The Premier League is the most watched sporting league in the world. The debate as to whether it is the ‘best’ rages on, but no one can deny it’s incredible reach, popularity and interest. Therefore, Premier League winners are often very well-known within the world of soccer, and quite often some of the most familiar faces and highly-regarded individuals within the beautiful game.
Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo and Thierry Henry are just a few examples of incredibly well-known players to have got their hands on the Premier League title, multiple times in fact. But it is not those players that we focus on in this instance, it is those lesser known championship winners who many may not have heard of and even more will be unaware they ever won one of the most prestigious titles in world football.
To be awarded a Premier League winners medal one must feature in 5 or more league games for the title winning team. It is that criteria which we use here to define a Premier League title winner, so as to avoid including players who were merely named in the squad but never/almost never played. Some of them are well-known players who people just may not know won the title, while others are generally rather obscure, but all did something Steven Gerrard never could, they won a Premier League title.
20. Mike Newell
Mike Newell is a name that will be familiar to Blackburn Rovers fans, having played 130 league games for the club, but less so to more casual or recent followers of the Premier League. A former England under-21 international, Newell won the Premier League title with Rovers in 1995, a season in which he started just two games, but his nine substitute appearances meant he comfortably qualified for a winners medal.
Newell joined Blackburn while the club were in the second tier of English football for over £1 million, a fee which made him the most expensive player in the club’s history and outside the top flight at that time. Shortly after arriving at Ewood Park, Newell broke his leg, and by the time Rovers won the title, the lethal combination of Chris Sutton and Alan Shearer gave him little chance of first team football.
19. Alexander Buttner
Uncapped Dutchman Alexander Buttner played the minimum amount of games required to win a Premier League winners medal during the 2012-13 season, Sir Alex Ferguson’s last at the helm at Manchester United. Buttner joined the club as a promising and versatile left sided player from Vitesse. Played predominantly as a left-back during his time at Old Trafford, he was largely disappointing, and although he looked a threat going forward, he was a liability in defence.
Arguably Buttner’s most memorable Manchester United outing was on the final day of the 2012/13 season in Alex Ferguson’s final game in charge. The current Dynamo Moscow man displayed the best and worst aspects of his game, scoring at one end but conceding 5 at the other in a thrilling 5-5 draw.
18. Alex Manninger
A bizarre summer signing by Liverpool in the summer, 39-year-old shot stopper Alex Manninger joined the Reds for a reunion with the Premier League after 14 years apart. Manninger first starred in the Premier League with Arsenal, where he played 39 league games in five years at Highbury. He made seven appearances for the Gunners during the 1997-98 season in which Arsene Wenger’s side pipped Manchester United to the title by 1 point.
The seasoned Austrian goalkeeper, who has won 33 caps for his country, became something of a journeyman after that, but also picked up another notable piece of silverware at Juventus in 2011/12. Manninger joined Liverpool from Augsburg on a free transfer in the summer but is yet to (and unlikely ever to) get a game under Jurgen Klopp.
17. Nathan Dyer
They may have only won it last season, but a few Leicester City players still manage to make this list. Nathan Dyer is the first of them. The pacy winger joined Leicester on-loan with most expecting the Foxes to be in for a long relegation slog once more. As it happened, Leicester would finish top of the Premier League table, while Dyer’s parent club Swansea finished 12th.
With Riyad Mahrez and Marc Albrighton being Leicester’s starring wingers, Dyer found game time limited. Despite not starting a single Premier League game, the 28-year-old made 12 sub appearances, and thus easily qualified for a winners medal. Dyer is now back at Swansea City playing under former USMNT coach Bob Bradley. It’s safe to say his side won’t make a Leicester City like run this season.
16. Stefan Savic
Stefan Savic spent just a single season with Manchester City, where he was fourth choice centre-back. However, injuries to the likes of Vincent Kompany, combined with Kolo Toure’s extended period away on international duty meant the Montenegro international made a total of 12 appearances that season. As you’ll recall, City were able to win the title on the final day of the season, with a late game stunner by Sergio Aguero putting City over United on goal differential.
Savic looked shaky at the Etihad, and was quickly shipped off to Fiorentina. Still only 25, Savic joined Atletico Madrid in 2015, one of the finest defences in European football, although he has made just 12 league appearances for Diego Simeone’s side since making the move.
15. Richard Wright
Twice capped former England international Richard Wright came through the academy at Ipswich Town and went on to make 24o league appearances over six years in the Tractor Boys first team. However, in 2001, Wright joined Arsenal, and for the next 15 years he was a perennial number two, playing second fiddle for an extraordinary amount of time. The only time he got regular game time was when he briefly returned to Portman Road between 2008 and 2010.
Wright spent time as a backup at Arsenal, Everton, West Ham and Manchester City. He managed to spend the last four years of his career at Manchester City without making a single appearance in any competition. His Premier League winners medal came in 2001-02, when the former Southampton loanee made 12 appearances as Arsene Wenger guided the Gunners to the title.
14. Luis Boa Morte
Luis Boa Morte is one of the best known and most talented players on this list, but that doesn’t alter the fact that many people don’t know he ever won a Premier League title. The Portuguese international who won 28 caps for his country came through the Sporting CP academy, like so many top talents, and won his title early on in his career. Boa Morte joined Arsenal from Sporting aged 19, and the club won the Premier League in his first season.
That season was the 1997-98 campaign, the same one in which Alex Manninger picked up a winners medal. Boa Morte made 15 league appearances that season, many coming off the bench, and saw his game time reduced in the following seasons before being sold to Southampton. The 39-year-old went on to play regularly for the likes of Fulham and West Ham, and now works as the youth team manager at Sporting.
13. Asier del Horno
Often regarded as one of Chelsea’s worst signings of the Roman Abramovich era, Asier del Horno spent just a single season at the Bridge, although he did make 25 league appearances as Chelsea were comfortably crowned Premier League champions. Despite being a semi-regular that season, del Horno didn’t live long in the minds of Chelsea fans or football fans in general.
Capped 10 times by Spain, del Horno was very highly-regarded during his time at Atheltic Bilbao, but his time at Chelsea was the beginning of the end. Best remembered for a horrific tackle on Lionel Messi in the Champions League, upon returning to La Liga, first with Valencia, and later playing for Bilbao, Valladolid and Levante, the full-back never got a run of games and injuries forced him into an early retirement at the age of 31.
12. Jack Rodwell
Jack Rodwell’s career trajectory has taken a minor downfall (off the edge of a cliff) in recent years. When he joined Manchester City from Everton for £12 million in 2012, he was just 21 years old, yet he had already played more than 100 games for Everton and been capped by England. Four years on, Rodwell was barely played at Manchester City before being sold to struggling Sunderland where he is currently out of David Moyes’ team.
Rodwell hasn’t won a game in which he has started for more than 1,250 days, a quite incredible record, and one of the reasons why Sunderland fans are pleased to see him currently out of the side, as they recently put together back-to-back wins in his absense. Rodwell’s Premier League winners medal came at the end of the 2013-14 season, during which he made the minimum five appearances required to qualify for a medal.
11. Ritchie De Laet
Another member of last season’s victorious Leicester City team, who started the season as 5000/1 underdogs for the title, Ritchie De Laet wasn’t even with Leicester for much of the 2015-16 season, yet he still picked up a Premier League winners medal. The full-back became the first player in history to win the Premier League and be promoted to the Premier League in the same season, having played 12 league games for the Foxes and 10 on-loan at promoted Middlesbrough.
It would prove to be De Laet’s fourth and final season at the King Power Stadium, as he was deemed a surplus to requirements and sold to Aston Villa. It was quite some style to go out on, although De Laet has since suffered a serious injury before making his debut for Villa and is expected to be out for the season.
10. Raimond van der Gouw
Raimond van der Gouw was a solid yet never spectacular backup goalkeeper at Manchester United who never secured the number one shirt. It is probably down to that fact that the Dutchman is one of the most easily forgettable shot stoppers of Sir Alex Ferguson’s reign.
The now retired 53-year-old spent a total of six years at Old Trafford, but played just 37 league games in that time. The majority of that time was spent getting games here and there when Peter Schmeichel was out of action, and van der Gouw may have expected increased game time after 1999, when the great Dane left Manchester United, but it wasn’t to be. Van der Gouw actually won 2 Premier League winners medals, in 1999-00 and 2000-01.
9. Christopher Wreh
Technically speaking one of the poorest players to have won a Premier League winners medal, Christopher Wreh spent three years at Arsenal. A cousin of Ballon d’Or winning legend George Weah, a number of coaches clearly had hope Wreh would progress to somewhere close to his cousins levels, but it was never to be.
In three years at Highbury, Wreh scored three goals in 27 games, a poor return for a striker in a very gifted team. His winners medal came in 1997-98, making him the third player from the Gunners title winning campaign that season on this list. The Liberian international started seven Premier League games that season, as well as starting in the FA Cup final. Come to think of it, we have quite a few members of that 1997-98 Arsenal team on this list.
8. Jordi Cruyff
From one relative of a footballing legend to another. Legends in footballing history don’t come much greater than Jordi Cruyff’s father Johan. Arguably the greatest European footballer of all time, Johan Cruyff was not just a three-time Ballon d’Or winner who enjoyed enormous success at Ajax and Barcelona, he was also a pivotal figure in changing the way the game is played and viewed, pioneering ‘Total Football’ alongside Rinus Michels.
Jordi had big boots to fill then, and it’s fair to say anyone would have struggled to do so. The attacking midfielder played for Barcelona, Manchester United and the Dutch national team, but in truth, he was perhaps a little fortuitous to do so. Cruyff struggled with the pace and power of the Premier League, but still managed to play just enough games to win three Premier League winners medals. Fun fact; Jordi Cruyff was the last player to score a goal assisted by Eric Cantona at Manchester United.
7. Alexey Smertin
The second signing of the Roman Abramovich era at Chelsea was a Russian international by the name of Alexey Smertin. It is common knowledge that Abramovich likes to have a say on footballing matters at the Bridge, and it’s hard not to think that the recruitment of a compatriot so early in his reign as the Blues owner wasn’t at least a little of his own doing. Unfortunately, his fellow countryman failed him.
Signed for just £3.5 million from Bordeaux, Smertin was brought in as a squad player, and his performances never suggested that he should be considered anything more. He made 11 starts and five substitutes in the 2004-05 season as Jose Mourinho’s men coasted to the Premier League title. Smertin must have been thrilled at this turn of events.
6. Daniel Amartey
Another player on the ‘only just’ list when it comes to Premier League winner medals, as Daniel Amartey also played the minimum of just five league games for Leicester City last season as the Foxes recorded a remarkable title win. Capable of playing as either a defender or as a midfielder, the Ghanaian international who moved to the East Midlands from Copenhagen has been played predominantly in the midfield at Leicester.
Aged just 21, Amartey struggled for game time in a Leicester team which was wildly overachieving and rarely struck by injuries. N’Golo Kante and Danny Drinkwater’s exceptional form meant chances were at a premium, and the youngster has already played more Premier League games this season than last. It appears Leicester City’s magic has not extended into this season.
5. Jiri Jarosik
Like Amartey, Jiri Jarosik is another player who was versatile enough to be comfortable in both defence and midfield. Currently a free agent following his release by Alaves in 2015, Jarosik spent just a single season in the Premier League, and he spent most of that on-loan at Birmingham City.Talk about hitting the jackpot.
Having joined Chelsea from CSKA Moscow, the former Czech Republic international made 14 league appearances for the Blues and 24 league appearances for Birmingham City. They may not have been his main club that season, but he had played enough to win a Premier League winners medal, although many may have forgotten him more than a decade on. Jarosik’s fine with that, as we’re sure he’s shining his medal every day.
4. Gokhan Inler
The fourth and final member of last season’s victorious Leicester City side, Gokhan Inler also played the bare minimum of five league games for the Foxes that season in order to qualify for a winners medal. When he arrived at the King Power from Napoli the previous summer, many from the outside viewed the Swiss international as a marquee signing and potentially Leicester’s most important player for the upcoming season.
In the build-up to the 2015-16 campaign, Claudio Ranieri even suggested Inler could have a similar impact at Leicester as Diego Maradona had upon his former club Napoli. Those comments seem a distant memory now though. Inler was little more than a bit-part player in the Foxes’ fairytale campaign, and the midfielder moved on to Besiktas after a single season.
3. Stephen Hughes
As much as supporters love to see a player coming through their own academy and making the grade in the first team, Stephen Hughes was probably always a little out of his depth at Arsenal. In fact, one might argue he was a little out of his depth in the Premier League at all. The 40-year-old retired midfielder left Arsenal for Everton, but spent just a season and a half with the Toffees, before moving on to Watford, Charlton, Coventry and Walsall.
An easily forgettable Premier League winner, the highlight of Hughes’ Arsenal career was a sumptuous 25 yard strike against Leicester during the 1998-99 season. It was the season before though, the 1997-98 campaign, in which Hughes was awarded a Premier League winners medal. The midfielder made 17 appearances for the Gunners that season.
2. Ronnie Wallwork
Former England under-20 international Ronnie Wallwork is easily among the most forgettable Manchester United players to have been awarded a Premier League winners medal. A graduate of United’s academy, Wallwork was the club’s Young Player of the Year in 1996, an award won by the likes of Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs a few years earlier.
For the first team, Wallwork made 19 Premier League appearances in seven years, but 12 of those came in the 2000-01 season, qualifying the former Carlisle loanee for a winners medal. It was a case of a player just happening to be in the right place at the right time.
Wallwork left Old Trafford a year later, and went on to play just 178 league games over the course of his entire career, most coming at West Brom.
1. Robbie Slater
The most forgettable and surprising Premier League winner in our book is Robbie Slater. Well known only among supporters of the teams he played for and soccer fans in Australia, Slater won 44 caps for the Socceroos, that’s more appearances than he made in the Premier League with all three of the English teams he turned out for. Slater’s first season in the Premier League was the season in which he won it, playing 18 games as Blackburn won the 1995 title.
Despite actually being quite a regular starter, Slater was eminently forgettable. A few assists here and there the highlight of his single season at Ewood Park. From Blackburn he moved to West Ham, where he played 25 league games, before a couple of seasons at Southampton and rounding off his time in England with a brief stint at Wolves. Aged 52, Slater hung up his boots in 2001 and now works as a commentator.
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