The Top 10 Best Premier League Players of All Time

Paul Scholes
Paul Scholes

As the biggest and best football league in the world, the Premier League has been able to attract some of the top football players of all time.

With global audiences of over three billion viewers, enormous paychecks and the chance to play alongside some of the greatest talents in the world’s biggest stadiums, it’s no wonder why the English top flight continues to attract football’s greatest stars.

Over the last 30 years, fans have marvelled at the insane levels of footballing brilliance on show but have also debated who the league’s all-time top players are.

For that reason, we’ve taken the opportunity to put together a definitive list of the ten greatest players to have ever played in the Premier League.

Featuring several legends from past and present and even some Premier League Hall of Fame icons, take a look at FootySamba’s list of the top 10 best players in the Premier League.

John Rogers
John Rogers

published 12:08, 05 May 2022

10. Eric Cantona - Manchester United and Leeds United

Having recently been inducted into the Premier League Hall of Fame, Cantona really is a legend of the top flight and was always a shoe-in to grab a spot on our list of the top ten best players in the Premier League.

Signing for Leeds in 1992 for £1.35m, the striker took the league by storm, scoring 14 goals in his debut season in England to help Leeds win their third league title.

But his time at Peacocks came to an abrupt end after just nine months, after Sir Alex Ferguson swooped in to sign the Frenchman for Manchester United following Cantona’s memorable fall out with Leeds boss Howard Wilkinson.

That proved to be perhaps one of the greatest transfers in football history, with Cantona galvanising Manchester United to win their first league title in over a quarter of a century that same season.

But they didn’t stop there, and with Cantona up top, United would go on to win another three Premier League titles and two FA Cups.

Cantona would yield 81 goals and 62 assists during a five-year spell at the club and was voted the PFA Player of the Season during his second season at the club.

But his time at Man Utd wasn’t without controversy, with Cantona famously landing himself in hot water after kicking a fan in the chest during an away game to Crystal Palace.

Despite that, he is renowned for having scored some of the Premier League’s greatest goals, with his match-winning volley in the 1996 FA Cup Final easily going down as one of the greatest goals we’ve ever seen.

9. Patrick Vieira - Arsenal and Manchester City

Another inductee to the Premier League Hall of Fame, Vieira, is perhaps one of the greatest captains of the modern footballing era, guiding Arsenal through their incredible unbeaten season back in 2004.

The Frenchman joined the Arsenal in 1996 for a fee of £3.5m two years before he won the World Cup. He spent nine years at Highbury, making 277 appearances for the club before moving to Juventus in 2005.

During that time, the Frenchman would win three league titles with the Gunners, establishing himself as a dominating box-to-box midfielder, renowned for his aggressive style of play and infamous feud with Manchester United captain Roy Keane.

Vieira was one of the best when it came to breaking up play and his driving runs into the box made him one of the best midfielders of the modern age.

Many will also have forgotten after he actually spent a season towards the end of his playing career at Manchester City, where he made 28 appearances and scored three goals.

But wherever Vieira played, there was no doubt he was one of the top football players of all time.

8. Steven gerrard - Liverpool

Perhaps Liverpool’s greatest ever captain, Gerrard is renowned for his technical brilliance in midfield, spraying long balls to wingers and striking thunderous volleys to score some incredible goals during his career.

Perhaps his winning 40-yard screamer in the 2006 FA Cup Final might top that of Eric Cantona’s, but there’s no doubt that Gerrard’s ability to strike the ball from long range makes him one of the most dangerous midfielders the league has ever seen.

But he wasn’t just an out-and-out goal-scoring midfielder, Gerrard could do just about everything; pass, tackle, dribble.

What he is most well known for are his brilliant leadership qualities, notably pulling Liverpool through that famous 2005 Champions League final in Istanbul. Despite coming close in 2014, Gerrard never won a Premier League title but is one of the greatest midfielders the league has ever seen.

Steven Gerrard

Liverpool FC’s Steven Gerrard faces the Chelsea FC crowd at Stamford Bridge(Image:Ben Sutherland is licensed under CC BY 2.0.)

7. Ryan Giggs - Manchester United

Giggs is another Manchester United legend who helped catalyse United back to their former glory and signed for the senior side a year before Cantona at 17 years of age.

After 23 years at the club, Giggs holds the record for the most Premier League appearances for one club, turning out an incredible 632 times for the Red Devils in the top flight.

Across all competitions, that number jumps to 947 appearances, making Giggs United’s leading all-time appearance maker.

But it’s his assist stats that are the most impressive, with Giggs currently holding the record as the Premier League’s all-time greatest assist maker, by some way might we add, with Giggs setting up his teammates a whopping 162 times during his career.

To put that into perspective, his nearest competitor is Cesc Fabregas, who sits on 111 assists.

The former United captain won 13 titles during his career and is renowned for his bounding runs through the middle of the field, setting up the likes of Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo and was an integral part of the United side that won the treble in 1999.

Ryan Giggs

File:Ryan Giggs + federico macheda July 2009.jpg(Image:Allison Pasciuto is licensed under CC BY 2.0.)

6. Frank Lampard - Chelsea and Manchester City

Perhaps the best goal-scoring midfielder in the history of the Premier League, Lampard claims sixth place on our list of the top 10 best ever Premier League players.

The current Everton manager is one of the most decorated footballers in the league’s history, having won 13 major honours during his career, including three Premier League titles. He was also voted 2004/2005 Premier League Player of the Season and also came runner up in the 2005 Ballon d’Or awards that same year.

Lampard was an integral cog in the Chelsea midfield for many years, scoring 147 goals over 429 games, making him one of the most prolific goal-scoring midfielders of all time.

While he is also Chelsea’s all-time leading goalscorer with 211 goals in all competitions, he was one of the most creative and technically astute players to have graced the top flight using his brilliant vision, ball control and knowledge of the game to help the Blues lift back-to-back premier league titles in 2005 and 2006.

While the former West Ham man is also known for his goalscoring abilities, he was also a very unselfish player, setting his teammates up 102 times, putting him fourth in the Premier League’s all-time greatest assist makers list.

5. Paul Scholes - Manchester United

Not many players in the Premier League can say they possess the same skill set that Scholes had to control the speed of a football match.

His quick feet, excellent agility and rapid turn of pace combined with his aggression and ball control made him a defender’s nightmare.

Scholes had an immediate impact at the club, first appearing for United in 1994 in the Football League Cup, where he scored both goals in a 2-1 win against Port Vale, while also scoring on his debut in a 3-2 loss against Ipswitch Town at Portman Road.

In some ways, that only foreshadowed what was to come from the central midfielder, who went on to make 499 Premier League appearances for Man Utd, scoring 107 goals and 56 assists for the team.

Perhaps his best years were when he played alongside Roy Keane, combining with the Irish striker to play some simply incredible passages of football that left most centre-backs stunned in their tracks.

Scholes was an integral part of Ferguson’s United side that dominated English football during the 90s and the early 2000s, winning a whopping 11 Premier League titles with the Red Devils, putting him just behind Giggs, having won the second-most titles in the history of the league.

4. Cristiano Ronaldo - Manchester United

Ronaldo is an icon of world football and is still one of the best players in the Premier League.

The four-time Ballon d’Or winner’s accomplishments around the continent make him one of the greatest players in the world.

But it was his time in the Premier League at the Red Devils in the 90s where he made a name for himself, joining Ferguson’s emerging United side in 2003, scoring 124 goals during his first six-year spell at the club.

The world marvelled at their first glimpses of a talented young player who would become a global superstar, winning three titles with Manchester United and three PFA Player of the Season Awards.

United fans will fondly remember the devastating partnership he formed with Wayne Rooney, who together used their brilliance to rip through teams around the league, to amass a combined 145 Premier League goals.

Cristiano Ronaldo

Cristiano Ronaldo (Image:Paolo Camera is licensed under CC BY 2.0.)

But his time in the Premier League wasn’t done just there and after a 12-year hiatus, the 37-year-old delighted United fans around the world at the start of the 2021 season, re-signed for United, completing a fateful homecoming.

He is one of few players on this list who continues to show his greatness, having rescued United on several occasions during the 2021/22 season, amassing an impressive 18 goals in the Premier League alone this season.

And having now broken the record for the most goals ever scored, Ronaldo is undoubtedly one of the top football players of all time.

3. Wayne Rooney - Manchester United and Everton

Wayne Rooney

Wayne Rooney scored 253 goals for United (Image: Dreamstime.com)

At just the mere age of 16, Rooney arrived on the scene with a bang, becoming the then youngest Premier League goalscorer with THAT strike against Arsenal for Everton back in 2003.

After a season at the Toffees, the world knew just how good this wonderkid was, and in 2004, he was snapped up by Ferguson and joined Ronaldo as the spearhead for Manchester United’s attacking line.

Over 13 years at the club, Rooney broke several records to become United’s all-time leading goal-scorer, win a player of the season award in 2009, and become the youngest player to amass 200 Premier League appearances.

Individual achievements aside, Rooney is one of the most decorated players to have ever graced the top flight, having won five English league titles with Manchester United.

His skill and talents on the ball make him one of the top football players of all time, best known for his incredible precision and ability to score spectacular goals.

Everyone will remember Rooney’s match-winning bicycle kick in the Manchester Derby in 2011, which was so good that it was voted goal of the decade back in 2020.

Rooney’s time at Man Utd ended in 2017 when he made his way back to his boyhood club Everton, where he would continue to score some sublime goals, including a halfway line screamer against West Ham in 2017.

Over the years, the former England Captain would make 491 Premier League appearances, scoring an incredible 208 goals and amassing 112 assists.

Not many players can boast such a record as Rooney, and for that reason, he is undoubtedly one of the Premier League’s best players.

2. Alan Shearer - Newcastle and Blackburn

The Premier League’s all-time leading goalscorer comes in at second place on our list.

Simply put, Shearer was a goal machine.

During his time at Newcastle and Blackburn, he amassed 441 appearances and a whopping 260 Premier League goals. The closest person to come anywhere near that record was Rooney, who still was 52 strikes shy of the Newcastle forward.

And if that doesn’t show how impressive that achievement is, you only have to look at some of the goals Shearer scored to see that he was one of the best players in the Premier League.

And there are plenty of goals to choose from, as Newcastle fans will forever remember him for his thunderous volley against Everton in 2002 or his curling freekick against Wimbledon in 1996.

Often touted as the most complete English centre-forward, Shearer’s talent relates to his strength, superb heading ability and exceptional shooting skills that enabled him to score as many goals as he did.

In 1994 he was named the Football Writers’ Association Player of the Season and was voted the PFA Player of the Year award in 1995. He also won the Premier League Golden Boot award that same season but came back to win it again in the following two seasons.

While he won countless awards during his career, the Premier League Hall of Famer also broke several records, taking the fewest matches (124) to score 100 Premier League goals while also scoring the most penalties (56) ever in the top flight.

Shearer certainly is one of the Premier League’s best players of all time and rightfully deserves a place so high up on this list.

1. Thierry Henry - Arsenal

Henry claims the top spot on our list of the 10 greatest players to have ever played in the Premier League, and while many might disagree with this ranking, there is no doubt that the striker was one of the most graceful and brilliant footballers to have ever played in the top flight.

Joining Arsenal in 1999 for £14.49m, Henry would go on to win two Premier League titles during an eight-year spell at Highbury, notably overtaking Ian Wright to become the club’s top scorer with a total of 228 goals across all competitions.

The Frenchman became the key frontman in Arsene Wenger’s team of invincibles that went unbeaten in 2004 to win the Premier League title, scoring a whopping 30 goals in 37 appearances for the club that season, winning the Golden Boot award by eight goals.

But that wasn’t the only top scorer award he has claimed, as Henry also won three more Golden Boots on top of that, including the 2004/05 and 2005/06 awards.

And there are some brilliant goals in that impressive tally to pick from, including his run and insane finish against Liverpool in 2004, that kept Arsenal’s invincible season alive and

Taking inspiration from his idol Ronaldo Nazario, Henry can be characterised by his feints, body movements and brilliant athleticism with the ball at his feet.

While he was one of the greatest goal scorers ever, with precision, accuracy, flair and quite simply a je ne sais quoi element of brilliance about him, he tops this list for his exceptional talents in setting up his teammates.

It’s clear he saw things differently from others, drifting outside rather than staying central and sought out opportunities to get on the ball. That would allow him to create more space around the park and set up his teammates to amass 83 assists while playing for Arsenal.

Sometimes, though, he’d go it alone and would wow fans with his brilliant winding runs, gliding past defenders to advance on goal and finish that brilliantly mazy run with a delicately perfect strike past the goalkeeper.

He was a pure genius and is one of the best players to have ever played in the Premier League.