The Decade’s Top Premier League Football Players
With the decade about to end, it is time to take a look at some of the top Premier League players over the past ten years.
Not only is the year drawing to a close in a few weeks’ time, but so is the decade. As a result, it seems like the perfect opportunity to reflect upon some of the top Premier League football players from the past decade.
Some people are willing to overlook David Silva but he has an amazing 204 Premier League wins since the start of 2010, that is more than Liverpool and Tottenham and the same number as Arsenal. His prowess isn’t only in the numbers, he had just one season of double figures for Premier League goals, when Chelsea won the title under Jose Mourinho. Nor are there any particularly great moments, in fact it is hard to think of any standout contributions he made to any of Manchester City’s four titles, unlike Aguero, Kompany or Yaya Toure.
However, he has come to symbolise something far more important, namely a change in perspectives. Not very long ago, the centre of midfield was a battle zone occupied by the likes of Roy Keane, Patrick Vieira, Paul Scholes, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Marouane Fellaini. Silva was the first to look towards a more subtle approach, of players utilising skill rather than physicality, going around opponents rather than sliding through them. As is often the case with greatness, it may not be recognised until it is gone.
When Sergio Aguero first came to the Premier League, there were not many South American players in the league. While South American countries had dominated world football, they had not yet made much of an impression in England. When Aguero was signed by Manchester City in 2011, the continent’s top Premier League goal scorers were Carlos Tevez (69), Gus Poyet (54) and Nolberto Solano (49).There was a great deal of pressure on Aguero. He had flourished in Spain and became the most expensive player in Argentinian history in the most high-prolife European league at that time. He went on to flourish. No player has won more Premier League titles in the last decade. Furthermore, no players has won more Premier League Player of the Month awards in this or any other decade, or scored more hat tricks in the Premier League in this or any other decade. If he scores just one more this season, then he will have scored at least ten goals in nine consecutive seasons.
At present, he is sixth in the all-time list of Premier League goal scorers, behind Alan Shearer (260), Wayne Rooney (208), Andrew Cole (187), Frank Lampard (177), and Thierry Henry (175).
Eden Hazard is one of the few players who seemed to stay at his club for just the right amount of time. His final season at Chelsea was his most prolific in terms of goals and assists, and his time with the club was bookended by Europa League titles, with two Premier League titles in the middle. His first three years with the club were great and his last three years were exceptional, and he is a player that won’t be forgotten any time soon.
N’Golo Kante’s recent tactical transformation has taken him a full circle as he comes towards the end of his first five years in the Premier League. Claudio Ranieri once said of the player he signed in 2015, “I watched him two or three times. I started him as a left winger! I put him there because during the training session I said I had to find a solution for him.”
Three of his first seven appearances at Leicester came in that position before Ranieri gave him the chance to take over from Esteban Cambiasso. It was a decision that he likely only regretted when Chelsea took him away and Kante became the first player to win consecutive league titles for two different clubs since Eric Cantona.
He has been hugely impressive in terms of tactical awakening, positional fluidity and multi-functionality and there is no doubt he is one of the top players of the last decade.
Harry Kane began this decade on loan in League 1 with Leyton Orient before transitioning to Millwall and Leicester in the Championship, and spending some time at Norwich. It was hardly the kind of career that looked to be exceptional. It took him until his ninth Premier League appearance to score, which makes his current haul of 132 goals in 193 games even more impressive. Furthermore, his consistent excellence should be noted, only he Alan Shearer and Thierry Henry have ever scored 20 goals or more in four consecutive Premier League seasons. Aguero, who had a big head start, is the only player to outscore him this decade, and it seems more and more likely that he will come close to Alan Shearer’s record.
Vincent Kompany is a bit of a contradiction, he is an incredibly talented defender who is mainly remembered for his attacking contributions. His header against Manchester United in 2012, his strike against West Ham in 2014, and the tap-in against Leicester City this year, all demonstrate what a level head he has. However, his other side of the game should also be noted. If he lasted longer, he managed just 59 games in his final four Premier League seasons, then he may well have been considered the Premier League’s greatest ever centre half.
After breaking the record for goals in consecutive games Jamie Vardy said, “I’ve just been taking each game as they come. The record wasn’t in my mind.” However, the record came not long long after he had shouted “me, me – all f***ing me” at the fans, but that was a direct response to the Manchester United fans who had spent the previous thirty minutes goading the player by chanting the name of his joint record holder, Van Nistelrooy.
That goal was an example of Vardy at his best. However, his story is truly remarkable. He didn’t make his Premier League debut until the age of 26, he scored one goal and assisted four against Manchester United on his first start, in his second season he broke records and won the title, and now, aged 32, he shows no signs of slowing down whatsoever.
James Milner’s Premier League decade started in an Aston Villa midfield together with Stiliyan Petrov, behind Emile Heskey and in front of Carlos Cuellar, Stephen Warnock and Richard Dunne. He will end the decade as a highly valued member of the European Champions and potential Premier League winners. Along the way, he also won a couple of titles with Manchester City, making him one of the most consistently successful players of the last ten years.
Of his teammates in the 2009/10 PFA Team of the Year, four have retired, one is stuck on the bench at Burnley, and the rest are scattered around the world, from Zenit St Petersburg to Vissel Kobe, with stops at L.D.U Quito, Monaco and Derby. By contrast, Milner has remained a top player and looks just as dependable as ever before.
While there have certainly been better players this decade, those with more skill, better technique and so on, few match Milner in terms of longevity and dedication. When asked about Liverpool’s success without Milner, Jurgen Klopp said, “I think it would not have been possible”.
David de Gea
In October 2011, Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish said, “I thought the press said the boy was struggling,” after he saved efforts from Luis Suarez, Dirk Kuyt and Jordan Henderson, to secure Manchester City a point. However, this was followed by a 6-1 defeat to Manchester City the next week, sending the goalkeeper back to square one.
From November to the next February, De Gea was started in just five of thirteen league games, culminating in a 3-2 loss to Blackburn after he failed to deal with a corner and allowed the other team to score. He was promptly dropped for the first four matches of 2012 in favour of Anders Lindegaard and Ben Amos.
At that point, no one could have had a clue what was to follow. He went on to become a Premier League champion, the most prolific winner ever of the club’s Player of the Year award, and a PFA Team of the Year fixture. He also held off the challenge from Joe Hart for the decade’s best keeper. While De Gea’s powers now seem to be on the decline, for many of the previous ten years he has easily been the most impressive goalkeeper around and has kept at least 15 more clean sheets than any other keeper since his poor start in August 2011.
Toby Alderweireld had extensive Champions League experience before moving to Southampton where he improved his reputation further before joining one of the Premier League’s top clubs. It is easy to understate just how good he has been. For many years, he was simply unmatched as a centre-half. Recently his standards do seem to have slipped a bit, but there is nothing to stop them rising again as he approaches what should be his peak years.