Since its creation in 1992, the Premier League has gone from strength to strength. It has become the more exciting and competitive league in the world. The Premier League broadcasts its matches in 212 territories to 643 million homes and has an estimated TV audience of 4.7 billion people. Many of the greatest and most skilful players of all time have shown Premiership fans the true meaning of the beautiful game. Since its inception there have been five winners of the Premier League. However one team has dominated more than any other and that club is Manchester United, winning 13 of the 21 leagues titles. It is only fair then that the majority of the greatest eleven are Manchester United players.
I have settled for a 4-4-3 formation with seven substitutions. With so many great players comes the difficult task of choosing the best of the best. I have tried my best to pick the most balanced side from the selection. Let’s begin then.
Peter Schmeichel (Manchester United and Denmark)
This was probably the easiest selection in the team. I don’t know any goalkeeper in history of the Premier League that has had the same influence than Schmeichel. In 1991, after watching his talent on the international scene, Alex Ferguson decided to buy Schmeichel for £505,000. Ferguson later remarked in 2000 that the signing of Schmeichel was the “bargain of the century” and few could argue with that. Every great team needs a world class goalkeeper. Arsenal had Seaman, Chelsea had Cech and United had Schmeichel. He was voted in both 1992 and 1993 as the world’s best goalkeeper by IFFHS. In his first season at Manchester United he kept 22 clean sheets and this continued for the rest of his United career with Schmeichel keeping a clean sheet in 42% of his games. At the end of his United career he won 5 league titles, 3 FA Cups and 1 Champions League, not to mention playing a huge part in the historic treble winning season of 1999. Manchester United fans will never forget his penalty save against Denis Bergkamp in the 1999 FA Cup semi-final which kept the treble dream alive. He was simply a world class goalkeeper. His reflexes were legendary and his acrobatic saves over the years were a joy to behold.
Appearances: 292 Goals: 0
Gary Neville (Manchester United and England)
The right back selection came down to two bitter rivalries: Gary Neville and Lee Dixon. Both stood out for the consistency down the years for Manchester United and Arsenal respectively. But when it came down to the selection I choose Neville because he won more with United during his career and more importantly when both were fighting for the England right back spot Neville won the battle of number one choice. Neville’s level of commitment, performance, longevity and passion for his club was head and shoulders above his fellow professionals. He is also associated with *Fergie’s Fledglings who won the FA Youth Cup. This team was captained by Neville. Some of the members from that youth team were the corner stone in United’s treble winning team.
Appearances: 400 Goals: 5
(*Fergie’s Fledglings were named in homage to the Busby Babe’s)
John Terry (Chelsea and England)
Despite having controversies on and off the field, John Terry has simply been the best defender for the last decade in the Premier League. He became the only academy based player in the starting XI after the influx of world class talent coming from the back of Roman Abramovich riches. After the arrival of Jose Mourinho in 2004, Terry was appointed club captain and became their most influential and best defender. His defensive and leadership qualities led Chelsea to their first league title for fifty years. His organisation of Chelsea’s defence has been one of the major reasons why Chelsea are consistently fighting for the top honours. Terry was named UEFA Club Defender of the Year in 2005, 2008 and 2009, PFA Players’ Player of the Year in 2005, and was included in the FIFPro World XI for five consecutive seasons, from 2005 to 2009.
Appearances: 388 Goals: 32
Tony Adams (Arsenal and England)
While John Terry was the best defender for the second decade of the Premier League, Tony Adams was the best defender for the first decade. Nicknamed “Mr Arsenal”, he embodied everything that is great about a one club man. Adams was part of the “famous four” (Dixon. Winterburn and Bould were the others) which was renowned for its well-disciplined use of the offside trap. Even though he was renowned as a hard tackling centre back with great organisational skills, the biggest development in his game came after the arrival of Arsene Wenger. Nothing represents his development more than his breath taking goal against Everton in 1998. From Steve Bould’s pass to Adams’ finish, it was simply sensational play from the two centre backs. That goal was even more important as it sealed the title for Arsenal for the first time in seven years. In his entire Arsenal career, Adams won five League Titles, three FA Cups, two Football League Cups and one European Cup Winners Cup. He was also included in the PFA Team of the Year, three times.
Appearances: 504 Goals: 32
Ashley Cole (Arsenal & Chelsea and England)
Ashley Cole has been one of the most consistent players in Premier League and has improved steadily every year into a more accomplished left back. Cole is considered by many pundits and fellow professional players as one of the best defenders of his generation and some have suggested that he is the best left back in the world. The England National team has had many problems down the years but Cole always stood out as an outstanding performer. He signed his professional contract with Arsenal in 2000 and soon established himself as a first team regular in the space of a year. He was part of the “Invisibles” who swept aside every team in the league during the 2003-04 season. In his last season with Arsenal he was part of the team who played the 2006 Champions League Final against Barcelona which Arsenal subsequently lost. His move to Chelsea was rumoured in 2005 and ended with Chelsea getting fined £300,000 for reportedly ‘tapping up’ Cole. He eventually got his move to Chelsea and has been just as successful. Arsene Wenger said Cole “is a defender, who simply loves to attack. (He) defends, because he has to defend and because it is part of his job. Everybody loves to play with (him) because as soon as you won the ball back, he was up there to attack.” Simply put, Cole has been the one of the best left backs in Football League history.
Appearances: 369 Goals: 15
Roy Keane (Manchester United and Ireland)
Roy Keane has gone down in Manchester United folklore as one of the clubs most effective and influential players. His leadership qualities were legendary and his commitment and drive to win was extraordinary. Keane was the engine of Ferguson’s United team and he did the hard gritty work for his more skillful team-mates. Without Keane there is no way United would have achieved the level of success they did. He was the catalyst for United’s success. In tight games Keane was the player his team-mates always looked towards for inspiration and he delivered for them and drove them to victory. The importance of Keane to United is shown clearly during the 1997-98 season. When Keane injured his cruciate ligament against Leeds, he was out for the remainder of the season. Many pundits cited Keane’s absence as a crucial factor in the team’s surrender of the league trophy. And then after that disappointment, the following season Keane put on one of the greatest performance by a footballer. After receiving a yellow card against Juventus which ruled him out of the Champions League Fianl, Keane didn’t dwell on his own disappointment and inspired his team-mates to victory. His header to get United back on track was simply magnificent. After the match, Alex Ferguson said, “It was the most emphatic display of selflessness I have seen on a football field. Pounding over every blade of grass, competing if he would rather die of exhaustion than lose, he inspired all around him. I felt it was an honour to be associated with such a player.” His performance was so good that he was applauded off the pitch by the Juventus supporters.
Appearances: 326 Goals: 33
Paul Scholes (Manchester United and England)
Paul Scholes has been described by fellow professionals and pundits as one of the best midfielders of his generation and absolutely no one could argue with that. Maybe some fans didn’t appreciate Scholes when he was playing because of his low key personality off the pitch. Who knows but his performances on the pitch were simply world class and a joy to watch. The following are quotes about Paul Scholes from fellow professionals. Sócrates of Brazil said, “(Paul Scholes) good enough to play for Brazil. I love to watch Scholes, to see him pass, the boy with the red hair and the red shirt.” Thierry Henry said, “Without any doubt the best player in the Premiership has to be Scholes … He knows how to do everything.” France legend Zinedine Zidane hailed Paul Scholes as “the complete footballer”, and admitted that “One of my regrets is that the opportunity to play alongside him never presented itself during my career.” In February 2011, Barcelona midfielder Xavi rated Scholes as the best player in his position in the past two decades, stating “A role model. For me, and I really mean this, he’s the best central midfielder I’ve seen in the last 15, 20 years. He’s spectacular, he has it all, the last pass, goals, he’s strong; he doesn’t lose the ball, vision. If he’d been Spanish he might have been rated more highly. Players love him.” Simply put and this isn’t an exaggeration, Paul Scholes will go down in football history as one of the best ever.
Appearances: 499 Goals: 107
Steven Gerrard (Liverpool and England)
Definitely the hardest pick on the team. The choice between Lampard and Gerrard is so hard to choose from as both share some of the same characteristics. There are very alike in the way they play. Both were attack minded, scoring midfielders in their prime but now both are deep lying midfielders. It was difficult, however in the end I went for Gerrard. The reason I picked Gerrard was due to the fact that Gerrard has played with some bad players but has still kept his world class performances high while Lampard has consistently played with better players (and managers) so we will never know what he would have been like if he was playing with bad players. Gerrard has been described as one of the greatest English midfielders in history, “a real leader, Gerrard is a tireless runner and has superb vision. His striking from distance is feared around the world and he is a prolific scorer for a midfielder.” Like Keane for United, Gerrard was always someone who his team-mates looked towards for moments of inspiration. Some of the moments produced by Gerrard will always be remembered by Liverpool fans but for fans in general the 2005 campaign of achieving Champions League success will go down as one of the great footballing moments. One mark against Gerrard is his failure (as of yet) to win a Premier League title.
Appearances: 442 Goals: 98
Cristiano Ronaldo (Manchester United and Portugal)
From his signing in 2003 to his departure in 2009, Cristiano Ronaldo left a legacy in the Premier League that will never be forgotten. His skills, technique and shot power developed so quickly during his successful period at United. Ronaldo went from being an over exuberant right winger to becoming the most feared goal scorer in the Premier League. The 2006–07 season proved to be the breakout year for Ronaldo, as he broke the 20 goal barrier for the first time and picked up his first league title with Manchester United. That season really propelled Ronaldo to the top of the English game as he became the second player (the first being Andy Gray in 1977) to win both the PFA Player’s Player of the Year and PFA Young Player of the Year. While he started as a wide right winger he soon changed his game and was then switched to the left wing where he could use his right foot for devastating effect. Ronaldo expressed his gratitude towards Ferguson for helping him develop as a player, saying, “He’s been my father in sport, one of the most important factors and most influential in my career.” During the 2008 season he won his first and only Ballon d’Or after helping United complete the double of the Premiership and Champions League. His free kick against Portsmouth will go down as one of the greatest free kicks in history. It was simply out of this world. His technique has now become the norm and many fellow professionals try and copy his style of free kick taking. His transfer to Real Madrid fetched £80million for Manchester United who at a time had huge debts. This transfer helped ease the burden of debt that Manchester Unites had accumulated after the Glazer’s takeover of the club in 2005. He has been one of the greats of the Premier League and simply a joy to watch.
Appearances: 196 Goals: 146
Ryan Giggs (Manchester United and Wales)
Ryan Giggs is the only player on the list to play every single season of the Premier League and this alone is testament to his greatness. He is the most decorated player in the history of English football. At the start and for the majority of his career he has played as a left winger, he now however has moved into the centre of midfield. Sir Alex Ferguson said why he changed Giggs’ position in an interview, “(Giggs) is a very valuable player, he will be 35 this November but at 35, he can be United’s key player. At 25, Ryan would shatter defenders with his run down the flank, but at 35, he will play deeper.” Giggs is the longest serving player for Manchester United and 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. He broke this record during the Champions League Final in 2008. At the end of the 1993-94 season he became the first player in history to win two consecutive PFA Young Player of the Year awards. Down the years, Ryan Giggs has been known for scoring great goals. His greatest and most important was his solo-goal against Arsenal in the replay of the 1999 FA Cup semi-final which kept United’s treble dream alive. During extra time, Giggs picked up possession after Patrick Vieira gave the ball away, then ran from the half-way line, dribbled past the whole Arsenal back line, including Tony Adams, Lee Dixon and Martin Keown before launching his left-footed strike just under David Seaman’s bar and beyond his reach. During his long career he has won 13 Premiership titles and by the end of his career he could add one or two more.
Appearances: 661 Goals: 114
Thierry Henry (Arsenal and France)
While Alan Shearer was maybe a better goal scorer, Didier Drogba could bully defenders more with his physical strength and Ruud van Nistelrooy was maybe a better player in the 6 yard box, Henry was just in a different class. His goal scoring records were incredible and what makes that record even more extraordinary was the variety of goals he scored down the years. From his brilliant solo run to score against Liverpool to his majestic back heel against Charlton, he has scored some truly special goal. The best of the lot has to be his perfect strike against Manchester United. It was sheer brilliance by Henry and the shot left Fabian Barthez completely flat footed on his goal line. One of the reasons for Henry’s impressive play up front is his ability to calmly score from one-on-ones. This, combined with his exceptional pace, meant that he could get in behind defenders regularly enough to score. Arsenal never had any problems winning silverware with Henry. His skills and technique were sublime. He was the heartbeat of the Arsenal side that remained unbeaten throughout the 2003-04 season. Thierry Henry was inducted into the English Football Hall of fame in 2008 and he will be remembered as one of the true legends of the Premier League.
Appearances: 254 Goals: 174
(Appearances and goals as of 26 August 2013)
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