Playing in the number ten role is something that all aspiring young footballers appear to dream about in this present day. Instead of getting the limelight for scoring goals, the desire to register assists and make key passes is more prominent in the game today than it has ever been previously.
Creating exciting midfielders is something that those in the youth development roles within the FA have excelled at throughout history. Still, some of the best English playmakers of all time have often been overlooked for strong and more mobile players for the biggest international fixtures.
However, we have delved deep into previous English players in the Premier League era, assessing who are the best playmakers to have come from the country. This take into account the number of goals and assists that the players have registered, and their overall impact on the teams that they have played for throughout their careers.
Billed as one of the most natural talents that we have ever seen in English football, there is little surprise to see Wayne Rooney mentioned within the list of the best English playmakers of all-time. The teenager bust onto the scene with Everton aged just 16, scoring a wonder goal to end Arsenal’s unbeaten start to the season in the 2002-03 campaign.
Rooney was destined for greatness from an early age, and made the switch to Manchester United in the summer of 2004. The Englishman’s ability to put his own desires to one side constantly made him an important player for the Red Devils, as he often was forced to play wide to accommodate Cristiano Ronaldo.
Still, as one of the respected players at the club, and future captain of United, Rooney won virtually everything there was to win at club level. That included five Premier League titles, the FA Cup, and Champions League.
For United, Rooney scored a remarkable 253 goals in 559 games and ended his career at the club with a staggering 145 assists in all competitions. Meaning that he had a goal involvement in 398 goals over the span of his Manchester United career.
There have been few more exciting and talented players to have come out of England throughout their career than Paul Gascoigne. He is still regarded as one of the great characters of the game, and he wore his heart of his sleeve every time that he stepped out for club or country. He immediately won the hearts of the nation at EURO 96 by scoring one of the most creative goals we’ve ever seen against Scotland, before then celebrating with the famous ‘dentist chair’ celebration.
Gascoigne began his career with Newcastle in 1985, where he scored 21 goals in 92 games, before he signed for Tottenham Hotspur in 1988 and helping the club win the FA Cup. Stints away from England included spells at Lazio and Rangers, but he returned to his homeland in 1998, joining Premier League side Middlesbrough.
Gascoigne was always a player that could create something from nothing in a game of football, but is one of the few stars that stats didn’t truly back up just how talented he was. The Geordie only scored 55 goals in 339 professional games throughout his career, and registered a further 13 assists. However, for those that watched him, his place among England’s best playmakers in history is certainly assured.
It’s always easy to forget just how talented of a player David Beckham was throughout his career, given the fame that he has achieved away from the sport. But, few could argue against his talent from a dead-ball situation, while he had the uncanny ability to put a ball on a six-pence for attacking players in the penalty area.
His natural ability to pace a ball is certainly one of the key factors behind the emergence of right-backs such as Trent Alexander-Arnold, and Kieran Trippier in the modern game.
Becks started his career with boyhood club Manchester United in 1992, and spend eleven years with the Red Devils, winning the Premier League title on six occasions.
Beckham was also part of the all-conquering Treble-winning side in 1999. Following a falling out with Sir Alex Ferguson, Becks moved to Real Madrid in 2003, winning the La Liga title once.
His main stay in European football came to an end with a move to LA Galaxy in 2007, but Beckham did once again grace European football with stints at AC Milan and PSG before retiring in 2013.
There is little doubt that the famous number seven is among the best English playmakers of all-time. His magic wand of a right-foot ensured that he scored over 120 career goals in 718 appearances, while he also recorded a staggering 214 assists throughout his professional career.
There are few more celebrated players in the history of English football than Steven Gerrard, particularly among Liverpool fans.
The midfielder was a local boy from the area, and he achieved his dream of playing for his boyhood club after making his professional debut in 1998. However, he would emerge as one of the shining lights for the Anfield giants throughout his career, captaining Liverpool from the 2002 season onwards.
Gerrard’s playmaking ability always ensured that he was the man for the big occasion for the Reds, and that was never more evident than in the 2005 Champions League final. Gerrard pulled the Reds back into the game, before playing a key role in the comeback victory, which was eventually sealed from the spot.
His ability to drag his team up the field was also evident in the 2006 FA Cup final, which was later regarded as The Gerrard Final. Liverpool’s captain scored twice in a dramatic final success over West Ham United.
His ability to pass the ball, cross and shoot from distance ensured that he was the perfect number ten in the modern game before the position came popular. Gerrard retired from the game having made 749 professional appearances, scoring 191 times and recording a further 169 assists.
Harry Kane will likely go down as the greatest striker that we have ever seen in the Premier League era, as he continues to close in on the all-time record score set by Alan Shearer.
Tottenham’s all-time leading scorer has progressed excellently throughout his career, and his passing is as much a part of his game as his shooting. His partnership with Heung Min Son ensure that they hold the record for most combined goal contributions in Premier League history, and the only thing missing from his career is a major piece of silverware.
Kane burst onto the scene with Spurs during his Mauricio Pochettino era, and he played a key role in the club’s progression. In his first season for the club, he finished with a staggering 31 goals in all competitions. He also went on to win the Golden Boot in each of the 2015-16, 2016-17, and 2020-21 seasons.
The closest he came to a major trophy came in the 2021 Champions League final, but Spurs were narrowly edged out by Liverpool.
Of course, goals are a major part of Kane’s game, but his passing ability undeniably puts him among the best passers of a football in the world. Kane has made nearly 500 professional appearances throughout his career, and he has scored a remarkable 294 goals. As well as that, he has also racked up a very impressive 78 assists to date.
We have already spoken about both Wayne Rooney and Paul Gascoigne, and Phil Foden is a star that has drawn comparisons with both during the early years of his career. There is little doubt that he is currently among the best playmakers in the world ever, as he has been able to play a key role in the Golden Generation of Manchester City success despite still being a young age.
Despite his age, he has often been called upon by Pep Guardiola for the biggest fixtures on the calendar, and that has seen him already rack up an impressive eleven club titles to date.
The 22-year-old is still in his infancy in the professional game, but he became the youngest player to win a Premier League title in 2018.
Since then, he has played key roles in three further championship-winning teams. Foden also made Champions League history by becoming the youngest scorer in the tournament in 2019, and he is also the youngest player to have started and scored in the Champions League.
Foden is yet to really make an impression on the international stage, as he was forced out of the starting eleven at the 2020 European Championships by an emerging Bukayo Saka. However, to date, he has stull scored an impressive 54 goals for Manchester City in 196 games across all competitions, and has already registered a very impressive 37 assists.
The progression of Foden continues to be a factor that makes the long-term future of the national side bright.
According to Zinedine Zidane, there have been few better midfielders in the history of the game than Paul Scholes. And, who are we to argue.
Scholes burst onto the scene with Manchester United in 1993, and played all 20 years of his career with the Red Devils. Scholes’ ability to dictate the pace of the game, and make key passes at crucial times in the game ensured that he would be remembered as one of the best players to ever play for Manchester United.
However, it was his ability to progress throughout his career that ensured that he remained a prominent part in Sir Alex Ferguson’s team.
When he first emerged on the scene, he was a traditional number ten, scoring goals when breaking into the box late. However, as he grew older, he continued to drop further back, and would make the deep-lying playmaker position his own.
His importance at the club was evident when he was called out of retirement by Ferguson in 2012 to win another Premier League title.
In total, he won 25 major honours with Manchester United, including eleven Premier League titles, which still makes him the most successful English player in the competitions history.
Scholes made 714 appearances throughout his career, and scored 153 goals. He also hung up his boots having registered 75 assists. However, like all attack-minded players, he wasn’t the best tackler, and that was evident by his record of 143 yellows and nine red cards.
It’s hugely rare to see a right-back named among the best English playmakers of all-time, but Trent Alexander-Arnold is a very special exception to the rule.
The 24-year-olds main traits centre around his ability in the final third, which is often a reason why he is overlooked for England, as worries continues to mount over his defensive ability. However, it is hard to pinpoint many better crossers of the ball in world football, as Alexander-Arnold is able to find passes that few others could ever imagine.
The full-back made his Liverpool debut in 2016, and he regularly had topped the assist charts in the Premier League and Champions League since then.
There are few better examples of his playmaking ability than his assist to Divock Origi in the semi-finals of the Champions League against Barcelona in 2019, as he smartly played a quick corner to allow the striker to find the roof of the net. To date, the Liverpool star has won one Premier League title, the FA Cup, and the Champions League.
His productivity in the final third is evident by his career stats to this point, as he has scored 15 goals and registered 64 assists in 254 professional games for Liverpool. However, those numbers are set to rise annually given that the full-back is still improving, and he may yet adjust into a player that could play in the centre of midfield for Liverpool.
The future continues to look bright for both England and the Reds.
Frank Lampard remains one of the most celebrated English footballers of his generation, and there are few that could argue against his playmaking ability.
The box-to-box midfielder began his career with West Ham United in 1995, but he left Upton Park for Chelsea in the summer of 2001.
It was at the Blues that he showcased exactly what many expected to see from the talented youngster, and he went on to become the club’s all-time leading goalscorer.
It was during his stint under Jose Mourinho that Lampard became the player that we would later recognise, as the Portuguese coach encouraged the midfielder to get forward at every opportunity to help the players in the final third of the pitch.
As well as that, he remains the record-holder for the most number of goals scored from outside the box, and the most goals scored by a midfielder. Lampard was prolific throughout his 13-year career at Stamford Bridge, and that led to a period of dominance on the field for Chelsea.
During his career, Lampard won the Premier League title on three occasions, and also the Champions League and Europa League. The midfielder also finished second in the 2005 Ballon d’Or and 2005 FIFA World Player of the Year.
His playmaking ability is clear for all to see, as he is the only midfielder to have scored at least 150 Premier League goals. Furthermore, he is fourth in the all-time list for most Premier League assists, having recorded 102 in the competition. Overall in his career, Lampard scored 268 goals and registered 171 assists in all competitions across 894 appearances.
His legacy at Chelsea remains in tact despite a failed stint as manager of the Blues.
John Barnes was a hugely influential figure for many young stars growing up, as he showed that there was path to the top despite emigrating to England from an early age.
Barnes made his way at Sudbury Court, before moving to Watford in 1981. However, his big move came in 1987 after playing 296 games for the Hornets, as he was signed by Premier League giants Liverpool.
His ability to glide past players at speed made him an effortless out-ball for a high-flying Reds, while he also ranked among the quickest players in the world throughout his career. He was a key member of the team that won two top-flight titles and the FA Cup on two occasions.
Unlike many players on this list, Barnes was an extremely talented player from the left-hand side of the pitch, and that was highlighted by the fact that he was named as the best left-footed player to have played for England by The Times.
Barnes was emphatic with his final ball throughout his career, and that often ensured that he was a player that opposing defenders looked to man-mark out of the game.
Despite that, his quality would always come though. Throughout his career, he played 516 professional games, scoring an impressive 127 goals and adding a further 97 assists. His importance in the modern game can’t be rivalled.
Bryan Robson was an inspiration to many players from a young age, including David Beckham and Roy Keane.
Many often saw Robbo as the perfect leader, as he would have the ability to create something out of nothing, and ensure that his team always had the quality to score goals. Robson’s first career move saw him play over 200 games for West Bromwich Albion, before he moved to English giants Manchester United.
At United, Robson became the long-serving captain in the club’s history, as he played for the Red Devils for 13 years between 1981 and 1994. During his stay with the club, Robson would win the Premier League title on two occasions, as well as the FA Cup three times and the European Cup Winners’ Cup.
His importance to United was evident in the fact that he was voted as the best player to have played for the Red Devils by former players.
Robson’s playing career came to an end in 1997, as he led Middlesbrough to three finals at Wembley. He would later return to management with West Brom, saving the club from relegation despite being bottom on Christmas Day.
His playmaking style was important for every club that he played for throughout his career, and that was evident by the fact that he scored 115 goals across spells with United, West Brom, and Boro. It could be fair to say, without Robson, we would never have likely seen many of the incredible United playmakers we have throughout history.