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Best Premier League players of all time: who should go in the Hall of Fame?

Great former Premier League players - who should go in the Hall of Fame?

Best Premier League players of all time: who should go in the Hall of Fame?
Chris Smith
18 March 2020

The Premier League is going the way of US sports (and WWE) by inducting its legendary players into a Hall of Fame. The first two members were set to be revealed at an event on March 19, but Coranavirus has meant that the first announcements have been delayed.

When it does happen, the first two will be revealed by the bods at the Premier League, while fans will vote on the other former players who’ll be part of an inaugural class.

According to the Premier League, membership “will be the highest individual honour awarded to players by the League.”

Established in 1992 as a breakaway from the English Football League, the Premier League changed the game in England forever. An influx of riches from broadcasting rights enabled clubs to compete for best talent from Europe and South America, to play alongside homegrown greats of the modern era. Who do you think is worthy of the league’s ultimate honour? Get voting below.

The near-misses

This is only the top 26, in our humble opinion. However, the omissions here are bordering on criminal. There’s no room for Teddy Sheringham, Ian Wright, Jermain Defoe, Sami Hyypia, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Gary Speed, Paolo Di Canio, Steve McManaman, Nemanja Vidic, Les Ferdinand, Branislav Ivanovic, Graeme Le Saux, Edwin van der Sar, Brad Friedel, Andy Cole, Leighton Baines and Yaya Toure… So, we’ll leave you to argue among yourselves.

Note: Some criteria to bear in mind: Only former players are eligible, so if you’re wondering why we haven’t included Ronaldo, Rooney, Fabregas, Aguero, van Dijk and Kane, it’s because their careers are very much alive and well. Also, if wondering where the likes of Rushy and Gazza are, their best came outside the Premier League era, so we probably won’t expect to see them inducted.

The best Premier League footballers ever

Arguably, Henry is the best player in Premier League history. The French forward scored 175 goals in 258 games for Arsenal (including some incredible strikes that’ll live forever in the memory), making him a four-time golden boot winner, two-time player of the season and a two-time Premier League champion.

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The complete centre-forward, Shearer is the Premier League’s all-time leading scorer with 260 goals (52 more than the nearest challenger). Will his record ever go? At the moment Aguero (180), and Kane (136) are the only active players in the rear-view mirror. He may be known more as a Newcastle legend, but his best three goalscoring seasons were at Blackburn Rovers where he won the league title in 1994/95.

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Leeds United won the last First Division title. Manchester United won the first Premier League title. The common denominator? Eric Cantona, who United somehow stole for just £1.2 million in late 1992. The mercurial Frenchman won four of the first five PL titles with United, before shockingly retiring at just 31. Not before a little kung-fu fighting of course.

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The Premier League’s most decorated player, with an incredible 13 league titles in 23 seasons. The Welsh wing wizard played 632 league games (2nd only to Gareth Barry), all under Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, making an incredible 162 assists, 51 more than anyone else. Surely a dead cert for one of the first Hall of Fame spots.

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The Dutch maestro arrived at Arsenal during the dark days of the Bruce Rioch era in 1995, but by the time he left in 2006, was a three-time Premier League champion. The two-footed playmaker was the scorer of our personal favourite Premier League goal ever, and netted 87 times and recorded 94 assists in North London.

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A fixture in all-time Premier League XIs, we’d expect Manchester United’s Great Dane to be the first keeper inducted. A true stalwart of Sir Alex Ferguson’s early-era great teams, he helped Man United to five Premier League titles, making countless pivotal saves along the way.

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Not many Italian players have left a mark on the Premier League, but Zola tops the list. Signed to the continental Chelsea side in 1996 the diminutive playmaker played alongside Vialli, Gullit, LeBeouf and Di Matteo and won the FA Cup in his first season. He made 229 league appearances for the Blues scoring 59 goals.

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The driving force behind a decade of Old Trafford dominance, Keane won 7 Premier League titles with Manchester United. The recipient of 69 yellow cards and 7 red cards, the Irishman is as much remembered for his hot-temper as his expert martialling of the midfield engine room.

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The archetypal box-to-box midfielder is fifth on the all-time PL top-scorers list with 177 top-flight strikes in 609 apps. He also registered 102 assists (3rd all-time), winning 71% of his tackles, blocking 252 shots and making 248 interceptions. He was the Premier League player of the season in 2004/5 and won the league three times with Chelsea, where he now sits in the manager’s seat.

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“He came from Senegal, to play for Arsenal,” as the song goes, and what an impact he made. After the success Vieira enjoyed at Highbury/The Emirates, every contending team in the world decided they needed a Vieira in midfield. Few succeeded in finding one. A pivotal part of France’s World Cup winning team of 1998, the powerhouse won the league three times with the Gunners.

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Regarded as the most cultured centre back in Premier League history, Ferdinand still won 81% of his tackles, made 341 interceptions and 1,718 clearances. He started at West Ham, before two big money moves, firstly to Leeds and then to Manchester United, where he marshalled the back line for 10 years, winning 6 titles.

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Power, pace, agility and an absolute cannon of a right foot, the Chelsea legend wreaked havoc among Premier League defences for a decade. The Ivorian twice netted the golden boot and won the league four times at Stamford Bridge.

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We opted to include RvP over his compatriot Ruud van Nistelrooy for a number of reasons. He scored more goals, was in the Premier League for much longer and, in our view, was a better all-round footballer. He won the golden boot twice and was a 5 times PL player of the month. After a great career with Arsenal he controversially joined Man United and almost single-handedly sealed the title for Sir Alex Ferguson during his final season in charge.

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According to his Sky Sports colleague Jamie Carragher, “nobody wants to grow up to be a Gary Neville,” but the full-back is the third most-decorated player in Premier League history with 8 titles. England’s best right back for almost his entire career, Neville has transferred his success into punditry since retirement.

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The best Premier League footballers ever

15. Steven Gerrard

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The best player never to win the Premier League, and one of Liverpool’s greatest servants, Gerrard is arguably a top five all-time PL-era player. The midfield powerhouse played 504 league games and scored 120 goals, while registering 96 assists. He was also a 6-time Player of the Month.

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A four-time Premier League Golden Gloves, including in 2004/5 when Chelsea conceded a remarkable 15 goals all season. Cech came back from a fractured skull in 2006 to play for a further 13 seasons with Chelsea and Arsenal, racking up 443 appearances and an incredible, record-setting 202 clean sheets, before his recent retirement.

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The best Premier League footballers ever

17. Matt Le Tissier

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The pride of Southampton turned down every advance from elite clubs to stay on the south coast. He may have missed out on major honours, but the Guernsey-native continues to be worshipped among Saints fans. He scored 100 PL goals for the Saints and there was a certain time when he always seemed to have multiple Match Of The Day goal of the season contenders.

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If you were good enough to get past Arsenal’s fabled back four, you still had to beat Big Dave, ponytail 'n' all. A two-time Premier League winner, the former England stopper made 334 Premier League appearances in a career spanning 957 professional games.

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Mr. Arsenal, Adams had already won two league titles with Arsenal before the Premier League began. He captained the Gunners to another pair in 1997/1998 and in his final season in 2001/2002. The England centre-back was a lynchpin of defensive solidarity, allowing Arsene Wenger’s creative geniuses to wreak havoc on the division.

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Becks probably had the best right foot in the history of the Premier League, with his pinpoint crossing and pinpoint free-kicks living long in the memory. He scored 62 goals in 265 league appearances (including one from inside his own half) for Manchester United, winning the title six times. The former England skipper, current owner of Inter Miami and future Knight of the Realm is likely to be on the first ballot for the Premier League Hall of Fame.

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Probably the best natural finisher ever to grace the Premier League. Nicknamed ‘God’ at Anfield for a reason, the Toxteth Terror netted 163 league goals, including a 4m 33s hat-trick in 1994 that stood for 20 years as the fastest in PL history.

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By the mid-nineties the Premier League began to attract some serious European talent. Among the influx was the gallic flair and dreamy locks of Newcastle’s David Ginola. The cultured winger was an instant hit on Tyneside and, famously, helped Kevin Keegan’s side come within a whisker of the title in 1995/1996. He went on to play for Spurs, Villa and Everton.

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The best Premier League footballers ever

23. Ashley Cole

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Less than a year into his retirement, Cole is undoubtedly a contender. A rare Premier League winner with two clubs (Arsenal and Chelsea), the pacy Londoner was part of England’s Golden Generation. Cole is a veteran of almost 400 Premier League games, in which his teams lost only 57 times. He won 74% of his tackles, contributed 31 assists and scored 15 goals.

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Mr. Chelsea was at the heart of all of Chelsea’s successes in the modern era and a true constant amid a raft of managerial changes. The product of the club’s academy, the central defender made 492 Premier League appearances, in which Chelsea kept 212 clean sheets. He also weighed in with 41 crucial league goals in a glittering career that ended in five league titles.

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The Boy Wonder burst onto the scene as a 17-year-old in 1997 and soon catapulted himself to global stardom at the 1998 World Cup. Despite an injury-blighted career he scored 150 PL goals, averaging almost a goal every two games. He and Cristiano Ronaldo are the only players to win the Ballon d’Or while playing in the Premier League. Eventually, and controversially, he’d go on to win the title with Manchester United.

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An old school, no-nonsense defender, Carragher played in some great defensive sides under Gerard Houllier and Rafa Benitez in 17 Liverpool seasons, racking up 508 appearances and registering 195 clean sheets.

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