We did this list in 2014, and I f**ked it up by including Angel di Maria. The same mistakes will not be made. Only their time in the Premier League counts, so none of your Barcelona or Atletico Madrid guff…
10) Nolberto Solano (Newcastle, Aston Villa, West Ham)
You might consider it odd that Solano has managed to break into this top ten over the last two years without playing any football, but this is a wrong being righted. Everybody’s favourite Peruvian trumpeter has a smile that could melt a thousand hearts, but was also a damn fine footballer.
Solano spent 13 years in England during two separate spells between 1998 and 2012, playing for three Premier League clubs, two Championship clubs and ending at Hartlepool United in League One. It’s only a touch over four years since he scored a free-kick winner at Bournemouth in the league, which makes you question time itself.
Newcastle supporters have suffered plenty of disappointment with much-hyped foreign signings over the last 20 years, but Solano was the antidote. He arrived for £2.5m, immersed himself in local life and won the hearts of the fans. When he was sold to Aston Villa in 2004, Newcastle fan site NUFC.com declared that a ‘part of the club’s soul had departed’.
9) Gustavo Poyet (Chelsea, Tottenham)
Talk of time-bending brings us to Gus Poyet, who somehow joined Chelsea at the age of 29, suffered a cruciate ligament injury and still managed to play 187 Premier League games.
Even more odd is Poyet’s outrageous goalscoring record from midfield. He scored 50 Premier League goals after turning 30, 20 more than Ryan Giggs and 21 more than Paul Scholes. It’s only 34 fewer than Alan Shearer, for goodness sake.
Anyway, Poyet’s displays as a player have been overshadowed by his struggles as a manager in England. That’s a damn shame, but entirely understandable.
8) Gilberto Silva (Arsenal)
This list may be dominated by attacking players, but No. 8 is a tribute to a trio of defensive midfielders who did plenty to address the South American stereotype. Javier Mascherano and Fernandinho were Nos. 11 and 12 on this list, but Mascherano has achieved his best work since joining Barcelona. Sorry Liverpool fans, you’ve got two players to come.
Instead it’s Gilberto who gets the nod, the most underrated part of Arsenal’s Invincibles team. He was the ‘Invisible Wall’ that protected the defence and allowed a wonderful attack to flourish.
“He is, for me, class,” as Arsene Wenger said. “Modesty, humility, on a human front a top-class person. He was ready to sacrifice himself for the team. You need that screen player in front of the defence who is ready to do the dark and dirty work for other people.”
7) Philippe Coutinho (Liverpool)
He missed out last time, but there’s not stopping Coutinho now. Having been integral to Liverpool’s 2013/14 title challenge, the Brazilian registered his best goalscoring season in 2015/16 (12 goals) and already has five in nine games this season. With Roberto Firmino playing as a false nine, Coutinho has more licence to get into the penalty area, and Liverpool are reaping the rewards.
Coutinho is not yet the perfect player. He retains that frustrating tendency to shoot from distance rather than taking the sensible, less exciting option, and his lack of physicality can hold him back in matches against more imposing teams. Yet Klopp is working to address both of those issues, and you can’t have everything. What Liverpool do have is an attacking midfielder capable of unlocking any defence. Just pray that Barcelona don’t take their fancy.
6) Pablo Zabaleta (Manchester City)
It is sad to see Zabaleta struggling against the passage of time, simply because his excellence felt so immune to such trivial matters. He never relied on pace or brawn, just a commitment and hunger to being the best he could be combined with positional discipline.
Perhaps Zabaleta’s impact on Manchester City will be better acknowledged in his absence. Joining the day before Sheikh Mansour’s buyout of the club and costing only £7m, the Argentinean could easily have drifted from centre stage like Robinho, Jo, Shaun Wright-Phillips and Tal Ben Haim, other spoils from that summer. Instead he remained steadfast and committed, a mainstay of two title-winning teams.
Turning 32 in January, Zabaleta’s powers are waning but the love of City’s support is not. ‘Heart and Soul,’ reads his banner, with a picture of the right-back with bandaged head. Nobody got *it* quite like Zaba.
5) Juninho (Middlesbrough)
Juninho isn’t just one of my favourite ever Premier League players, he’s one of my favourite humans. At a time when the stereotypical view of the foreign player was as half-arsed mercenary, Middlesbrough signed a Brazilian touted as the next Pele, and a country rolled its eyes.
Juninho didn’t just become a brilliant player for Middlesbrough the football club, he lifted Middlesbrough the city. That ‘foreign mercenary’ wept on the pitch after relegation was confirmed, only leaving to give him a chance of playing in the World Cup and twice returning to an area that became his spiritual home.
Voted as the club’s best ever player in 2007, Juninho still keeps the city close to his heart. “The relationship between Juninho and Middlesbrough is fantastic, the club will always be in my heart, I will always support the club,” he said in 2014. “What Middlesbrough did for me is unbelievable and I will always be very grateful. I just want to say thank you to the club for what they did for me.”
4) Carlos Tevez (West Ham, Manchester United, Manchester City)
While you can hardly blame Tevez for enjoying a wonderful homecoming at Boca Juniors, it inevitably pushes the striker away from the radar of the typical Premier League fan. It’s now more than three years since we saw Tevez in England.
Tevez’s time in the Premier League was not without controversy. West Ham were fined over his signing, he stormed out of the ground early after being substituted and his move to Manchester United was initially blocked after West Ham refused to let him leave his contract. The striker than left for Manchester City, held up a banner that said ‘RIP Fergie’ (which is underrated in a list of great Premier League moments) and then fell out with the club. A year later he would famously refuse to come on as a substitute against Bayern Munich.
The thing is, Tevez was also bloody good. He scored 84 Premier League goals despite starting only 165 matches, and promptly scored 50 times in 95 games after moving to Juventus. He’s still only 32.
3) Alexis Sanchez (Arsenal)
Certain countries are associated with a specific type of player. Italy has its cultured defenders, England the midfield terrier (even if that is now an archaic stereotype), Brazil its skillful strikers and Argentina its famous no. 10s. Chile is the natural habitat of a player for whom attacking skill is mixed with power. Arturo Vidal, Carlos Caszely, Marcelo Salas and Alexis Sanchez; Chile is the home of the street footballer.
It’s a theory Arsene Wenger agrees with. “When football is more formalised, it’s less about developing your individual skill and fighting attitude. We’ve lost that a bit,” he said. “Maybe it’s because in Europe street football has gone. In street football when you’re 10-years-old, you want to play with 15-year-olds. Then you have to prove you’re good, you have to fight and win impossible balls. [Sanchez] is the kind who is just ready for the fight.”
And how. Sanchez’s obvious skill should not be underestimated, but it is his demonstrative will to win that makes him a fan fouvourite. As Wayne Rooney convinced England and Manchester United supporters in his early career, there’s nothing quite as endearing as watching an impressive machine into which you can see the pistons pumping.
2) Luis Suarez (Liverpool)
He behaved like a despicable w*nker, on more than one occasion.
Great, now that’s out of the way I can discuss just how much Suarez improved as a player during his time at Liverpool, a rise from inauspicious post-transfer beginnings to an eventual sale that is matched only by Paul Pogba, Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo in the last decade.
Watching back Suarez’s league goals from 2013/14 is a wonderful experience (if you focus on the football, at least). He was a striker so full of confidence that he felt he could take on the world, and a footballer so full of talent that he usually beat it.
Suarez’s record of 54 goals in 66 Premier League games in his final two seasons is as prolific as a Premier League striker has ever been over a sustained period. The only players with more goals over a two-season spell are Alan Shearer and Thierry Henry, and Suarez missed ten league games during his last two years. Why? Because we’re ending at him being a bit of a d*ck, I’m afraid.
1) Sergio Aguero (Manchester City)
Football365 has its favourite players. That’s partly because we’re driven by an agenda and media bias that means we hate all of your team’s players and love your rival’s players, but mainly because we’re football fans too. One of the weirdest elements of social media and tribal fandom is that every expression of joy is judged as either a slight on those left without praise, or a demonstration of unforgivable bias. People who write about football are allowed to enjoy it too.
And so to Sergio Aguero, whose handsome face is forever destined to hypothetically adorn the walls of 365 Towers. We might not agree with Alan Shearer that Aguero is the only world class Premier League player, but he’s certainly its best striker. Yes, even better than Romelu Lukaku.
The greatness of Aguero (to us, anyway) lies in his unassuming nature. Pep Guardiola spoke this weekend of the striker needing to believe in how good he is (sold as ‘questioning his personality’, natch), but he’s right; Aguero is the quiet assassin, the head boy, sports captain and next top model who still sees himself as ordinary. That only makes those many moments of brilliance even more watchable.