10) Gabriel Heinze (Manchester United)
Fortunate to be on this list given his sparse Manchester United appearances during his three years in England, but he did win a Premier League title. Manuel Lanzini, Julio Arca and Juan Sebastian Veron challenged, but none can feel too hard done to by missing out.
Also, none of them have a story about being knocked out by Roy Keane, at least one very good excuse for including Heinze on this list.
“We lost a game and I went in the dressing room first and Roy Keane was second. I liked to go first after the game; I didn’t want to speak to anyone as we lost,” Heinze revealed last year. “I didn’t understand English, just the bad words. I heard my name and “f*** off” by Roy Keane, the best player.
“I knew that was bad so I stood up to him, this idol of Manchester, this great guy who everyone loved, and replied: “F*** off, you”. I don’t remember what happened next.” When asked if he didn’t remember anything because Keane had knocked him out, Heinze said: “Yes. Yes.”
9) Maxi Rodriguez (Liverpool)
Nothing quite sums up Rodriguez’s propensity to go a bit quiet for a few games before doing something brilliant than the 17 days between April 23 and May 9, 2011. The midfielder had performed in fits and starts over the preceding four months, contributing to Liverpool’s team but not scoring a goal. Then he scored a hat-trick against Birmingham City, once more against Newcastle United and then added another hat-trick against Fulham in three consecutive league games. Half of his Premier League goals total came in 242 minutes, and he failed to complete 90 minutes in any of the three matches.
Signed by Rafael Benitez from Atletico Madrid, where he had fallen out with manager and fans after reacting badly to being substituted, Rodriguez could play on either wing or as a No. 10. That made him ideal for the peripheral, squad player role that ultimately defined his time at Anfield. But supporters appreciated the manner in which he bought into the culture of the club. The open letter he wrote when departing laid it on superbly thick.
Rodriguez too often flattered to deceive, but he was a player of wonderful moments and an excellent free transfer signing. Watching him back now, it’s difficult to believe that he never moved to Serie A, for that league would surely have suited him perfectly.
8) Erik Lamela (Tottenham)
Still Tottenham’s second most expensive signing, Lamela’s time in England has been continually hampered by injury to the extent that we cannot label it as an unmitigated success.
But then it would have been very easy for Lamela to leave England and return to the comfort of Italy. Instead he has stayed put, battled to get fit and been crucial to Mauricio Pochettino’s system when available. Pochettino has turned his countryman from a slight winger into a sh*thousing, pressing attacking midfielder just as happy breaking up counter attacks as he is creating chances.
Lamela has only managed 35 Premier League games since August 2016, but he did play 34 times as Tottenham finally broke back into the top four in 2015/16. Somehow, he’s still only 26.
7) Fabricio Coloccini (Newcastle United)
“Oh Coloccini, you are the love of my life. Oh Coloccini, I’d let you sh*g my wife. Oh Coloccini, I want curly hair too.”
So went the ditty from Newcastle fans to their captain to the tune of Can’t Take My Eyes off You by Frankie Valli, as Coloccini was leading the club to fifth place in the Premier League under Alan Pardew. Never one for understatement, in 2012 Pardew compared Argentinean to Bobby Moore. Of course he bloody did.
Coloccini stayed for nine years on Tyneside, and only six players have made more appearances for Newcastle in the Premier League: Shay Given, Alan Shearer, Shola Ameobi, Rob Lee, Nobby Solano and Gary Speed. That list is a who’s who of Newcastle cult heroes. Even if the ending went sour – Coloccini demanded to leave on two occasions – it does not diminish the excellence.
6) Jonas Gutierrez (Newcastle United, Norwich City)
There are more talented players than Gutierrez on and off this list, but few foreign imports bought into the ethos of their club and ingratiated themselves with supporters quite like him. The passion that exists within Argentinean football culture lends itself to cult hero status. Two notable examples are still to come, but Gutierrez rivals them by that measure.
If Gutierrez’s determination, desire and heart cemented his legendary status at Newcastle, his farewell was the stuff of folklore. In June 2013, Gutierrez was diagnosed with testicular cancer after discovering a tumour. He stepped away from the game and had surgery in October 2013. Upon his return to St James’ Park, opportunities in the first team were limited and he went on loan to Norwich to play under his former manager Chris Hughton.
Returning to Newcastle for 2014/15, Gutierrez finally made his first appearance back in the black-and-white in February, and it soon became clear that he would leave that summer. On the final day of the season, with Newcastle needing to beat West Ham to ensure their Premier League survival, Gutierrez was surprisingly picked to start. He assisted the first goal and scored the second in a 2-0 win, and broke down in tears after his finish secured safety. From surviving cancer and chemotherapy to surviving relegation in seven months.
5) Nicolas Otamendi (Manchester City)
Have you watched the Premier League for the last three years? Have you seen a central defender, signed for £28.5m, play almost 100 times in the competition? Have you seen that same central defender win a league title and be picked by his peers in the PFA Team of the Year? And can you still not work out whether that defender is excellent but prone to occasional calamity or calamitous but prone to occasional excellence? Don’t worry, same here.
There’s no doubt that Otamendi was Pep Guardiola’s first-choice central defender last season. Of the top 13 City players ranked by their league minutes during the title saunter, Otamendi was the only central defender. His 2,968 minutes dwarfed Vincent Kompany (1,397), John Stones (1,305) and Aymeric Laporte (807).
Yet fast forward to August again, and Otamendi is out of the first-team picture. The suspicion is that Guardiola will thank Otamendi for his service last season, but much prefers the quicker passing of Laporte and Stones. It’s very easy to become yesterday’s man at a club hurtling into tomorrow.
But yeah, the fifth-best Argentinean in Premier League history.
4) Carlos Tevez (West Ham, Manchester United, Manchester City)
A brilliant centre forward perfectly designed for Premier League life, Tevez became as famous for his exits from each of his three English clubs as his goalscoring excellence at them. It started strongly at West Ham, where he saved the club from relegation, fell foul of third-party ownership rules and then announced a move to Manchester United despite West Ham still claiming the rights to his contract. An out-of-court settlement between Kia Joorabchian’s agency MSI and the Hammers eventually stopped the deal from going to the High Court.
His initial two-year deal at Old Trafford was a loan agreement from West Ham, which United eventually attempted to make permanent after his second summer. However, having previously expressed his disappointment in public at the lack of clarity over his future and occasionally being on the bench, Tevez risked Alex Ferguson’s wrath and signed instead for newly-rich Manchester City.
In December 2010, 18 months after joining City, Tevez handed in a transfer request after falling out with a number of individuals at the club, not least manager Roberto Mancini. The request was denied, with City threatening to sue Tevez for breach of contract if he refused to play. That summer he stated that he would never return to Manchester, and yet he remained for 2011/12 season. That included the farcical situation where he refused to come off the bench against Bayern Munich in the Champions League. Amazingly, he stayed at City for four years before joining Juventus.
PS – He also scored 114 goals in England.
3) Pablo Zabaleta (Manchester City, West Ham)
The right-back joined Manchester City ten years ago, just a day before the club was taken over by Sheikh Mansour. Alongside captain Vincent Kompany, he was one of the only players to survive and thrive though the entire Eastlands revolution.
During nine years at City, the Argentinean became an adopted Manc. He and Robinho – the last signing of the Thaksin Shinawatra regime and the first buy of the new one – made their City debuts on the same day but that is where the similarities end. Zabaleta threw himself into the club and the city; Robinho didn’t even realise there was more than one club in Manchester.
During 333 appearances, Zabaleta played a consistent role in City’s transformation from a cash-strapped mid-table rabble to one of the continent’s finest teams and most ambitious clubs. The right-back won every domestic trophy before leaving on his own terms in 2017. He moved on to West Ham but as the song suggests, at City, Zabaleta will always be “the f*cking man”.
2) Javier Mascherano (West Ham, Liverpool)
The Argentina midfielder looked as shell-shocked as the rest of us when he was being paraded alongside Tevez by Pardew upon moving to West Ham in a murky deal with Corinthians in 2006. He looked no more comfortable on the pitch at Upton Park; it took a matter of weeks for Argentina coach Alfio Basile to tell the midfielder to get out of West Ham “as soon as possible”.
Liverpool were more than happy to oblige and Mascherano’s relief was obvious in his performances. Rafael Benitez, rarely one to lavish praise upon anyone, labelled the midfielder “a monster of a player”, having already told him that none of Liverpool’s midfielders, not Steven Gerrard nor Xabi Alonso, “have your quality”.
Mascherano was certainly different to Gerrard and Alonso. While both were more creative and dangerous in attack compared to the Argentine – who scored one goal in three-and-a-half seasons at Anfield – every midfield needs a ball-fetcher. Mascherano established himself as the best dog around.
When Rafa went, so too did Mascherano. And it was then he demonstrated more strings to his bow, becoming Barcelona’s starting centre-back while winning five league championships and two Champions League titles. It was a far cry from failing to get a start ahead of Hayden Mullins.
1) Sergio Aguero (Manchester City)
“You’ll never see anything like this ever again!”
Aguero gave us the most dramatic moment in Premier League history, but it is his consistency that means City fans are unlikely to see his like again.
Their greatest ever scorer passed 200 goals for the club in the opening weeks of the season and he now sits 27 clear of Eric Brook’s record that stood since 1940. Aguero has averaged 20 Premier League goals per season since moving from Atletico Madrid for around £38million in 2011.
The 30-year-old is second only to Thierry Henry as the league’s most prolific foreign marksman, but Aguero beats the Frenchman into second place – by some distance – for ratio of goals per minute. Henry netted every 121 minutes at Arsenal; Aguero has scored every 107 having entered his eighth season in England.
That kind of consistency is unmatched but Aguero’s numbers don’t tell the whole story. He is the complete striker, capable of scoring goals of all types from all ranges. If he was simply a goal poacher, he would not get in Pep Guardiola’s side. There were times he didn’t but the Buenos Aires-born hitman evolved and he looks as deadly as ever. Aguero is far from finished.
Daniel Storey and Ian Watson