The Premier League has seen a massive influx of talents coming from all parts of the world. In its history that spans nearly three decades, fans around the world have been treated to a spectacle. Here, we take a look at the list of the all-time best forwards to have ever graced the Premier League:
#10 Dennis Bergkamp
Just like the present scenario, Arsenal were in somewhat of a transition during the mid-’90s – uninspiring, mediocre, boring and managed by Bruce Rioch. But in the summer of 1995, it was all about to change, as the £7.5m spent on an unknown foreign player rang alarm bells among the Arsenal faithful but also created a buzz of excitement in hope of what the future might hold.
11 years later, when Dennis Bergkamp hung up his boots, the Gunners had won three Premier League titles, played some of the most beautiful football ever seen on the British shores and became the ‘Invincibles’ – a stark contrast to the initial years of the ’90s era.
Bergkamp’s superhuman technique gave him an unfair advantage against his human counterparts. Dennis scored only 87 goals for the Gunners, but his finishes were usually preceded by trickery and skills that looked more like witchcraft than reality.
One of the biggest advantages he had over his opponents was his decisiveness and speed of thought; Bergkamp played the game a second or two ahead of everyone else on the pitch.
#9 Eric Cantona
Clubs: Manchester United
Whenever you think of Eric Cantona there’s only one word that comes to mind – King.
While Eric Cantona didn’t fit into Howard Wilkinson’s Leeds United side, he found his perfect match at Man United, where famine was about to become a feast.
Sixteen games into the 92/93 season, United were languishing in eighth – having blown away their title charge to Yorkshire rival Leeds in the latter stages of the 91/92 season. Following his arrival, the Red Devils won 18 of their remaining 26 fixtures and lost only twice en route to their first league title in 26 years.
Sir Alex Ferguson wanted a goal scorer, but in Cantona, he found something rarer. Cantona scored nine goals that season but chipped in with 11 assists as well. More than anything tangible, Cantona brought with him a sense of confidence and arrogance that brushed off on his teammates and won the fans at Old Trafford.
After five seasons with the Red Devils that saw brilliance, charisma, leadership, madness, four Premier League titles, 70 goals and 56 assists, Eric Cantona bid his farewell to the Premier League as he hung up his boots aged just 31.
#8 Ian Wright
In September 1991, Ian Wright joined Arsenal for a then club-record fee of £2.5m. At the time the Gunners were the reigning champions and had a bucket full of attacking talent. The transfer surprised many; despite Wright’s prolific performances for Crystal Palace, many believed Arsenal would be a step too high for the England international.
However, ‘Wrighty’ bagged a hat trick in his league debut at Southampton which silenced most of his critics. Ian Wright was a great goal scorer, but more importantly, he was a scorer of great goals. A defender’s nightmare, he left the best of goalkeepers look stupid.
From tap-ins to screamers to his love for long-range chipped efforts, he had it all. But what made Wrighty so special was that unlike players like Thierry Henry and Robin van Persie who played in a free-flowing attacking system under Arsène Wenger, Wright played the best part of his Arsenal career in the era of ‘One-nil to the Arsenal’.
This makes Wrighty’s record more special, playing in front of a midfield with industrial players rather than creators, but still managing to bag 113 goals and 22 assists in 213 Premier League appearances.
#7 Michael Owen
Just like Robbie Fowler, Michael Owen remains one of the best breakthrough talents to have ever shone at the pinnacle of football. Owen scored on his senior debut for Liverpool in 1997 against Wimbledon at Selhurst Park.
Owen had the gargantuan task of leading the Liverpool front line after talismanic forward Robbie Fowler suffered a serious injury. He repaid the faith bestowed upon him by scoring 18 goals in that league campaign earning him the Premier League Golden Boot as well as the PFA Young Player of the Year award.
Owen continued his exploits the following seasons, most notably the 2000-01 season where the England international was integral to Liverpool completing the treble of the UEFA Super Cup, the FA Cup, and the Football League Cup, with his performances earning him the 2001 Ballon d’Or.
If not for a serious hamstring injury, Michael Owen would have easily broken Alan Shearer’s Premier League goalscoring tally of 260 goals. With his pace and outstanding finishing, Owen won two Golden Boots before turning 20, a record that is highly unlikely to ever be broken.
#6 Gianfranco Zola
With the ratification of the Bosman rule in 96/97, the Premier League saw its shore flood up with foreign talents and two foreign managers duly took advantage of their diverse scouting reputation. While Wenger looked to France, Ruud Gullit turned to where he came from – eight distinguished years in Italy as a player before becoming player-manager at Chelsea.
1996 was not a good year for Zola as the then 30-year-old was made the scapegoat for Italy’s humiliation at Euros 96 and then when he returned to Parma, his new manager, Carlo Ancelotti, felt Zola was surplus to requirements for his 4-4-2 system – as Ancelotti wanted to use two flat strikers up front, leaving no place for a wide forward like Gianfranco Zola.
Zola signed midway through the season for Ruud Gullit’s Chelsea in a £4.5m deal and did not play until the 13th game of the season, but by the end of the season, Zola was only one goal behind Chelsea’s top goal scorer – winning the Football Writers’ Association Player of the year award and the only player in the award’s history to win it after joining midway through the season.
For a side that kept yo-yoing for two decades between the first and the second division, Chelsea now had a team that were safely secure in the upper mid-table; a good cup side, that ended a 26-year wait for silverware, winning two FA Cups, League Cup, Cup Winners’ Cup and the UEFA Super Cup.
Chelsea’s improved status attracted Roman Abramovich, but by then Zola had decided to return to his homeland and play for Serie B side Cagliari. Abramovich did try to lure the then 36-year-old to a one-year deal, but the Italian stayed true to his words and turned down the offer.
#5 Andy Cole
Andy Cole became an instant hit on the Tyneside. In his 93/94 campaign, Cole was exceptional and lethal in front of the goal as he ended up with 34 league goals – 41 in all competitions – as he walked off with both the Golden Boot and the PFA Young Player of the Year award.
In 84 appearances for Newcastle United, the Englishman scored 68 goals, so it was regarded as an aberration by the Magpies when Kevin Keegan sold Cole to Manchester United for a new British transfer record fee of £7m plus a player (Keith Gillespie).
Cole had a dream start to his United career, but a flurry of missed chances against West Ham United resulted in a 1-1 draw and United losing the title to Blackburn Rovers. The United faithful lambasted the forward for his chances as he failed to regain his form or confidence the following season, while long spells on the injury table curtailed his 96/97 season.
Cole returned to his best the following season but his partnership with Teddy Sheringham never clicked, and when Dwight Yorke made the switch to Old Trafford in the summer of 1998 the two formed one of the deadliest and fearsome attacking duos in the history of the Premier League.
Cole and Yorke scored 53 goals between them in all competitions as the Red Devils registered a historic treble in the 98/99 season. However, the arrival of Ruud van Nistelrooy in the summer of 2001 meant Cole spent most of his 01/02 season warming the bench at Old Trafford before making the switch to Blackburn Rovers in search of first-team football.
Following his departure from United, Cole became a journeyman as he jumped from club to club, moving wherever he felt he needed a move. In the end, by November of 2008, Cole hung up his boots but returned to United later on to collect his coaching badges.
#4 Sergio Agüero
Clubs: Manchester City
After spending 10 glorious years in England, it is his final strike in his debut season – the famous ’93:20′ – that stands out, when Agüero scored late in stoppage time to secure Manchester City’s first topflight title in 44 years, beating neighbours United on goal difference.
Agüero’s predatory instincts, razor-sharp movement, reading of the game and clinical finishing ability has seen him become one of the best strikers in the world over the last decade.
It is astonishing that the Argentine only won one Golden Boot in his illustrious Man City career, winning it in the 2014/15 season after scoring 26 goals in 33 league appearances. But it also highlights the remarkable consistency of the 32-year-old.
Barring the last season, Agüero has scored in double digits in every season he’s been with Man City, with his lowest goal return coming in the 2012/13 season while he has scored over 20 goals for five consecutive seasons – a feat only matched by Thierry Henry.
His quickfire double against Everton in his final match took his Premier League goals tally to 184, making him the highest goal scorer for a single club, while also being the highest goal-scoring foreign player in the history of the league.
#3 Wayne Rooney
Clubs: Everton, Manchester United
When Wayne Rooney started off as a 16-year-old kid for Everton, curling one past David Seaman – the Arsenal goalkeeper – on his debut, many observers wondered whether they were witnessing the start of something special.
And after Man Utd snapped him up after his exploits at the 2004 Euros, the next 13 seasons saw the England international become the club’s record goal scorer with 257 goals. He is only behind Alan Shearer for the Premier League top scorers list.
It was in his third season with the Red Devils that he won his first Premier League winners medal, by which point Rooney had struck up a deadly partnership with Cristiano Ronaldo. Together, Rooney and Ronaldo won three consecutive Premier League titles and a Champions League title in 2008.
But it was after Ronaldo’s departure that Rooney shone on the goalscoring front, scoring 34 goals (in all competitons) in both the 09/10 and 11/12 seasons. However, the United fans’ love for their star man was tested when he reportedly handed in two transfer requests to leave the club, only to be tied down by lucrative contract extensions.
In 2017, Rooney returned to his boyhood club Everton, but his Goodison return did not prove to be the fairytale ending Rooney had hoped for. Soon, he was shipped off to the US to play for the MLS franchise DC United.
#2 Alan Shearer
Clubs: Blackburn, Newcastle
It almost feels outrageous that anyone could question a man with 260 Premier League goals, three Golden Boots, a European Championship Golden Boot, two PFA Players’ Player of the Year awards. But while no one doubts his personal accolades, it’s the ‘teams section’ that has remained sparse for Shearer’s 19-year-long career.
The only occasion where Shearer got his hands on major silverware was when Blackburn clinched the Premier League title on the final day of the 94/95 season. The England international was instrumental to Blackburn’s cause as he chipped in with 34 goals.
Shearer then went on to spend ten years at Newcastle United, notching up 206 goals in 395 appearances for the Magpies. Despite going through several serious injuries, the Magpies’ captain finished every season at the club as their highest goal scorer.
Whatever type of goal you needed, Shearer scored them all – tap-ins, long-range screamers, first-time worldies, freekicks, headers, you name it. Were it not for his undying love for his beloved Newcastle, Shearer would have won a lot of silverware in his career – especially with Manchester United as Sir Alex Ferguson’s dreams of uniting with the lethal striker were called off by then Blackburn owner Jack Walker.
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#1 Thierry Henry
Active: 1999-2006, 2012
While Alan Shearer may have been the all-time record goal scorer, there is no doubt that Thierry Henry is the most complete forward that has ever graced the Premier League.
Despite having played most of his career as a left-winger, Henry was deployed as a striker by Arsène Wenger. His first 12 appearances in an Arsenal shirt yielded just one goal, raising serious questions about his future with the Gunners. But he went on to score 16 goals in his next 19 appearances and laid the foundation for an illustrious career at Arsenal.
The Frenchman was renowned for his trademark finish of opening up his body and curling the ball out of the goalkeeper’s reach into the bottom corner, but Henry also took pride in assisting his teammates as such was the camaraderie of that Arsenal side.
The Frenchman was phenomenal between 2003 and 2006, spearheading Arsenal’s ‘Invincibles’ campaign, in which he scored 30 goals and provided 20 assists in 37 league games. Thierry was on a different planet to everyone else as he tore apart defences limb by limb – each and every week.
Only Sergio Agüero has scored over 20 goals for five consecutive seasons other than Thierry Henry. The Frenchman has won four Golden Boot awards while also collecting the PFA Player of the Year award in ’03 and ’04 and the Football Writers’ Association award in ’03, ’04 and ’06 to go along with his two Premier League titles.