As always the new season brings new anticipation and expectations. How will my team fare this year? Will our manager finally get the best out of our multi-million pound striker? Will we manage to win the derby, at least at home? The biggest excitement though is reserved for the new signings, particularly those from abroad who have never played a minute of Premier League football in their career. This season all eyes will be on players like Mauroane Chamakh, Chicharito Hernandez, David Silva to see if they can transfer the success they have enjoyed in their domestic leagues into the faster and more physical Premier League…it doesn’t matter where you played before the Premier League is always described as faster and more physical! There are many players who managed to do just that and thus have become legends at the Premier League club they spurred to glory, saved from relegation or maybe just won their fans adoration for the blood, sweat and tears they left on the pitch. Here are my Top 10 Premier League imports, if you disagree, give me your Top Tens below. The only rule is that they had to be imported from abroad during the Premier League era (e. g Eric Cantona doesn’t count, he joined Leeds in the final season of the old first division). Enjoy!
10. Lucas Radebe (South Africa)
There will be plenty of strikers in this list but we start with a central defender who never scored a Premier League goal. In 1994 Lucas Radebe became the first Sowetan-born player to appear in the Premier League representing Leeds United…in fact he was arguably the first Sowetan to live in Leeds! In the early-90s African players were not common in the Premier League. It was players such as Radebe who opened the door for today’s established stars like Drogba, Adebayor, Essien and Song. He was disciplined, strong, determined and a born leader. He captained Leeds to consecutive top 4 finishes and that Champions League campaign. Towards the end of his 11 seasons at Elland Road he was dogged by injury but it hasn’t tarnished the supporters’ admiration of the man they called “Chief”. As recently as 2008 a Leeds Brewery named a new ale “Radebeer” in his honour!
9. Marian Pahars (Latvia)
By the late-90s the Premier League was a truly global league. It was no surprise to find foreign players throughout the top flight not just the major clubs. Even so when Southampton signed a little known Latvian striker some eyebrows were raised. Marian Pahars may have had a good track record for Skonto Riga but this was the Premiership. However Marian took it in his stride and proved his worth. He may not be as decorated as the other members of this list but his importance to Southampton must not be overlooked. He saved them from relegation in 1999 with his double against Everton on the final day. In his first four seasons he scored 39 league goals in 106 games, no mean feat at a club accustomed to relegation scraps. Some say he still gives Jaap Stam nightmares!
8. Carlos Tevez (Argentina)
In January 2004 I witnessed a bore 0-0 between Boca Juniors and Gimnasia de la Plata. The only reason I didn’t throw myself off the top of La Bombonera before full time was because of Boca’s incredible 19 year old striker, one Carlos Tevez. El Apache has played for three Premier League clubs and while one half of Manchester may not love him anymore they can only respect him. His hard work and relentless desire is matched by his ability. He kept West Ham up with that goal against United before going on to win the league twice at Old Trafford. In his first season at Manchester City he notched up 23 goals in the league, and then there were these two in the Carling Cup that are undoubtedly amongst his favourites. All that and he is still only 26. Scary.
7. Sami Hyypia (Finland)
The big Finn may not have won the Premier League at Liverpool but he won everything else. The stats tell their own story, before Sami Hyypia Liverpool never finished above 3rd place and conceded an average of 1.09 goals per game. In the 10 seasons he spent at Anfield they finished 2nd twice and conceded 0.87 goals per game. Jamie Carragher must also be credited with their defensive improvement but Sami was the man he learned from. He even managed the odd goal as well. A complete central defender who deserves to be in this list and probably deserved at least one Premier League medal in his already bulging trophy cabinet.
6. Brad Friedel (United States)
He might look like Hellboy and his best league finish is still only 5th, but Brad Friedel has been the Premier League’s outstanding performers. His 229 consecutive games played between 14 August 2004 and 14 August 2010 for Blackburn and Aston Villa is a Premier League record. But it isn’t just that he is consistent he his consistently one of the top goalkeepers in the division. He put in some amazing performances, I remember Man Utd nearly exploding with frustration as they tried to get past him (it took a Tevez goal in the final minutes to rescue a point)! And if his goalkeeping prowess isn’t enough he has even got on the score sheet!
5. Ruud Van Nistlerooy (Holland)
The man was simply a goal machine. Some people criticised him for not bringing his team mates into the game enough, and for not being able to score outside the box. But that is insignificant if you score 95 goals in 150 appearances, a better goals per game ratio than Alan Shearer. If he had stayed longer than five seasons then maybe he could have taken Shearer’s place at the top of the Premier League all-time scoring charts. Of course it helped that he had Beckham, Scholes and Giggs feeding him but Ruud feasted on goals. He also feasted on trophies, when he left Salford for Madrid he had won every domestic competition and picked up a PFA player of the year award. Also if you were one of those people who said he couldn’t score from outside the box, have a look at this.
4. Gianfranco Zola (Italy)
If you are only 5 ft 5 in then you have to be one hell of a talent to make it professional football, let alone the most physically demanding league in the world. Lucky for Chelsea the diminutive Italian had so much skill he did things in matches that had previously only been seen on the training ground. He had class, he had a beautiful first touch, his vision was second to none and also he scored goals when it mattered. His effect on Chelsea was one of belief, a belief that they could win the title if they were attracting player’s of this man’s genius. His peers voted him player of the year twice and the football writer’s award was his in 1997. In 2004 he was awarded an honorary OBE. Today years after his departure the number 25 shirt remains in the kit bag a small tribute to the man from Cagliari who did things like this.
3. Dennis Bergkamp (Holland)
The Iceman suffered a torrid two years at Inter Milan before Bruce Rioch (really David Dein) brought the Dutchman to Highbury in June 1995. After six games it seemed that Bergkamp wasn’t going to cut it in the Premier League, but in his next game against Southampton he netted this beauty (YouTube) and there was no looking back. It wasn’t the number of goals he scored or even the number of goals he created (it is no coincidence that Arsenal’s top two goalscorers of all time partnered Dennis Bergkamp) but the quality he brought to English football. He remains the only foreign player (sorry John Aldridge just doesn’t count) to have won the BBC’s Goal of the Season award twice for this in 1998 and this unforgettable goal against Newcastle in 2002. When he called time on his career after 12 years at Arsenal he left with 3 Premier League Titles and 4 FA Cups. The most honoured Dutchman ever in English football.
2. Cristiano Ronaldo (Portgual)
Pace, skill, an eye for goal and a 6ft 3in frame that could head the ball. This guy has it all. Before CR7 only Alan Shearer had managed 31 goals in a 38 game season. Ronaldo did it from midfield. The man simply terrorised defences, he would run at defenders, run at defenders, run at defenders until they crumbled and he scored. Sometimes it took all game other times he had an instantaneous effect. He won everything there was to win at United and was showered with individual awards. His only downfall was that he left so soon, maybe if he had stayed longer he might have been at the top of this list – he may even have scored 32 goals in a season. And while his style off the pitch is questionable, on it he is mesmerising….truly mesmerising.
1. Thierry Henry (France)
Like Bergkamp, the Frenchman struggled in Italy before being coaxed to Arsenal by David Dein and Rioch’s replacement Arsene Wenger. Like Bergkamp he scored goals and made goals and produced moments that will never be forgotten and moments that will never be reproduced. What puts him ahead of Bergkamp and ahead of everyone else on this list is the sheer amount of goals and unfathomable pieces of skill he gave the Arsenal fans. He won the league twice, the FA Cup three times , he won PFA Player of the Year twice, the Football Writer’s Award three times and was Golden Boot winner four times (a Premier League record). He is Arsenal’s all-time top goalscorer the Premier League’s 3rd highest (and highest foreigner). Even without all that he deserves to be on top of this list for when he baffled Barthez, took on Tottenham on his own, scored a hat trick in Arsenal’s last game at Highbury and was arrogant enough to do this in a match. He didn’t just conquer the Premier League he brought it to a new level and challenged the next generation of Rooney, Ronaldo et al to reach his heights.
So there is the list. Post yours below if you disagree! Check back on Thursday for the next Top Ten!