With the recent news that Borussia Dortmund’s American wonderkid Christian Pulisic has signed for Chelsea for £58 million, disgruntled dads across the length and breadth of England were jumping out of their seats in frustration at the continued influx of foreign footballers to English shores.
“£58 million? For an American? The world’s gone mad!”
Yet, despite the exorbitant price tag attached to a man who is still only 20-years-old, it’s hardly the first – nor will it be the last – time Premier League clubs spend big on foreign imports.
And even though Yer Da reckons it’s ruining the domestic game, foreign football stars have been the cornerstone of the English top flight ever since it morphed into the Premier League back in 1992. Without them, our game wouldn’t be as rich, and our glorious league would not have such a global appeal.
So, with Pulisic primed for a potentially glittering future, cast your minds back as we count down the top ten foreign imports to the Premier League*.
*Disclaimer: Virgil van Dijk does not make the list. Liverpool fans may stop reading now.
10: Gianfranco Zola
The diminutive Italian lit up Stamford Bridge following his autumn move from Parma and despite being the only player on this list to never obtain a Premier League winners’ medal, his impact upon Chelsea Football Club was enormous.
In the days when rigid four-four-twos and binge drinking sessions were the norm, Zola imparted on fans and viewers a glimpse into the future of football. Operating between the lines in his favoured number ten role, he confused defences with his blind runs, deft footwork and eye for an impudent pass or goal.
No Italian footballer has quite captured English hearts since.
9: Eden Hazard
It’s baffling that the Belgian dribble wizard still has to fight off criticism in some quarters considering the wealth of talent he has displayed season after season in England. Two Premier League titles, an FA Cup and a Europa League you’d think would be enough to silence any doubters.
Only twice in seven seasons has he failed to hit double figures in terms of goals, but it is his role as Chelsea’s attacking and creative fulcrum that makes him so integral to the West London club’s successes.
On his day, there are few better dribblers in world football, and unfortunately for most defences, his day comes along pretty often.
8: Peter Schmeichel
Often lauded as Sir Alex Ferguson’s greatest bargain, the Great Dane was signed from Brondby for £500,000 in 1992 and went on to assume the mantle of the Premier League’s greatest ever goalkeeper, foreign or otherwise.
Known for his gargantuan stature, Schmeichel deterred most centre-forwards through his sheer size alone. But when called upon, he was as magnificent as he was daunting; whether plucking crosses out of the air, palming shots around posts at point-blank range or initiating devastating counter-attacks with fifty-yard throws, Schmeichel has no equal.
Eight seasons in England yielded an astonishing five Premier League titles, and he would go on to bow out at Old Trafford on the back of a historic treble.
7: David Silva
Ask any Manchester City fan who their best player is and without fail they will answer David Silva. The Spanish magician has long been the creative force that has helped City (along with an endless supply of Arab money, lest we forget) ascend to the summit of English football.
His ability to find space in even the most congested of areas is nothing short of phenomenal. Losing defenders on the half-turn and slipping a deft pass in between full-back and centre-half for advancing wingers has become something of his trademark.
A glorious footballer who will become all the more appreciated once he retires.
6: Patrick Vieira
Without the foreign influences of Arsene Wenger and Patrick Vieira, Arsenal would not have become the second most successful side in Premier League history. Similar to Roy Keane, the intimidating Frenchman was the voice of authority out on the pitch, the manager on the turf, galvanising his team with an unassailable determination.
A powerful runner and an astute passer, he was the heartbeat in Arsenal’s midfield. Not just a scholar in the dark arts, he could play too and was rarely bested in an individual battle. In fact, the only man to regularly come out on top against Vieira also appears in this list.
He remains to this day the only captain of an unbeaten title-winning side since the Premier League’s formation in 1992.
5: Sergio Aguero
When talk turns to the discussion as to who is the league’s greatest ever striker, the Argentine Sergio Aguero’s name is always worth a mention.
His goals-to-game ratio of 0.69 is ludicrous (better than that of even Thierry Henry) but it is not just his outlay that has endeared him so much to City fans. Able to accelerate past defenders at will, Aguero is equally adroit at playing on the shoulder of the last man or dropping deep, and has helped himself to three Premier League titles and claimed a golden boot for his efforts.
Aguero will be a tremendously difficult striker to replace, perhaps impossibly so.
4: Roy Keane
To younger viewers, he’s the bearded, wild-eyed Irishman who loathes Harry Arter, but to connoisseurs of the Premier League, Roy Keane was the finest captain Manchester United ever possessed.
Bizarrely overlooked as a foreign import by many, Keane hails from the Republic of Ireland, which last time we checked, is indeed abroad, and became something of a serial winner in the 1990s as a leader of Sir Alex Ferguson’s indomitable side.
An uncompromising footballer, Keane’s game coupled tenacious tackling and a fierce will to win with an astute ability on the ball. In fact, such was his fearsome reputation that to this day, his metronomic passing remains overshadowed by his proclivity for stamping on people, shouting at referees and picking a fight with just about every Arsenal player to have ever pulled on the Gunners jersey.
There has been no greater warrior. A true Premier League legend.
3: Cristiano Ronaldo
“Look at this flash git,” was the assessment of just about every opposing Premier League supporter who witnessed the precocious Portuguese winger line up against their side in his debut season. Yet, amid a whirlwind of step-overs, there was a great in the making.
Though he went on to dominate world football at Real Madrid, his time in England was still breathtaking. Ronaldo transformed from a gangly teenager with questionable decision-making to an athletic freak with a single-minded approach to goalscoring. His game became more rounded as Ronaldo added to it, piece by piece until he represented the complete footballer.
At the peak of his powers in 07/08, Ronaldo was unstoppable; not only could he dribble at frightening speed, but he could also score from anywhere within thirty-five yards. Along with Tevez and Rooney, he propelled United towards a domestic and European double. When he departed these shores for Spain in 2009, he had carved a legacy as one of the greatest Premier League players ever. He would go on to inflate that legacy even further as one of the greatest players of all time.
2: Thierry Henry
Some of you may be surprised to see Henry at number two on this list considering his litany of achievements. He remains the only man to score 20+ goals in five consecutive seasons, he led Arsenal’s front line in their unbeaten season of 03/04, and he is second only to Alan Shearer in terms of total goals scored in the English top flight.
There are fewer footballers who possessed greater talent than the Frenchman. For not only was he rapid and a tremendous finisher, but he was also almost inhumanly consistent. No one else can quite boast the sheer output of goals he managed over such a sustained period of time.
Easily one of the best footballers the Premier League has seen, foreign or otherwise.
1: Eric Cantona
In terms of sheer impact, absolutely nobody comes close to the astonishing transformative effect Eric Cantona had at Manchester United. Almost on his own, he dragged United to their first league title in 26 years and kick-started a period of dominance that wouldn’t end until fifteen years after his premature retirement.
Combining grace with athleticism, and guile with aggression, Cantona was often said not to run but to swagger across the turf at Old Trafford. Operating in the withdrawn striker role, he linked the midfield and attack, bringing others into play and creating opportunities for others as regularly as he found the net for himself.
In his five seasons at Manchester United, he won four titles and two FA Cups. Such was his importance to the way United played that the only time they didn’t win the title was in 1994/95 when Cantona spent half the season banned following his infamous attack on a Crystal Palace fan.
In short, no other foreign footballer has had quite the monumental impact that King Eric had on English football. It’s been 22 years since he retired, and very few have even come close.