Cole Palmer next? Five previous unlikely winners of the Premier League Golden Boot

Dave Tickner
Dion Dublin, Kevin Phillips and Son Heung-Min
Dion Dublin, Kevin Phillips and Son Heung-Min

We set about this obviously Cole Palmer-inspired feature with the idea of showing that, sure, him winning the Golden Boot would be a wonderfully unlikely event but wouldn’t be all that mad in the grand scheme.

Then we tried to find five other unlikely Golden Boot winners and…struggled. We were sure there would be a rogue Marcus Stewart or James Beattie in here somewhere, but alas no.

Palmer is currently level on 20 goals with Erling Haaland and if he can do it then it really would be stunning – he was still considered a rank 150/1 outsider only three weeks ago. Palmer that is. Not Haaland; we all know he’s a fraud now, but not that much of one.

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Dion Dublin for Coventry City (1997/98)
The thing that most fascinates us about Dion Dublin these days is how a man who made his career in professional football is now so much more comfortable and adept presenting a TV show about houses than he is at commentating on professional football.

But years ago what fascinated us was how a man who never once in his life scored 20 top-flight league goals in a season is nevertheless the proud owner of a Premier League Golden Boot (or at least a third of one having tied with Chris Sutton and a very young, pre-Argentina Michael Owen) having scoring 18 goals for Coventry in 1997/98.


Kevin Phillips for Sunderland (1999/2000)
Really, the only other winner that could be placed alongside Palmer for sheer unlikeliness. This might be Palmer’s first extended taste of Premier League football after trying to break through at City before his move to Chelsea, but Phillips had never played at the highest level before the greatest season of his life.

Sure, he’d scored stacks of goals over the previous two years for Sunderland in the First Division or whatever silly name the Championship was called back then, but his 30-goal campaign in his first Premier League season as one half of a celebrated little-and-large combo with Niall Quinn was extraordinary.

Phillips was a wonderful goalscorer but nobody could reasonably expect that he’d not only match but exceed his efforts of the previous two seasons at a lower level.

That Phillips never again scored more than 14 goals in a top-flight season feels absolutely right, making his Golden Boot-winning nonsense of a season gleam ever more brightly and incongruously.

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Didier Drogba for Chelsea (2006/07)
Yeah, we said it. Context is everything you see. We all know how good Drogba is, that’s not the point. He wasn’t a likely Golden Boot winner. To be overly simplistic about him, he was a scorer of vitally important goals rather than the kind of stat-padding plunderer who tends to scoop up this gong.

The first of his two Premier League Golden Boots came in his third season at Stamford Bridge in 2006/07. He’d scored a respectable but avowedly non-Boot-bothering 10 and 12 in his first two seasons for Chelsea. Even in that memorable Marseille campaign that earned him his Chelsea move he managed ‘only’ 19 goals in the league. He saved his best work that season for the unlikely run to the Champions League final, with 11 goals in 16 games. Big goals, not necessarily lots of goals.

In 2006/07, Drogba reached the 20-goal landmark for the first time in a top-flight season at the fifth attempt. Ludicrously, he would only do so once more, snaffling a second Golden Boot for scoring 29 goals in 2009/10. Those two seasons were the only times he managed more than 12 league goals in his nine Premier League seasons with Chelsea. A genuine statistical oddity that 49 – almost half – of his 104 Premier League goals for the club came in those two Boot-winning seasons and just 55 across the other seven.

He scored more Champions League goals (6) than Premier League goals (5) in 2011/12, which to be fair all worked out well in the end.


Jamie Vardy for Leicester City (2019/20)
Not the least likely Premier League success of Vardy’s Leicester career, sure, but at a time when age was supposed to be catching up with him he fired in his best season since the miracle of 2015/16 (when Harry Kane pipped him to the Golden Boot) to score 23 goals and finish one goal ahead of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Danny Ings, who would undoubtedly have been more useful for our purposes.

Vardy became the oldest winner of the award at 33 years old, his goals very nearly propelling Leicester back into the Champions League under Brendan Rodgers. The highlight was surely the hat-trick in the absurd 9-0 win at Southampton, just one of many astonishing moments in one of modern football’s most unlikely elite careers.

📣 TO THE COMMENTS! Can Cole Palmer complete the job and secure the Golden Boot? Join the debate.

Son Heung-min for Tottenham (2021/22)
The nature of this clearly requires us to make a reach or two. There have, essentially, been very few entirely unexpected Golden Boot winners, so we have to make do with those that merely raise an eyebrow or two.

One could, for instance, if one were so inclined, make a halfway convincing case for Cristiano Ronaldo’s 2007/08 Golden Boot here. Easy to forget that most of his Manchester United career was spent on his way up towards or down from the absurd goalscoring peak he would attain and maintain for a decade. Not even really a peak, was it? More of a Table Mountain situation given that his lowest season goal tally between leaving United in 2009 and returning in 2021 was the mortifying 2018/19 season at Juventus where he managed only 21 league goals and 28 altogether. But the fact is he scored more than 20 league goals for United only the once, in 2007/08 when he plundered an at-the-time absurd 31 in 34.

But we’re going instead for Son Heung-min. Like Ronaldo he was not at the time of his Golden Boot-winning season a striker. That’s a hint towards the main reason he gets our vote, with that reason that he won the Golden Boot despite being a total outsider just to top-score for his team.

Yet it would also be entirely wrong to say he won the Golden Boot ‘despite’ the presence of Harry Kane. He more accurately won it because Harry Kane was there and carrying as he so often does a great deal of the creative as well as goalscoring load.

Either way, it was a standout year of goalscoring for a player who has either side of that season consistently delivered goals but never before or since in such numbers. Son has reached double figures for league goals eight times at Spurs, but only with his 23-goal haul in 2021/22 has he gone beyond 17. In no other season has he mounted a serious and sustained bid for an award Kane won three times in the same period.