25. Michael Carrick
Behind Ronaldo and Rooney, the next-most important man to United’s recovery in the second half of the 2000s. He was a stylish player for Tottenham but over 11 seasons at Old Trafford he has given them the control that they lacked during their difficult years in the early 2000s. And he was even more important to their resurgence in Europe.
24. Eden Hazard
The most decisive attacking player in the Premier League of this decade, Hazard came to Chelsea from Lille in 2012. He was then Chelsea’s best player in their title wins of both 2015 and 2017, mixing an ability to burst past defenders with an eye for goal and a muscular physicality that opponents often under-estimated. And even then it feels like his very best football is still ahead of him.
23. Didier Drogba
The most important signing of the Jose Mourinho era at Chelsea, Drogba joined from Marseille in 2004 and once he established himself he was the perfect modern target man. His power, presence and goals were crucial to Mourinho’s Chelsea, and then to Carlo Ancelotti’s, and he won three titles before returning to help out in the 2014-15 title win too.
22. Peter Schmeichel
With all due respect to Petr Cech, Schmeichel is the greatest goalkeeper of the Premier League era, a man almost as important as Eric Cantona in giving Manchester United the presence, charisma and quality they needed to reassert themselves as the best team in the country in the 1990s. Won five titles at United, and played for Aston Villa and Manchester City afterwards.
21. Luis Suarez
Only played in the Premier League for three and a half years and yet he was so unforgettably good during his brief spell at Liverpool that he demands inclusion. His 2013-14 season remains the greatest single season by a player in Premier League history, when he scored 31 brilliant goals and came within inches of winning Liverpool’s first title for a generation. Wonder what he could have done in a better team? In his first year at Barcelona he won the Champions League.
20. Sol Campbell
During his long peak, Campbell was a mix of athleticism, bravery and intelligence, anchoring the Spurs defence for six seasons, Arsenal for five and Portsmouth, at their very best, for another three. He was one of the crucial signings who helped to take Arsenal to the next level, and to the 2001-02 and 2003-04 titles, even if that controversial free transfer move will never be forgiven by Tottenham fans.
19. Sergio Aguero
One of the greatest strikers of the Premier League era, and the man who provided its greatest ever moment. Aguero will always be known as the man whose 94th minute winner won the 2011-12 title for Manchester City. But that was just one of 122 Premier League goals he has scored in his six seasons in England, in four of which he has gone past 20. If he had stayed injury free he would even more.
18. David Beckham
Yet another star of the Manchester United treble-winning team, Beckham’s fame eventually transcended United, the Premier League and football itself after his move to Real Madrid in 2003. But before then he was a consistent, dangerous, hard-working midfielder who was as important as anyone to the six Premier League titles he won during his time at Old Trafford.
17. Andy Cole
Number three on the list of all-time top Premier League goalscorers with 187, Cole was a star of Kevin Keegan’s first great Newcastle United team. In 1995 he made a surprising transfer to Manchester United and after a slow start he was eventually a big success: he brilliantly partnered with Dwight Yorke in the treble season, before being sold to Blackburn in 2001.
16. Michael Owen
Like Rooney, a striker who almost suffered by achieving so much so early: Owen won two Premier League Golden Boots as a teenager and was electric between breaking into the Liverpool first team at 17 and leaving for Real Madrid at 24. He even won the Ballon d’Or. Did eventually get his medal, with Manchester United, but it is the first half of his career for which he will always be remembered.
15. Paul Scholes
Perhaps underappreciated at the peak of his powers, Scholes was the pass and move specialist at the heart of United’s great teams. He played some of his best football in the final years of his career, after overcoming an eye injury, and even came out of retirement in 2012, helping United to the 2012-13 Premier League title, the sixth of his career.
14. David Silva
Manchester City’s greatest ever player, Silva was signed from Valencia in 2010 and has now given them seven years of highly-skilled control in midfield. City would never have won their two Premier League titles without Silva pulling the strings and he has proven more consistent than his two best colleagues, Yaya Toure and Sergio Aguero.
13. Dennis Bergkamp
As important as Thierry Henry to the style and success of the early Arsene Wenger years, Bergkamp predated Wenger’s arrival but was his perfect representative on the pitch. Bergkamp was, in his own words, the ‘technical leader’ of those Arsenal teams and those three Premier League titles before his retirement would have been unimaginable without him.
12. John Terry
The last great old-fashioned centre-back, Terry was one of the building blocks of the great Chelsea team of the 2000s, and outlasted all of them, not leaving the club until 2017. He was the captain and defensive organiser behind four Premier League titles and was there for a fifth, under Antonio Conte, although by that point he was in a bit-part role.
11. Wayne Rooney
Went from teen prodigy at Everton to become leading man at Manchester United before returning to Goodison with five Premier League titles and 198 league goals. Happy to play up front, out wide or in midfield, always with the same audacity, conviction and skill. Questions he faces about whether he fulfilled his potential are a testament to just how good he was, and what he achieved, before the age of 25.
10. Eric Cantona
Not Manchester United’s best player of the Premier League era but one of the most important. He gave United the extra edge they needed when he arrived in 1992, inspiring them with his charisma and imagination, and a stylish approach to the game that stood out in the muddy early 90s. He only played four and a half seasons at United but it was more than enough to make his deep mark.
9. Rio Ferdinand
The most accomplished defender of the era, he was promising at West Ham United and Leeds United and then consistently brilliant during his 12 seasons at Manchester United. He won the league six times there, anchoring the defence of arguably the greatest English team of this century. Neither United nor England have known quite what to do since.
8. Alan Shearer
The Premier League’s greatest ever goalscorer, by far. His 260 goals is 62 more than second-placed Wayne Rooney, the result of terrorising defences from the league’s foundation in 1992 with Southampton until his retirement in 2006. He only won one title, with Blackburn, having joined Newcastle in 1996, but he was a hero there, overcoming knee injuries and staying dangerous.
7. Steven Gerrard
Surely the greatest Premier League player never to win a medal, Gerrard was the inspiration for almost 15 years’ worth of Liverpool teams. There has never been a Premier League midfielder quite like him, as powerful and spectacular, but he could never find the team to take him to the title. He came close in 2009 and closer in 2014, and unfortunately he will always be associated with that glorious failure.
6. Patrick Vieira
The first and best signing of Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal reign, he arrived as a 20-year-old who had not settled at Milan and left as a three-time Premier League winner. He was as much of a by-word for leadership, tenacity, resilience and skill under pressure as his great rival Roy Keane. There has not been a player truly like him or Keane in the 12 years since they both left.
5. Frank Lampard
Unmatchable as a consistent goalscoring midfielder: 10 consecutive seasons with double figures of Premier League goals. He was the intelligent engine of the great Chelsea teams through the 2000s, winning three league titles as well as the Champions League in 2012. He retired with 177 Premier League goals, the fourth most ever, having never even played up front once.
4. Ryan Giggs
No-one can match Giggs for longevity but he is about even more than that. His total of 13 Premier League medals will surely never be matched and he will also be remembered as a man whose game changed as his body did, more successfully than anyone ever. He was an explosive winger in the first great United team of the mid-1990s before, in the late 2000s and early 2010s, finishing off as a thoughtful midfielder.
3. Roy Keane
Behind Sir Alex Ferguson himself, the next most important man in establishing Manchester United’s Premier League hegemony was Roy Keane. Arrived as the British record signing in 1993 but then inspired United to the 1994 double, the 1996 double and best of all the 1999 treble. He was an imposing presence in midfield, and after he faded in the 2000s, United spent years trying to replace him.
2. Thierry Henry
Unlike Ronaldo, Henry gave the best years of his career to England, winning two Premier League titles and four Golden Boots during his long purple patch in the first half of the 2000s. He was Arsenal’s cutting edge and embodied their best qualities: speed, style, skill, imagination and class. He is the fifth top goalscorer in Premier League history, a remarkable achievement for a player who only spent seven seasons here.
1. Cristiano Ronaldo
No player has ever dominated and decided the Premier League like Cristiano Ronaldo did for Manchester United between 2006 and 2009. Those three straight title-winning seasons – he won the 2008 Champions League too – remain the high-point for consistent performance in the history of this competition. And he was only 24 when he left for Real Madrid. Imagine what he could have achieved in England if he had stayed.