rio Ferdinand – West Ham/Leeds /Man Utd
When Man Utd broke the world record transfer fee for a defender, it was either going to a great decision or a bad one. Undoubtedly, it turned out be a fantastic one. Rio not only defended his goal with great tackling and unparalleled anticipation but he was part of a handful of centre backs that was very good with his feet and could pass it out from the back. Very rarely could he get beaten for pace, Rio along with Vidic formed possibly the greatest CB partnership to grace the Premier League. As a centre back there’s not much Rio Ferdinand couldn’t do, and with his six Premier League titles, there’s no question that he one of the greatest to play in the Premier League.
RB: Gary Neville – Man Utd
G. Nev was the most consistent right back through his time in the Premier League, a player who could be depended on wholeheartedly. With defending that rarely saw him have a bad day in the office he was a part of 8 title winning sides and was ever-present. His attacking ability was also underrated. He often provided the overlap option and whipped in a good cross. You could bet you’re your bottom dollar he’d be right back in his position after bombing forward. Respect to G. Nev as well for realising when his time was up against West Brom and openly talking about it in punditry, lol.
CM: Frank Lampard – West Ham/Chelsea/Man City
Frank Lampard goals tally speaks for itself, 177 Premier League goals from midfield is completely absurd. Not blessed with the most natural talent, Frank worked on his game from his days at West Ham to turn him into one of the greatest centre midfielders to hit the Premier League. What frustrates me is that he also doesn’t get enough credit for what else he provided especially at Chelsea. Although he scored 177 goals, he also racked up 102 assists (3rd of all time) so this showed that he a lot more to offer than just goals. A massive part of all of the titles he won with Chelsea, Frank’s prowess can’t ever be questioned.
CM: Patrick Vieira – Arsenal/Man City
Arsenal had many great players over their 3 Premier League titles but not many were as important as this man here (if any). On and off the pitch, Patrick Vieira was a fantastic leader which was a massive part to why Arsenal were so successful. Vieira controlled many games from central midfield and had to the ability to win the ball and build up play to turn it in to goals for Arsenal. A telling sign of how good Patrick Vieira was, is the amount of times new, young players are being hailed as the “new Vieira” – none of which have turned out to be so. What Arsenal would have won without Patrick Vieira would have been interesting to see.
LM: Cristiano Ronaldo – Man Utd
When Cristiano Ronaldo first landed in England, taking the David Beckham’s famous No.7 shirt, the question on everyone’s lips was “who is he?” With Ronaldo not having the best goal record for Utd in his first three seasons, the Portuguese transformed himself into a formidable player on his return from the World Cup in 2006, something G. Nev talks about on a number of occasions. He was a player that that became incredibly effective and in the 2007/2008 season especially, he took the league by storm. Scoring 31 goals in 34 games, he quickly solidified himself as one of the Premier League’s best. Devastating performances and unbelievable goals is what makes him a favourite today even before he took it to another level in Spain.
RM: David Beckham – Man Utd
With all the fame that came with David Beckham including things such as his marriage to Posh Spice, it is sometimes forgotten the talent that D. Beck possessed. On a number of occasions, he dug Man Utd out of a hole with his delivery or dead ball conversion ability. Becks often flipped a game on its head, standing out from the rest in very good Manchester Utd teams. Although some preferred Giggs to Becks because of his flair and pace on the wing, DB7 was the better performer and most certainly deserves his place in the all-time XI.
CF: Thierry Henry – Arsenal
Well in all honesty, I could sit here all day and write about Thierry Daniel Henry. The greatest player to play in the Premier League. I don’t think I need to say too much but Thierry Henry terrified defenders week in, week out for Arsenal. His lethal finishing in the box combined with his ability to score worldies made him Arsenal’s most loved player in history. The Frenchman provided the Premier League with truly remarkable moments and was awarded with multiple Golden Boots and multiple Player of the Year awards to show for it. A true Premier League legend.
CF: Alan Shearer – Blackburn/Newcastle Utd
I almost didn’t put Alan Shearer in my team but then I done a bit of research in to his time in the Premier League and realised that would be such a bad decision. Of course he is the all-time leading Premier League goal scorers but what frightening is the ratio in which he scored the 260 goals. Scoring 260 goals in 441 appearances is quite something and has to be respected immediately. What I did used to love about Shearer was that he was a striker that didn’t just scored tap-ins but could score from all over the pitch. It’s a shame that he only has one Premier League title to his name which is why but he may not be given the respect he deserves but his place in a Premier League XI can’t be questioned.
Brett – Sport/TV & Film
Van der Sar
Originally, I put Schmeichel in goal for this team almost reflexively. I’ve always just accepted it as fact that he was the best keeper in Premier League history but I’d never really seen enough of him to judge. So I opted for his ultimate successor; Edwin Van der Sar, who brought an air of stability to Man Utd after Schmeichel’s departure and subsequent inadequate replacements. While VDS was exemplary at Fulham, his best work came at Man Utd despite signing at 35 years old. He was a key fixture in the most impregnable defence in Premier League history, won 4 titles at Man U and was named Man of the Match in Man U’s 2008 Champions League final. Not bad for a £2m signing.
Gary Neville isn’t a particularly sexy name; he wasn’t a buccaneering full back who flew up and down the pitch, but he had a solid 15 years of top-level consistency which is remarkable. He dovetailed seamlessly with every winger he played behind and had an innate understanding of his own game that meant despite not standing out in terms of pace or technique, he was an absolute nightmare for left wingers to face. Robert Pires ranked Neville as his toughest opponent without a moments’ hesitation, which shows his calibre. His leadership deserves a mention as he captained Man United back to glory after their first truly difficult spell in the Premier League; the rocky mid-2000s period that contained Roy Keane’s departure and a 3 season title drought. Deserves extra credit for recognising when he was finished at the top level and calling it a day, rather than sullying his legacy with a series of poor displays.
Rio Ferdinand broke the world transfer record for a defender twice in his career and still consistently looked like a bargain, which is the greatest testament to his ability. Rooney, Owen and Gerrard are often the subjects of these arguments, but I would be inclined to suggest that Rio is the most talented English player in my lifetime. Nemanja Vidic won multiple plaudits for his very visible, all-action style of defence but the artistry in Ferdinand’s game was that his anticipation meant that tussling with forwards was often unnecessary. Whereas most quick centre backs use their pace for recovery after making an error, Rio used it to make sure he was in the right place at the right time. Ferdinand could still mix it physically with any forward and his aerial ability and skill on the ball made him a complete player, not just a complete defender. Although Sol Campbell, John Terry and Ledley King were excellent options, England fans must wonder about what might’ve been if Ferdinand wasn’t banned during that exciting Euro 2004 run.
Big JT’s character might be questionable but his ability certainly isn’t. He is the most successful captain in Premier League history, being the only skipper to hoist the trophy on 5 occasions. In the turbulent Abramovich era, Terry has played under innumerable managers, with innumerable teammates in innumerable formations and has largely been excellent despite all the change. He has also been written off as past-it on several occasions and has always recovered to prove naysayers wrong. I have a theory that John Terry was essentially finished under AVB but managed his own game and the defensive shape of his team superbly to extend his career for another 5 or so years. Terry’s reputation as a blood-and-guts defender was well renowned but a critically underrated part of his game was his ability on the ball; it was not uncommon to see him pinging 60 yard passes to his teammates on his weaker left foot. Ask any world class centre forward of the last decade who their toughest opponents were and Terry would probably be near the top of the list for the overwhelming majority of them, however I do feel contractually obliged to caveat all this by reminding everyone he called Anton Ferdinand a “black c*nt”.
Depending on your perspective, Ashley Cole for £5m + William Gallas is either the best or the worst transfer of all time. England’s “Golden Generation” was oft overhyped but it wasn’t outlandish to say that for a long time, England had the best left back in the world. Equally excellent for Arsenal and Chelsea, Cole might be the only defender in history who can claim to have dominated Cristiano Ronaldo on multiple occasions. Retrospectively, I think all of us would nearly swerve off the road too when we consider that Arsenal offered Cole £55k a week in his prime.
Bizarrely, Becks might be able to stake a claim as one of the most underrated players in Premier League history. His celebrity status means that people have forgotten what a gifted footballer he was, and at the turn of the millennium if you asked anyone to name their top 5 footballers in the world, Beckham would’ve been a frequent suggestion. In times of need, Man U could always look to Beckham to produce something special from open player or a dead ball situation and he was often the standout player in some ludicrouy talented teams. People hype up his lack of pace, but if you were a left-back, would you rather face a player who had to beat you before he could pose a danger, or one who could take you completely out of the game with one swing of his right boot 50 yards away from your goal?
Time has not been kind to Roy Keane. His acrimonious departure from Man U followed by a mixed coaching career have often seen him painted as some limited clogger. Keane’s strongest attribute was certainly his will to win and the standards he set, but he was an equally wonderful footballer. He was Man U’s best player in their best ever season and he completed dominated Premier League midfields for the best part of a decade. When Roy Keane had a good game, Man Utd would usually win it. When he had a good season, Man U would usually win the league.
Like Keane, Vieira’s reputation has suffered as memory of his spell in the Premier League fades and his reputation as some sort of defensive midfield enforcer is completely out of sync with the reality of his game. What many people forget or are unaware of is that when Vieira signed for Arsenal, the club were playing turgid football and lacked creativity. Dennis Bergkamp had essentially dropped into centre mid in order to provide some spark and Vieira was signed for a particular purpose; to provide service to Ian Wright and to allow Bergkamp to go back up front. Indeed, in Wenger’s first ever game as Arsenal manager, Vieira turned defence to attack with 3 outside of the boot passes, including a phenomenal assist for Wright. This was a recurrent theme in his time in England with 6 consecutive appearances in the PFA Team of the Year between 1998 and 2004. What really made Vieira remarkable was his ability to make the seasoned pros he played against look like small boys and his ability to excel in both attack and defence, as well as his leadership, were the cornerstone of Arsenal’s three Premier League titles.
Since he departed for Madrid, Ronaldo has undoubtedly I mproved dramatically as a player. He left Manchester the best player in the world and 8 years later is now regarded as one of the best of all time. However, despite being better, I would argue that Man U Ronaldo was definitely more entertaining than his mechanical present day iteration. His development from tricky winger into unstoppable tour de force was rapid and surprising in equal measure, and 2007-08 remains perhaps the best individual season that any player has had in the Premier League. Ronaldo’s mentality deserves praise too; it would have been easy to let his persona non grata status destroy him after his altercation with Wayne Rooney at the 2006 World Cup, but instead he focused singularly on his desire to be the best, with unbelievable results.
With Alan Shearer, the headline figure of 260 goals is always what sticks out. However, without proper context it is difficult to truly grasp the enormity of that figure. Shearer scored his 260 goals in 441 games; his nearest challenger, Wayne Rooney, has amassed 200 goals in 463 games. If Alan Shearer at Blackburn and Newcastle were two completely separate individuals, Blackburn Shearer would still be in the top 20 all time goalscorers, and Shearer Newcastle would still be top 10. But what Shearer truly deserves the most credit for is how he reinvented his game after a number of serious injuries. Despite numerous setbacks, he always found a way to modify his style which allowed him to score a ridiculous amount of goals in a ridiculous amount of ways.
As a young Arsenal fan, it often felt like having Thierry Henry in our side was a cheat code. The way he did whatever he felt like with complete impunity made him a magic wand, safety net and Swiss army knife for Arsenal all rolled into one. No opponent was insurmountable nor any situation in a match irrecoverable if Henry was on the field and this confidence was palpable to the other 21 players on the pitch, augmenting the confidence of his Arsenal teammates while sapping the opposition’s. Henry had the entire league spellbound for 7 consecutive seasons which is a tally unmatched by any other player and it is unlikely that we’ll ever see anyone play to such a high level for such a consistent period.