Cody Gakpo could impact this top ten when he moves to Liverpool to play alongside Virgil van Dijk. The Netherlands centre-back is high on our list – but not top…
10) Georginio Wijnaldum
Jurgen Klopp described Wijnaldum as ‘the perfect midfielder’, so perhaps it is understandable that a year and a half on from his departure, Liverpool still haven’t replaced him. Maybe it simply isn’t possible.
Which makes you wonder why Liverpool didn’t just pay the man. But when Wijnaldum ran down a contract that ran to 2021, PSG reportedly tabled one worth around £300,000-a-week. An offer Wijnaldum couldn’t ignore and one Liverpool could justify not matching.
But money can’t buy happiness and Wijnaldum never found in Paris what he had at Liverpool – a manager who trusted him implicitly. Klopp’s parting message for the Dutchman was really quite something…
“Gini Wijnaldum. An LFC legend now and forever. What this person – this wonderful, joyful, selfless person – has done for our team and club I cannot sum up in words, in truth, because my English is not good enough. He is an architect of our success. We have built this Liverpool on his legs, lungs, brain and his huge, beautiful heart. If – and it is still if – he goes, he does so knowing we as his team-mates are eternally grateful for having this special human being come into our lives. I love him and he will always be family.”
9) Arjen Robben
Ignore the preconception. The player you are thinking about now is not the one that graced the Premier League. Arjen Robben: The Later Years was a polished, refined and almost mechanical talent that perfected one action to the point of artistry. The 20-year-old that joined Chelsea in 2004 was more raw, with sharper edges and more unpredictable brilliance.
He was neither “scoring 20 goals a season”, nor keeping Mo Salah and Kevin de Bruyne out of the team at Stamford Bridge; John Terry had his years mixed up. But Robben really was sensational on these shores, losing just four – and winning 55 – of his 67 Premier League games. The defeats to Middlesbrough (February 2006), Newcastle (May 2006) and Tottenham (November 2006) stung, but his 21 minutes before succumbing to injury in a January 2007 loss at Liverpool summed up those familiar fitness frustrations.
Robben undeniably grew more effective after leaving Chelsea, establishing his trademark move and exploiting it relentlessly to become a European champion. He was a better player in Germany than he was in England. But the most exciting, thrilling iteration of the Dutchman came in those three captivating years as an inverted Chelsea winger. Jose Mourinho has not found a player quite like him since.
8) Marc Overmars
There is something gloriously neat about a record of 25 goals in 100 Premier League games that juxtaposes perfectly with the destructive wonder of Marc Overmars. In terms of Arsenal’s first title puzzle, the Dutchman was the final piece.
“He’s a winger-type who can go in the space, is a good dribbler, and we needed this type of player,” explained Arsene Wenger in the summer of 1997. “We had a problem this season, especially at home. Don’t forget that we were maybe the best away team but we lost the championship at home. I think we needed more power and more speed at home, and more penetration.”
The evidence unsurprisingly supported the theory. Four clubs had earned more points at home than third-placed Arsenal in 1996/97, with lowly Middlesbrough scoring just two fewer goals. Arsenal had lost as many games at Highbury that season as Wimbledon at Selhurst Park.
Then Overmars happened. He offered Arsenal an entirely new dimension as an explosive wide player, scoring 12 goals and assisting five in his debut season – 11 of which were at home – as the Double was delivered to north London. His strike in a 1-0 win over Manchester United in March was a fine accompaniment to the opening goal in the FA Cup final. Without him, the Gunners might never have scaled that first mountain.
Marc Overmars: “English football changes you, it turns you around, it took me a step forward. Arsene Wenger arrived a year before me, Dennis Bergkamp made a big impression in England, it was a fantastic time, I think we changed the history of the club a bit.” #Arsenal #Legend pic.twitter.com/gL37LYza0Q
— AFCMikel (@AFCPW) February 15, 2019
7) Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink
The thing that strikes you most when watching highlights of Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink is the elegance in his variation. He was powerful but delicate, excellent in the air, with legs that would make Roberto Carlos blush and a tender touch if the situation required it. He was strong and fast yet every bit as skilful and technical. He could score with both feet.
Four players have won the Premier League Golden Boot outright but never the title. Hasselbaink is destined to stand alongside Kevin Phillips, Luis Suarez and probably Harry Kane as great goalscorers fighting against the greatest teams.
His record is ridiculous. Across six seasons with Leeds and Chelsea, he scored anywhere between 15 and 29 goals. Even in two years at Middlesbrough he did not fail to register double figures, with a forgotten spell at Charlton in his twilight period the exception to a rule of dominance. For a player who is never included in the conversation when it comes to the Premier League’s greatest strikers, he didn’t do half bad.
6) Edwin van der Sar
The oldest player to win a Premier League title was already 30 by the time he graced these shores with his presence. Edwin van der Sar was so reluctant to spend his time watching new Juventus signing Gianluigi Buffon from the sidelines that he sought the solace of First Division champions Fulham.
It was a move that would transform his career. The Dutchman was excellent at Craven Cottage but his true Dutch mastery would enjoy a renaissance at Manchester United. Clean sheet records tumbled, Player of the Year nominations were earned, titles were won and Nicolas Anelka was thwarted. Van der Sar more than warrants his status as a member of United’s holy Premier League goalkeeping trinity alongside Peter Schmeichel and Massimo Taibi.
5) Robin van Persie
It is easy to forget just how sensational Robin van Persie was. His first five or so years at Arsenal were ordinary as he transitioned from winger into centre-forward. His final two seasons at Manchester United were unremarkable as his brilliance fizzled out. But for the time between, few came close to matching him.
He is one of just eight players to score 30 or more goals in a single Premier League season. He is one of just six players to win the title and the Golden Boot outright in the same campaign. Alan Shearer is the only other player to win the Golden Boot for two different clubs.
That move to Old Trafford soured his relationship with the Arsenal fans, but United supporters embraced the almost Cantona-esque impact which delivered Sir Alex Ferguson his final title. For the first of his three seasons at Old Trafford, he was absolutely brilliant.
4) Jaap Stam
Manchester United won the title in each of Jaap Stam’s three full seasons, and just once in five years after he left. Not a coincidence.
He was present for their greatest period in the Premier League and the rock upon which the Treble was built. Stam was a fearsome defender, as close to an automatic clean sheet as possible. He played every minute of the Champions League run of the Treble-winning season and lost just five of his 79 Premier League appearances.
Ferguson admitted the decision to sell Stam to Lazio in 2001 was “a mistake”. Then 29, the Dutchman was in his prime. United spent close to £30million on Rio Ferdinand a year later for a reason; Laurent Blanc as a stop-gap in the interim helped them realise that there is only one substitute for brilliance: more brilliance.
3) Ruud van Nistelrooy
Ruud van Nistelrooy finished outside the top three Premier League goalscorers in just one of his five seasons. The Achilles problem that marred that campaign echoed the issue that postponed the Dutchman’s move in the first place. United had agreed a club-record transfer and even arranged a press conference in the summer of 2000, only for a problem with his knee to surface during the medical. He ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament the next day, but there is a reason United’s interest did not wane.
Van Nistelrooy quickly set about making up for lost time, forming a rather contradictory reputation as a supreme goalscorer but not a great player. His second goal in a hat-trick against Fulham in March 2003 flew in the face of that accepted wisdom, with Ferguson noting after that particular game that “a lot of his play is an improvement on last year”.
Scoring was his lifeblood, of course. In most other eras the ridiculous numbers Van Nistelrooy posted would have generated wider acclaim. The presence of Thierry Henry on the opposite side of one of the Premier League’s most enduring club rivalries ensured he would often be unfavourably compared. But while the Arsenal legend helped redefine the role of a striker as a multi-faceted athlete, Van Nistelrooy was an extraordinary and effective throwback, the type of which Erik ten Hag would kill for right now.
2) Virgil van Dijk
There is a Liverpool BVD and a Liverpool AVD. On the date of his signing, December 27, 2017, the Reds were fourth in the Premier League. They had the joint-sixth best defensive record with Arsenal, conceding almost twice as many goals as leaders Manchester City after 20 games. They needed some outside inspiration.
Then Liverpool paid what at the time was a world-record fee for a defender and almost overnight they tightened up. At the end of his first full season, the Reds were European champions. His second, in which he played every minute, brought the title to Anfield for the first time in 30 years. In between, he finished as runner-up to Lionel Messi in the Ballon d’Or.
If we needed an illustration of Van Dijk’s importance to Klopp and Liverpool, we got it in 2020-21 when he missed all but five games of the Premier League season. The Reds held it together briefly before caving in around the spot Van Dijk had stood.
He returned and, hardly coincidentally, Liverpool pushed Manchester City all the way to final moments of the season while flirting with a potential Quadruple. Some have observed that his standards have slipped recently, but he remains comfortably the best centre-back in the Premier League.
1) Dennis Bergkamp
Four players have won three Premier League titles at Arsenal. Ray Parlour described Dennis Bergkamp as “a genius”, Martin Keown called him “an absolute football God” and Patrick Vieira once named the Dutchman in his greatest XI of former teammates.
He was, for want of a better word, an icon.
Read more: Seven massive transfers that came out of absolutely nowhere after Liverpool’s stunning Gakpo move