I haven’t written anything for Severn Sport for a while so wanted to do something big for my spectacular return to writing, so just what do I do? Well, after a heated conversation at work yesterday between myself a colleague and a customer, in which I actually heard the phrase (you might want to sit down for this), I heard the phrase “Andy Cole was an average player.” Lies are spouted around in life on a daily basis and that was one I heard yesterday. A sick and twisted lie. Andy Cole was no average player. What I was also told was that Louis Saha wouldn’t make it into Manchester United’s list of top 10 strikers of the Premier League era, or that if he would it would only be at number 10. Unbelievable the tripe I hear in my line of work but as the conversation progressed we discussed the top strikers at other clubs, they argued about Liverpool for a while but it got me thinking about who would make the top 3 strikers for certain clubs, so that’s what today’s bumper edition of Ryan Butler’s Sporting Lists will be about. The top 3 strikers in the Premier League era for the seven clubs who have been in the Premier League throughout its inception in 1992. Alphabetical order is key, so let’s start with the Gunners, thats right, Arsenal.
3) Ian Wright (1991-98) Before he became a much disliked and unpopular football pundit Ian Wright was actually quite decent at scoring goals. In fact for Arsenal he scored a total of 128 goals in 221 games. By the time he left in the summer of 1998 Arsenal had gone from being a lucky to finish in the top 3 side to the Premier League champions. At one point during the Bruce Rioch era, Wright actually handed in a transfer request but he retracted it and never looked back. He enjoyed a decent spell under Wenger before passing the torch onto Nicholas Anelka and travelling across London to West Ham. In his time at Arsenal Wright won the Premier League as well as the 1993 League Cup, the 1994 Cup Winners Cup as well as winning the FA Cup on two occasions (1993 and 1998). He rightly takes his place in the list.
2) Dennis Bergkamp (1995-2006) Bergkamp was a different kind of player than we were used to seeing when he arrived at Highbury. He was technically magnificent and played in a more continental role of the number 10 (a role that is now seen as a common position) and quite frankly he played the number 10 role better than anyone I’ve ever seen. He beats Wright in this list not on the amount of goals he scored (87 in 315 games) but for the fact that he made things happen and created for everyone else to score. Bergkamp joined a failing and fading Arsenal side in 1995 and for me it was his resurgence that led to the likes of Ian Wright staying with the club. Under Wenger Dennis Bergkamp helped take the club to new heights, he formed partnerships with Anelka, Kanu, Henry, van Persie, Sylvain Wiltord and he held the forward line together during the years that saw Manchester United win the Premier League three years in a row. He will always be seen as an Arsenal legend but he really was a footballing icon. Just simply, that goal against Newcastle, and the goal against Leicester and even though it was for Holland, that winner against Argentina.
1) Thierry Henry (1999-2007 & 2012) Simple. 174 goals in 254 games for Arsenal. Can we move on? No? Fine. Well when Thierry Henry first came to England he was played out wide on the left wing by Arsene Wenger which looking back on it probably helped Henry to be the player he was because if Henry picked the ball up and was cutting in from the left onto his right your first instinct was “Goal” and most of the time it was. Henry was simply freakish and one of a kind. He for me is still the best foreign player to have ever played in the Premier League. Crazy I know but Zola, Cantona, Ronaldo, Ade Akinbiyi, forget them all, Henry would single handedly win games, win leagues, win cups for Arsenal. And the worst part about it was they weren’t even a one man team. He was just the leader of the gang, the man who finished it all off. He was the cherry on the icing on the cake of the invincibles and in all honesty Arsenal haven’t recovered from his departure in 2007. They have tried replacing him with Adebayor, with van Persie and now with the likes of Walcott and Giroud and it is in no way the same, not even close. Plus he is the master of the TV advert as his efforts for Renault below suggest.
Next we are making our way up to Birmingham, for the top 3 Aston Villa strikers. Before I start this is the one of the hardest lists to make in this post as realistically I have to pick three from 5. You may not think so for a side like the Villa but this will divide opinion and I know it. Here is my top three.
3) Christian Benteke (2012-2015) Christian Benteke sits 5th in the list of top Premier League scorers for Aston Villa but makes 3rd in this list because of just how quickly he amassed his 42 league goal return. It took him only 89 games to achieve this feat but what you have to remember is that he did this whilst playing for a pretty terrible Aston Villa team. I don’t say it to cause offence I am being honest, for a while now Aston Villa have been nothing but average, if that. Since the departure of Martin O’Neil especially, they have looked poorer and poorer as the seasons progressed so for a completely unknown Belgian striker to come in and score that many goals in such little time it cannot be ignored. I rate Benteke as a player I really do and it pains me to see him at one of United’s rivals, especially Liverpool because just think, if Benteke can achieve this goal return at a poor club imagine what he can do with a side who will give him more supply and more opportunity to showcase his talents and eye for goal. The goal he scored for Liverpool at United highlights this but it was his performances for a fledging Villa side that made him worth £32 million.
2) Dwight Yorke (1989-1998) Dwight Yorke played for Aston Villa before the Premier League began but he was a consistent figure throughout the first six seasons of one of the most watched leagues in world football. He scored 60 Premier League goals for the Villa before his departure to Manchester United in the summer of 1998. Like Benteke it was his form for Villa that justified his price tag at the time. Yorke’s ability on and off the ball made him a cult hero before he left Villa Park and it is unfortunate that due to the circumstances of his departure (and later transfer to Birmingham City) make him quite unpopular to some Aston Villa fans. Hence why I said, this will divide opinion as he made it in over Juan Pablo Angel.
1) Dion Dublin (1998-2004) When Yorke joined United in 1998 a portion of the transfer fee received would be spent on Coventry City’s goal machine Dion Dublin. At the time he was the Premier League’s joint top scorer and would go on to have one of his most prolific spells in his career. In his first 4 games for Villa Dublin banged in 7 goals. And his form would go from strength to strength for the next two seasons which saw Villa become regular top 6 finishers. He notched up 48 league goals in his stint as Villa’s number 9 which, much like Benteke, sees his inclusion. Dublin sits third in the Premier League top scorers list for Villa, behind Dwight Yorke and Gabby Agbonlahor. Dublin helped rejuvenate a Villa side needing something different. He and Julian Joachim added much needed ammunition to their front line and it saw Villa turn a few heads at the end of the last millennium. Since then he has invented his own instrument, is there anything this man can’t do?
Bloody hell, back to London we go. Clocking up the miles on the clock as we travel down to West London, to money bags, Chelsea. A side who have bought any and every player they have wanted in the last decade but lets see who makes the list.
3) Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink (2000-2004) The now Burton manager was loved wherever he went. He was first introduced to English football when he signed for Leeds United in 1997. He returned in 2000 after a short spell playing for Atletico Madrid. For Chelsea he notched up 70 goals in 136 games, with a goal just under every two games. A great record to have for a man who wasn’t the fastest, wasn’t the most skilful but Jimmy was hungry. Hungry to win. Hungry to score goals and hungry to succeed. He was a great talent and he formed partnerships with the likes of Eidur Gudjohnsen and he helped turned Chelsea into a sought after team, not just on the pitch but off it. He helped make Chelsea appealing, which saw the Russian revolution take over at Stamford Bridge.
2) Gianfranco Zola (1996-2003) This little magician from Italy helped shape the Premier League into what it is today. Before the likes of Zola arriving on the scene, the thought of a Premier League consisting of so many foreign players would have been a myth. But the likes of Zola and Ruud Guillit and even Dennis Bergkamp paved the way for the influx of worldwide talent that the Premier League can showcase on a daily basis. Zola would light up stadiums, he would change games, he would excite you with his brand of continental football. He knew how to make football sexy, he would do things that others could only dream of. I mean, that goal. I can’t even describe it to you, just watch this and you will understand why he is in this list.
1) Didier Drogba (2004-2012 & 2014-2015) I said earlier that Thierry Henry was the best foreign import the Premier League has seen. Other than any United player I would put Drogba at number two. He’s strong, powerful, quick, agile, technically gifted. He would dive, play act, simulate but my god was he an outstanding player. He like many of the others appearing on this post so far would do things that no one else could, he would win matches on his own, he was apart of one of the best teams the Premier League has seen. Drogba has won the league on multiple occasions and even played in the game of his life when he himself scored the winning penalty in the 2012 Champions League final. He is a man who is still tearing it up in the US, he is a charitable man and has done so much for Africa, not just in football terms but with rebuilding and improving areas that are drowning in poverty. If there were more people like Drogba in this world then the world would be a better place.
Now we will head back up north (keep your personal belongings close to you when we arrive) for a North West triple header, starting with the two Merseyside clubs, and beginning with Everton.
3) Romelu Lukaku (2013-Present) Lukaku is the first player on the post to still be at the club he whose list he is in. Lukaku may not leap out as one of the top Evertonian strikers but let me put it this way. He is the third top Premier League scorer for the Blues and has scored 30 goals in two years. Like Benteke for Villa, you have to take that into consideration and you have to admire what he has achieved at the club. Lukaku is going to be one of the Premier League’s best for a while yet. He is frightening as a forward but without sounding harsh to Everton, he needs to be playing for a bigger club. A top 4, Champions League club. From a personal point of view I would love to see him playing for United, just as any Arsenal, City or even Chelsea fan would want to see him at their club.
2) Kevin Campbell (1999-2005) When Kevin Campbell joined Everton for the back end of the 1998/99 season Everton were staring relegation in the face. They were sinking without a trace and the late great Howard Kendall needed something or someone to save him. And save them is what Campbell did. He scored 9 goals in 8 games to turn their fortunes around and steer them to safety. He signed permanently in the summer after and became a constant fixture in an Everton side looking to get back to the top. In his first two seasons he was Everton’s leading scorer on his way to netting 36 goals in 137 games. Not the best return compared to some of the others in this post but they were needed and vital goals as Everton began a rebuilding project.
1) Duncan Ferguson (1994-98 & 2000-06) Big Dunc joins the list of players who played for his club twice. A cult hero at Goodison Park. Ferguson was labelled with the tag that he “bleeds blue blood.” And despite a brief departure for two years to Newcastle, Everton was always awaiting their son’s second coming. Ferguson was the icon that all the youth players and fans wanted to be. A massive bloke and a physically dominant specimen of a striker. He had one hell of a left boot but the only thing that stopped him was his temperament. He was a naughty boy both on and off the pitch but for what he could do on the pitch he still has to be seen as the best of the Premier League era for Everton.
Let’s go around the corner to the infamous gates of Anfield, home of Liverpool. A long with Villa and United, the hardest list to make. Like Villa, 5 players but only 3 places. Well here goes.
3) Luis Suarez (2011-14) Luis Suarez was a player who divided opinion, like I have by picking him over Robbie Fowler. Suarez was the catalyst to one of the Reds’ best Premier League seasons in recent years. He captured the imagination of all of those who watched him play and he helped to nearly, so nearly end the long wait Liverpool fans have had for a league title. Yes, we all know the issues he has had on the pitch with his biting, cheating and being a plain annoyance for everyone watching but Suarez is one hell of a player. Since leaving Liverpool he has won the Champions League and even won the Champions League golden boot but it is his performances for Liverpool that see him being referred to as one of the best in the world today.
2) Fernando Torres (2007-11) Quite simply. 65 goals in 102 games. Let me just leave that here for you to let it sink in. Torres for a while was the deadliest striker in the game, he was unplayable, amazing, deadly and outstanding. He was the quickest player to 50 Liverpool goals had he been able to inspire Liverpool to win the league in the 2008/09 season he wouldn’t have left Anfield and maybe, just maybe still been one of the world’s best.
1) Michael Owen (1996-2004) In 2001 Michael Owen won the Ballon D’or, the last Englishman to do so. Following his emergence for both Liverpool and England towards the end of the last millennium, Owen became the best player in the world with a stand out run of scoring both domestically and internationally. He terrorised defences all over the world and became the most unplayable forward for his time, becoming even better than Brazil’s Ronaldo. Owen deserved to win the World Cup in 2002 with England but for Ronaldinho’s flukey free kick that dream was ended. He scored 118 goals in 216 games for Liverpool and formed formidable partnerships with Fowler and Heskey. Owen is one of England’s best strikers let alone Liverpool’s.
Now for the one I have been waiting for, a trip to the Theatre of Dreams to see Manchester United.
3) Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (1996-2007) Who put the ball in the German net? Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Never before has one goal transcended a player into folklore as much as that goal did for Solskjaer. A baby faced assassin, an unknown entity when he arrived but can never be forgotten now. Scoring 91 goals in 235 games for United saw Solskjaer win the hearts of the millions of Manchester United fans all around the world. He played football with a smile on his face all the time and had it not been for that slide after the winning goal in Barcelona then maybe his career would have been fuller and longer, as the slide caused damage to his knee that he never really recovered from. The irony is that his greatest ever moment was also his worst mistake ever.
2) Wayne Rooney (2004-Present) Rooney is the second player to still be at their club in the post and is simply a Manchester United legend. His 172 goals in 348 games for United added with his goals for Everton see him sit joint second with Andy Cole in the all time Premier League top scorers. Captain for both club and country, Rooney is always under the microscope, always scrutinized and is always under pressure to deliver. When he does, he does it in a massive way. For all of his critics Rooney is simply one of the best players England have produced, whether that’s the league or the national team, Rooney is one of the best players to grace English football. If you disagree then you do not have a clue.
1) Ruud van Nistelrooy (2001-06) Ruud Van Nistelrooy is quite simply the best natural striker I have ever seen. Out of his 95 league goals for United, only one was scored from outside the penalty box. That shows how dangerous Ruud was in the box. He was simply amazing and would fight a yearly battle with Henry as to how many goals he could score in a season. He won everything domestically for Manchester United, a Premier League, an FA Cup, a League Cup and a Charity Shield as well as the Premier League golden boot and player of the year for the 2002/03 season. When van Nistelrooy had a chance in the box you always had your money on him scoring and more often than not, he did. Below is my favourite Ruud van Nistelrooy goal.
Tired yet? I know I am. But we move on to our final team, back in North London for the top three strikers for Tottenham Hotspur.
3) Jermaine Defoe (2004-08 & 2009-14) Jermaine Defoe is one of the best English strikers of this millennium, hands down. His record for clubs and country is frightening. His career has seen him score everywhere he has gone. He has formed incredible partnerships with strikers wherever he has played, Di Canio, Crouch, Keane, Kanoute, Owen, Rooney. The list goes on. He scored 91 league goals for Tottenham over the two spells and to be honest, always looked better than a team who if they finished 4th would have had a good season.
2) Robbie Keane (2002-08 & 2009-11) The Irishman Keane burst onto the scene for Tottenham with a hattrick at home against Everton and his career at Spurs blossomed from there. He left for a disaster of a year at Liverpool before returning home to finish where he left off. Like Defoe he scored 91 league goals for Spurs and helped push them into the Champions League, something they could have only dreamed of for the years before. Keane along with Defoe formed an incredibly good partnership, add Peter Crouch to the mix and for a while Tottenham had a front three of goal scoring machines. An unbelievable striker and talisman wherever he has played.
1) Teddy Sheringham (1992-97 & 2001-03) It seems to be a running theme that Tottenham’s best strikers seem to leave and come back, but their scoring ability doesn’t stop. Sheringham scored 98 goals for Spurs either side of a Treble winning season and multiple league winning campaigns at Manchester United. He played with the likes of Keane as well as Les Ferdinand, Steffan Iversen and others and led the team through difficult patches in their Premier League history. An amazing footballer he was as well as a wonderful ambassador for English football.
There we have it. All 7 of the Premier League ever presents have had their top 3 strikers named. By me. These guys are good but they are no Andy Cole. The man was outstanding.