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21.03.2019 Football News

Premier League: Who Has Been The Best Overseas Player In The English Top Flight?

Premier League: Who Has Been The Best Overseas Player In The English Top Flight?
LISTEN MAR 21, 2019

There were just 13 foreign players in the Premier League when it began in 1992 – now there are over 300.

But of the 2,016 non-British and Irish players to grace the top flight since then, which import can be classed as the best?

The Premier League’s all-time top goalscorer Alan Shearer, former Chelsea and Newcastle manager Ruud Gullit, title winner Chris Sutton and New York Times football writer Rory Smith discussed the options for a Premier League Show Special (BBC Two and BBC iPlayer at 19:00 GMT on Thursday).

A shortlist was provided to the panel featuring overseas players who had made it into a PFA Team of the Year. The panel then selected what it considers the standout candidates in each area of the pitch – three goalkeepers, three defenders, three midfielders and four forwards.

From this list you can vote for your favourite at the bottom of the page.

The results will be revealed on this page and on Football Focus at 12:15 GMT on BBC One on Saturday.

Goalkeepers David de Gea (Man Utd) Sutton: He was under a lot of scrutiny in his first season, as is natural for goalkeepers who sign for Manchester United. He showed he had the temperament to cope and grew in stature. Commanding, unflustered and a great shot stopper, he makes so many saves with his feet. An outstanding all-round decision maker and goalkeeper.

Smith: The fact that he’s won less than Peter Schmeichel during his Manchester United career – and hasn’t been quite as domineering a figure in football’s consciousness as his predecessor – means he has to rank below him, and behind Petr Cech, but if he remains in England for the peak years of his career, as it now appears he will, that may have to be reassessed.

Petr Cech (Chelsea, Arsenal) Smith: Cech was the underrated player of that Chelsea team from the mid-2000s that set a lot of records. He went on to Arsenal and had a decent career so his longevity is extraordinary. He has won four titles, has more clean sheets than any other goalkeeper and more clean sheets in a single season.

Sutton: Cech has the numbers and was very calm and dependable. He was a different type of goalkeeper to the others.

Peter Schmeichel (Man Utd, Aston Villa, Man City)

Sutton: Schmeichel was head and shoulders above the rest. He was rather unorthodox, more of a handball goalkeeper when he first came over. It was very unusual but he had a very imposing presence. At the start of the era, what that Manchester United team achieved was down to his influence.

Gullit: Schmeichel was a complete package, his presence was there all the time and he was very good with his feet too – that is very important now. You probably felt safe with Schmeichel behind you and the players would have thought, “As long as he is there, we have a chance to win”. He would make saves that were vital.

Shearer: I played against him numerous times. He was hard, great at crosses and a winner. He bullied and organised his defenders and, having talked to Steve Bruce and Gary Pallister who played in front of him, they said he was pretty horrible in a good way. They had huge respect for him and you knew you were going into battle when you came up against Peter. He certainly was not afraid. He brought the starfish technique where he made himself huge and you had to be accurate to get the ball past him. The memory I take from playing against him is how big he made himself against you.

You knew you were going into battle against Schmeichel – Shearer

Honourable mention Edwin van der Sar Shearer: He has more appearances, more clean sheets and a better clean sheet percentage record than Schmeichel, plus four titles, yet he has hardly got a mention.

Defenders Nemanja Vidic (Man Utd) Sutton: Vidic ended my career – I played my last ever game against him.

He was part of one of the greatest centre-back partnerships the Premier League has ever seen with Rio Ferdinand. Beauty was Rio and the beast was Vidic. An old school rough and ready defender, he was tough and uncompromising but he was more than that. A superb reader of the game and leader. When the going got tough he was the one you would want standing next to you in the heat of the battle.

Gullit: If you look at how many titles Vidic won – five – that stands out. He was very reliable at the back and at the front.

Smith: Vidic’s career was incredible and the sheer number of titles he won gives him a compelling case. Defenders are always overlooked, but there’s a case to be made that, pound for pound, Vidic is up there with the best signings of the Premier League era. Imperious and impervious at his best, as rounded a defender as you could find, enormously successful and impressively long-lasting. Probably counts as £12.5m well spent, all told.

Shearer: Vidic was a warrior and a very good one.

Jaap Stam (Man Utd) Smith: Stam was arguably the first world-class player to arrive in the Premier League at his peak. He was the best defender in the world when he came to England and was extraordinary for Manchester United in a very brief period. He didn’t like the Neville brothers, upset Sir Alex Ferguson and left. Fergie puts selling Stam to Lazio down as one of his biggest regrets. That is an incredible admission. You wonder what would have happened if he did not make that mistake and if Stam had stayed.

Selling Stam ‘one of Fergie’s greatest regrets’

Sutton: Who would I least like to play against? Jaap Stam. He was an all-rounder who had everything. He was strong, quick, he could head the ball and he could play football too.

Shearer: He was very tough and you knew exactly what you were going up against. He could do everything. If you wanted a scrap and a fight, he would not mind that but if you wanted to play football, he was also good at that.

Vincent Kompany (Man City) Shearer: He played in midfield when he first arrived and has been a fantastic player for Manchester City. He won three titles and has made 260 appearances but it would have been so many more but for his injury struggles.

Sutton: What a fantastic leader. I played against him when he was at Anderlecht at the age of 17 and he marked me out of the game. He was mature at that age and read the game superbly well.

Smith: When you take away the raw achievements on the field, Kompany arrived before the money kicked in and he has been there throughout City becoming a force in the Premier League. To have experienced all of that, to have survived all those managers and styles, that is testament to his abilities.

Honourable mentions Sami Hyypia Shearer: When you put Sami up alongside the likes of Vidic and Vincent Kompany, not winning the title does not help him. He was very honest and would not kick you as much as the others did. He was a nice centre-half if you could get such a thing. Stam and Vidic were horrible to play against.

Ricardo Carvalho Smith: He was just as important to Chelsea in that first Jose Mourinho season as John Terry. He was the perfect partner.

Midfielders Patrick Vieira (Arsenal, Man City) Gullit: His presence in midfield… Because of him Arsenal had the foundation which was difficult to get through. There was Martin Keown and Tony Adams behind you and that is why the rest of the players played. He had vision and was tough tackling.

Sutton: Vieira had huge influence over Arsenal, he could do more things than others. Vieira was box to box. He was the only player able to break my nose as well.

Shearer: Vieira epitomised what that Arsenal team were all about. The hunger and desire, the ability to mix it with the best. He was someone who was horrible to play against. He had huge respect from everyone in the game. If you were not prepared to run and fight and scrap to win football matches and the title, you might as well have given up.

David Silva (Man City) Smith: Silva has won three Premier League titles but he has proven something wrong. When he first arrived, people looked at him and thought, he is not very tall, not very strong and he will be crowded out by Premier League midfields. For a long time, most players were built in the Vieira model – tall, rangy, powerful and tough. Silva is none of those things and has thrived for nearly a decade. He has shown incredible endurance and perseverance, his class has never dropped throughout and is catching up to Cesc Fabregas as the player with most assists.

Cristiano Ronaldo (Man Utd) Smith: It is hard not to be seduced by what Ronaldo became. His is the best player the Premier League produced and went on to become one of the two best players of his generation. The Ronaldo we saw winning four Champions League titles in five season at Real Madrid is not the same Ronaldo we saw in the Premier League.

Shearer: His name has to be considered, there is no doubt about it – what an amazing player. He was superb at Manchester United and then went on to achieve more at Real Madrid.

Sutton: When he first started, he wanted the ball for himself and was very talented. He developed his game but there are stronger candidates in the Premier League era.

Honourable mentions N’Golo Kante Shearer: There is no way Leicester or Chelsea would have won the titles without Kante in the team. When you are talking about importance to a team, you have to give him a mention. I don’t think I have ever seen a midfielder with the energy of Kante to get around the pitch.

David Ginola Shearer: Ginola was sometimes a frustrating talent because he did not always show his ability but when you gave him the ball with his back to the defender, I have never seen a player able to go either way with his natural ability.

Ginola was a ‘frustrating’ talent – Shearer

Yaya Toure Smith: Toure had a bit of Vieira and a bit of Silva in him. He was one of the pillars that the past 10 years of Manchester City has been built on. He was a superstar signing from Barcelona and scored the winning goal in an FA Cup final. He was incredibly important and his legacy is overlooked.

Claude Makelele Smith: Makelele is the only player to leave the Premier League with a role named after him. What a legacy that is.

Forwards Thierry Henry (Arsenal) Shearer: For longevity in the Premier League and the number of appearances he made and the goals he scored, Henry is up there.

Smith: Henry has all the numbers. There was elegance to everything he did. I wonder how many fans around the world watch the Premier League because of Thierry Henry. He was the complete package, an incredible footballer and a marketing manager’s dream. He took your breath away with what he did.

Sutton: Henry is the greatest ever player in the Premier League. What he brought in terms of people paying to go watch him play, he is the one. He got the crowd off their seats and what could he not do? He was a phenomenal player.

Sergio Aguero (Man City) Shearer: I am a huge fan of Aguero. Even when Pep Guardiola came into Manchester City, all we kept hearing was that he had to change his game, he did not work hard enough and was not one of Pep’s players. He has managed to do that and kept his goals ratio very high.

Smith: He is probably the best foreign Premier League player of the decade. Since he arrived he has been incredibly consistent and can do everything. He is the complete forward.

Eric Cantona (Leeds, Man Utd) Smith: Can you believe Sheffield Wednesday turned Cantona down? He had the upturned collar, the arrogance and he fitted the stereotype that English people had of the French. Most of the players on this list would not have come to England if it were not for Cantona. The moment he arrived at Leeds in 1992, then on to Manchester United, he transformed English football in a way that no other player has done. He has not won the most trophies or scored the most goals but he has had more impact than anyone else.

Sutton: He transformed Manchester United at the start of the Premier League era when the club started to dictate. He gave them the confidence and an edge.

Sutton and Smith go head to head over Cantona and Henry

Shearer: £1.2m from Leeds? What a signing. When you speak to other Manchester United players about him, there were rules for them and Cantona had his own set of rules. Basically, because of his ability and his impact, he could do whatever he wanted to do. Week in, week out, he performed so well for them.

Gullit: What an unbelievable impact he made in the Premier League for Manchester United. In Europe, and even France, Cantona is not such a big name as it is in England. So I heard about him when I came here and he was an extraordinary player. I played against him and his influence was different from anyone else.

Didier Drogba (Chelsea) Gullit: This player stands out. He won the Champions League for Chelsea in 2012 with the header in normal time and then scored the decisive penalty in the shootout – that is the icing on the cake. The influence, the power that he had on the club, he was a presence and he scored goals.

Shearer: Chelsea liked to play their football but if things were not working then Drogba gave them a different option of going route one. He was as good as anyone in holding the ball and bringing others into play.

Smith: Drogba changed the way we think about strikers. Before we saw them playing in twos, but Drogba came in and he was a one-man forward line. He was utterly unplayable at times and did not need a partner.

Honourable mentions Luis Suarez Smith: He produced the best individual season of any player I have seen. He dragged Liverpool to within four points of the title on his own that year. He was a pleasure to watch.

Ruud van Nistelrooy Smith: He was not as rounded as Drogba with his attributes because the Chelsea man could hold the ball up better, had more pace and was stronger. But as a finisher, Van Nistelrooy was outstanding.

Dennis Bergkamp Gullit: Dennis was everything you like about football and had so many elements to his game. He could do things and score goals that others could not. For elegance, he is the top of everybody.

Mohamed Salah This vote will close at 19:00 GMT on 22 March 2019. You may vote only His numbers for goals to games are incredible, but it is too soon to be including him in this list. If he does it for a number of years and scores the amount of goals he has, then we can discuss it.