Throughout the Premier League era we have seen players specialise in different attributes. Flair, pace, ball control, strength, and we can even categorise players into each attribute but the one thing I am interested in is work rate.
Today’s edition of Ryan Butler’s Sporting lists looks at the top three all time hardest working players of the 21st century in the Premier League.
3) James Milner (Leeds United, Newcastle United Aston Villa & Manchester City)
Milner is one of those players who receives little plaudits in a team full of superstars. Time and time again he gets overlooked for the Yaya Toure’s, Sergio Aguero’s & David Silva’s of this world. But he still plays, and he still puts in a performance week in week out of the highest quality.
When he first broke onto the scene for Leeds United Milner he was the second youngest player to ever play in the Premier League and subsequently went on to break the youngest goalscorer of Premier League history when he netted against Sunderland in 2002. Yes that is right, James Milner has been playing in the Premier League since 2002. Feel old yet? Cause I do. His appearances of the 02/03 season saw him gain plaudits from media, fans and fellow professionals alike, who all indicated that James Milner was one for the future and had the potential to take on the world. At the time he was a striker (like he was growing up) but he soon reverted out wide in order to fit into a Leeds United side which back then included Mark Viduka & Alan Smith amongst others.
Milner left Leeds and joined Newcastle in 2004 and continued to progress in the North East. It was at the Toon Army that he started to gain a reputation for being a grafter, working hard and becoming a critical team player. He learned from Sir Bobby Robson and Alan Shearer how to deal with the pressure of being in the spotlight as a Premier League player. Something that I am sure a lot of young players then and since wish they had when they were coming through. However after Graeme Souness replaced the departing Robson, Milner was outcast in the Newcastle squad and Souness even went as far as to say Newcastle wouldn’t “win with a team of James Milners”…and that is why Graeme Souness is regarded by myself as an awful pundit.
Milner went out on loan to Villa and thrived under the guidance from his mentor at Leeds, David O’Leary. At Villa he started playing games right across the midfield. He started being used as a central midfielder and was asked to play with a different role and mentality. Which is something that has helped his versatility today at Manchester City. For City he has been ever reliable and pretty much ever present. This current season he has appeared more times than he has not, or thats how it feels. Milner has won two Premier League titles, an FA Cup, a League Cup and a Community shield during his time at Manchester City and was awarded PFA Young Player of the Year for the 2009/10 season. James Milner really has been a consistent performer and will always be remembered as a player who worked for the team.
2) Dirk Kuyt (Liverpool)
It pains me to put a Liverpool player in any list but you have to take your hat off to Dirk. A hard worker, a big game player and a player who left everything on the pitch every single week. The amount of times he was subbed off for Liverpool is amazing as he was barely subbed off for being poor or having a bad day. No Kuyt found himself being taken off as he had simply ran himself into the ground.
Everywhere Dirk Kuyt played he was loved by his fans and his team mates. He was revered by all who had the fortune of watching or playing with him. He was made captain of Feyenoord for the 2005/06 season before moving to Liverpool the following year. I had the luck of seeing him play for a Feyenoord team that included Pierre Van Hooijdonk that played a pre-season friendly at Reading, a team he would go on to score his first brace for Liverpool against.
A player who started out as a striker ended up being played out wide by Liverpool. Mainly due to his hard work and defensive ability. He was more than capable to protect and support the right back Glen Johnson. Liverpool fans loved him due to his hard work and dedication, as well as the fact that he used to do a lap of the pitch at the end of a game at Anfield so he could applaud all of the Liverpool fans in attendance. He really was a class act.
By the time he moved to Turkish side Fenerbache in 2012, Kuyt had played over 200 times for Liverpool and had netted 51 goals. But what he would always be remembered for by his adoring Scouse fans was his attitude, his work rate and his hat-trick against Manchester United in the 2010/11 season.
1) Park Ji-Sung (Manchester United)
When Park signed for Manchester United in 2005, I finally found out for the first time what it was like to fall in love…yeah…
Park was an amazing player. He really was. He was the first name on the team sheet in the big games. He just knew how to turn on the style when he needed to. Skillful, committed, dedicated and willing to put his foot or his head anywhere if it meant the team would benefit. He had one of the single greatest individual performances from any Manchester United player that I have ever seen when he starred in a 4-0 demolition of AC Milan at Old Trafford in 2010. He was put in the centre of a midfield 5 and was told to not let Andrea Pirlo out of his sight. I have never seen anything like it before or since. The jewel in a golden crown that was Park’s career at Manchester United.
I also loved him because of his goalscoring record against Arsenal. Not even that, his overall performance level against them. He showed up everytime United played the Gunners and would always be the safe bet for scoring a goal. He even notched in the infamous 8-2 win a matter of minutes of coming off the bench.
In his time at Manchester United he won 4 Premier League titles, 3 League Cups, 4 Community Shields, a Champions League and a World Club championship. As well as winning the hearts of a nation, a club, its fans and also the hear of my own mother. She loved Park and was nearly as gutted as I was when he left. I refuse to acknowledge QPR in his Premier League career as it was nothing than a foreword in his glittering career at the Red Devils.
There we are. The three hardest working players in the Premier League according to yours truly. And now its time for the quicklist. The three laziest players (lazy but not necessarily bad players).
3) Matt Le Tissier – Southampton’s king of the Dell. A truly fantastic player who didnt work hard but got results.
2) Dimitar Berbatov – Made the game look easy and would have been number 1 had the number 1 not existed.
1) Eric Cantona – King Eric. L’magnifique. Merci.