Saliba the next Van Dijk? Arsenal team-mate one of five stars who can emulate Premier League icons

Jason Soutar
Declan Rice can be the next Patrick Vieira if William Saliba is the next Virgil van Dijk
Declan Rice can be the next Patrick Vieira if William Saliba is the next Virgil van Dijk

“I see a little bit of Virgil van Dijk in [William] Saliba,” Arsenal legend Nigel Winterburn told Football365, inspiring us to think of Premier League players who should be regarded as ‘the next so and so’.

Saliba’s PR is outstanding. He has not been as good as his partner at the back, Gabriel Magalhaes, but gets a silly amount of attention in comparison. His ceiling is higher and Arsenal crumbled without him last season, so it is understandable, but people should give Gabriel his flowers.


William Saliba: The next Virgil van Dijk?

Is that ceiling the same as Van Dijk’s prime, though? Perhaps. There are similarities already and Winterburn likening the two is a massive compliment to Saliba and hardly an insult to the Liverpool captain.

With that in mind, here are five other Premier League players with the potential to become world-class and have the chance to become ‘the next…’ and emulate an Our League icon. These are pretty ambitious comparisons and this is a warning to the nostalgia merchants to look away now. You’ve already given us a click anyway.

Do read those Winterburn quotes comparing Saliba to Van Dijk. After this, of course.


Declan Rice: The next Patrick Vieira
As much as I wanted to avoid comparisons with a legend of the current player’s club, it was quite hard. We see Declan Rice as a future Arsenal captain – who might never become that because Martin Odegaard is only a month older – and he is someone who resembles Patrick Vieira on the pitch.

Vieira’s absence in the Gunners midfield was felt for a long time following his departure and many believed for the best part of 15 years that he had not been adequately replaced. From Abou Diaby – who could have been that guy if not for injuries – to Francis Coquelin, we have seen many physical midfielders try and fail to be a catalyst and leader in the Arsenal midfield, at least to anything close to Vieira’s world-class level.

Finally, after all these years, the redundant opinion that Vieira has not been replaced can finally become a thing of the past. Rice is a colossal midfield presence with similarly long legs to the French legend, recovering the ball when he has no right to before getting a transition up and running. He is a joke and there is more Vieira and Roy Keane than Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard in his game.


Alexander Isak: The next Thierry Henry
Every Arsenal fan would love for a player to become as influential as the great Thierry Henry and plenty of supporters also like the idea of Alexander Isak joining from Newcastle United. The Swede has shades of Henry in his game, so why not kill two birds with one stone?

It will take a lot of work from Isak if he wants to get anywhere near Henry’s level but he has shown in his first year-and-a-half in the Premier League that he has the potential to be one of the best strikers in the country.

An incredible runner with the ball at his feet who doesn’t seem to lose any pace when in possession, Isak does not have the same power as Henry did, but there is plenty of time for the 24-year-old to bulk up a little bit. Physical traits aside, Isak has the same inside-of-the-foot finish in his locker, which was Henry’s trademark back in the day.


Jarrad Branthwaite: The next Rio Ferdinand
Another player who could move on to the club where the ex-player in question became a legend, it would not be a surprise to see Manchester United spend a triple-threat tax on Everton centre-back Jarrad Branthwaite.

The Red Devils have had some great central defenders in the Premier League era. Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand instantly come to mind and are the presences Erik ten Hag and his predecessors have missed dearly.

Like with every player here, we are not saying Branthwaite is nailed on to reach the levels of or even surpass Ferdinand, but in terms of on-pitch characteristics and potential career path, we like the comparison.

Branthwaite is quick, strong, decent with the ball at his feet, good in the air, and defensively sound and if any young centre-backs in the Premier League are showing similarities to Ferdinand, it’s him.

READ MORE: Rio Ferdinand tops ranking of Man Utd media mafia for unbearability


Evan Ferguson: The next Didier Drogba
He should not go to Chelsea but Evan Ferguson has shown shades of a Blues legend. The Irish international is strong, clinical and effective with his back to goal, but what Didier Drogba was best known for was his ability to influence every big game he played in. Ferguson has not played in any cup finals or title-deciders but he is destined to in the future, and that is where we can fully judge if he can be the next Drogba.


Alejandro Garnacho: The next Cristiano Ronaldo
There was a reluctance to include this one – hence the reason it is last – considering Ronaldo is the greatest player of all time in the eyes of many people and is definitely in the top five, but why not dream? Garnacho is only 19 years old and has already shown the ability and character to carry a rubbish Manchester United team on his back, something Ronaldo was never forced to do as he always had world-class players around him.

Garnacho is a Ronaldo fanboy and has already shown glimpses of the same career path. What comes to mind is the teenager fixing his teeth just as the Portuguese superstar did after making a few bob. The comparisons go further than their appearance, to be fair. Garnacho is a silky winger whose confidence has not been snatched away from him despite the toxicity at Old Trafford.

He knows he is good and he should use that to his advantage. Ronaldo was as cocky as they come and my word did he back it up.