Being a striker in the Premier League means being judged to an extremely high standard.
When the goals dry up, the striker is usually the first to be blamed and often the first casualty of a lineup or formation changes. And when it comes time to rearrange the club’s finances, the often-expensive striker is frequently the first to be sold off.
But while the bar is high, so too are the rewards: a successful EPL striker stands the chance to be remembered forever in club lore. Songs, entire sections of the stadium, and statues all get devoted to the striker that’s able to score consistently and help his club win titles or promotion up the ranks.
And as it should be: many clubs go years or even decades without finding a striker that can score consistently across multiple seasons (and that doesn’t quickly jet off for greener pastures).
Taking into account both individual and team achievements as well as their legacy at the club, we’ve named the best striker for each current EPL club since the beginning of the Premier League era (1992) that will always be welcomed back to their clubs with song and open arms (well, most of them anyway).
20. Chelsea – Didier Drogba
For Chelsea or at any club, there may never be a player that shined in the big moment brighter than Didier Drogba. The Ivorian scored in four FA Cup Finals (the only player to ever do so) and in the 2012 Champions League Final he scored an 88th minute equaliser, eventually sending the game to penalties where he made the title-deciding kick. The 2004-05 Premier League title he helped win was Chelsea’s first in 50 years and also the first of 14 trophies he’d win at the club.
The first (and still only) African to score 100 Premier League goals, Drogba’s 157 goals in 341 appearances make him the most prolific non-English scorer in Chelsea history. The 20 and 29 goals he scored in 2006-07 and 2009-10 seasons respectively were enough to win him the Premier League’s Golden Boot twice.
19. Hull City – Abel Hernandez
Amid much fanfare, Abel Hernandez joined Hull City for a club record £10 million, three-year deal in 2014. The Uruguayan international wasted no time in proving his worth to the Tigers faithful, scoring in both his home and road debuts with the club. However, that first year ended in rocky fashion as Hernandez finished the season with just four goals and a three-match ban for punching Man U’s Phil Jones during a match that saw Hull relegated back to the Championship.
Hernandez and Hull have since rebounded and his 20 goals in 39 appearances earned him club Player of the Year Honors for 2015-16. Now back in the Prem, Hernandez once again has an opportunity to cement a legacy as one of Hull’s greatest if he can manage to stay healthy.
18. Middlesbrough – Massimo Maccarone
It’s hard to believe that the man that helped Middlesbrough to a European final was once nothing more than a bankroll burden who couldn’t get any first-team playing time upon his arrival at the club. Even once his first-class work rate and attitude did win over the Boro front office and fans, the record £8 million transfer only netted 23 goals with the club in 93 appearances (all competitions).
So why is he on this list? Because two of those goals helped lift Boro to unforeseen heights in as dramatic fashion as you could possibly imagine. In the 2005-06 UEFA Cup quarterfinals and semi-finals, Maccarone came on both times as a sub and twice scored the game winner in the 90th minute, helping Boro reach their first and only European final.
17. Arsenal – Thierry Henry
It’s laughable now to think that Thierry Henry’s ability to adapt to the English game was questioned. Not only did he adapt, for eight years he basically owned it. For four of those years, he led the EPL in scoring and for five consecutive seasons he scored more than 20 goals, the first player ever to do so.
A winger until Arsene Wenger moved him to striker, Henry was as precise a shooter as there ever was while also possessing an unselfish knack for putting others in position to score, tallying over 50 assists between 2002-03 and 2004-05. Despite being Arsenal’s all-time leading scorer (228 goals in 377 matches), to supporters his legend transcends the stat sheet: he was instrumental in helping Arsenal win two FA Cups and two Premier League titles, including during the famed undefeated 2003-04 season.
16. Bournemouth – Brett Pitman
Callum Wilson has been a boon for Bournemouth since joining the club in 2014. But his few seasons thus far pale in comparison to what Brett Pitman contributed to the Cherries in 261 league appearances across two stints spanning nine seasons and three leagues.
No player has ever scored at a faster rate for the south coast club than Pitman, whose 100 goals (across all competitions) came at an average of every 35 minutes he was on the pitch. After a spell with Bristol City, Jersey-born Pitman rejoined Bournemouth full time in 2012 and helped the club gain Premier League promotion for the first time. Playing as a sub most of that season, Pitman still managed to score 13 league goals, including a hat trick against Blackpool.
15. Burnley – Jay Rodriguez
Hometown kids will always be given a bit more patience from supporters, however, that patience was never even remotely tested in the case of Jay Rodriguez at Burnley. After rising through the clubs’ youth ranks, an 18-year old Rodriguez made his first of 105 league appearances for the club in December 2007. Less than a year later, he was regularly getting subbed on and scoring for the Clarets in cup fixtures.
Just like he rose through the academy, Jay’s playing time and goal tally also steadily rose, and in 2010-11 he led his club with 15 all-contest goals. That number was surpassed the following season with 21, good enough to earn him a spot in the PFA’s Championship Team of the Year and a £7 million transfer to Southampton in 2012.
14. Liverpool – Michael Owen
Luis Suarez’s Liverpool run was indeed special, but we can’t help but applaud Michael Owen’s consistency in his eight seasons at Anfield. The 2001 Ballon d’Or recipient’s Liverpool lineage dates much further back than his Premier League debut with the club, as Owen proved himself to be a winner as a 16-year old when he won the 1995-96 FA Youth Cup.
That was far from the last trophy Owen would lift in a Liverpool shirt and in 2000-01 he was the most valuable player on the side that won a UEFA Cup-FA Cup-League Cup treble. By the time he transferred to Spain in 2004, he had added two EPL Golden Boots, one EPL Player of the Season, a European Player of the Year and numerous other awards to his trophy cabinet. To his stat sheet, he had tallied 158 all-competition goals in 297 appearances.
13. Watford – Troy Deeney
An even better zero to hero story might be that of current Watford striker Troy Deeney. The Birmingham native earned his first big break when a scout from League Two Walsall saw him score seven goals in a local amateur match whilst drunk. Deeney was offered a trial with Walsall soon after, which he only went to after his amateur club manager dragged him out of bed and put the 18-year old in a taxi.
Flash forward a decade later and Deeney is the captain at Watford, a side that made it to the FA Cup semi-finals last season. In seven and a half seasons with the Hornets, Deeney has scored 100 goals and along with earning Premiership promotion in 2014-15, became the first Watford player ever to score 20 or more goals in three straight seasons.
12. Everton – Romelu Lukaku
On loan from Chelsea, Romelu Lukaku immediately earned the adoration of Everton supporters when he knocked himself unconscious while heading in the game-winning goal during his club debut. Even with an injury, the young Belgian scored 15 times in 31 games, bringing about an Everton-record transfer fee of £28 million.
Since then, Lukaku has broken numerous other club records and is on his way to many more. He’s already become Everton’s top goalscorer ever in European competition, the club’s single-season top scorer (with 18 in 2015-16), and it took him just 100 matches in a Toffee shirt to reach the 50 goal mark with the club.
11 . West Brom – Bob Taylor
As tempted as we were to list Romelu Lukaku twice on this list (and as phenomenal as he was with West Brom), we couldn’t slight Super Bobby Taylor as our best Baggies striker of the Premier League era. After scoring in almost every other match he placed in with Bristol City, Taylor was sold to West Brom in 1992, a move so unpopular in Bristol that it resulted in the firing of their manager.
At the Hawthorns, the £300,000 transfer paid dividends immediately by scoring three times in his first two matches. The following season, Superbob led League Two in goals with 30, helping the club gain promotion to League One. After a short spell in Bolton, taylor returned to West Brom in 2000, just in time to help the club to the Premiership. His 131 goals make him WBA’s eighth-highest goalscorer ever.
10. West Ham – Paolo di Canio
He was a West Ham striker that was renowned for his flare, aggression, and creative scoring…but his name isn’t Carlos. Before Tevez there was di Canio, the Italian cult hero who scored 51 goals in his five seasons with the Hammers, one of which (vs. Wimbledon in 2000) is still regarded as one of the Premier League’s greatest ever.
Although he couldn’t save West Ham from relegation in 2003, he helped the Hammers win the 1999 Intertoto Cup and his undying loyalty to the club makes revered in East London to this day. West Ham has had many great goalscorers step into Upton Park, but not many of them have a section of the stand named after them nor have the club crest tattooed on their arm. Few were the sportsman he was either: in 2001, di Canio was awarded FIFA’s Fair Play Award for snatching a cross out of the air with his hands in order to stop play and get opposing goalkeeper Paul Gerrard faster medical treatment.
9. Leicester City – Jamie Vardy
The man that gave hope to every late twentysomething recreational Sunday beer-league soccer player. If you’re an even casual EPL fan, you’re probably at least semi-familiar with Jamie Vardy’s story: for seven years, the Sheffield-born striker that was thought to be too small played non-league soccer with Stocksbridge for a mere £30-a-game, while also holding down a 12-hour-a-day factory job on the side.
Fast forward a few years later and Vardy is a Premier League champion scoring for England at the Euros. His 11 straight goals in Premier League matches is a record and his 2015-16 Premier League Player of the Year and FWA Footballer of the Year honors make him an obvious choice as Leicester’s best striker of the past 25 years.
8. Sunderland – Kevin Phillips
Who is the only Englishman to win the European Golden Boot? That would be Kevin Phillips, the English soccer journeyman that is best remembered for his time at Sunderland. There he scored 130 times in 235 matches, including 30 league goals in 1999-00 which earned him that prestigious honor.
That same year he was also named Premier League Player of the Season. Renowned for his poaching ability, Phillips played fullback in his youth until an emergency tactical change during a game forced him up to striker. He scored twice that match, setting the tone for the rest of his prolific career.
7. Tottenham – Harry Kane
Spurs is one of the few clubs that’s been blessed with more than just one or two legendary strikers in the Premier League era. Teddy Sheringham, Jurgen Klinsmann, Jermain Defoe all had amazing Spurs careers in their own right, but Harry Kane is on his way to doing something not just special in the context of the club, but in all of English soccer.
Ironically cut from Arsenal’s youth academy when he was eight, Kane has proven to be a thorn in the side of the rival Gunners’ (and the rest of the EPL) since making his first start for Tottenham in 2014. Since then, the 23-year has won PFA Player of the Year honors, twice led Spurs in goals, guided his club back to the Champions League for the first time since 2010-11, and scored in over 60% of his league matches with the club.
6. Southampton – Rickie Lambert
It’s hard to say which of Rickie Lambert’s accomplishments is the most impressive. Lambert was already a goal scoring machine by the time he transferred to then-League One Southampton in August 2009. That reputation was only further bolstered when he scored 31 league goals in 2009-10, the most out of any player in England’s top four divisions.
Lambert “only” scored 21 and 27 league goals in the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons, which shot the Saints into the Premier League and earned Lambert his third Golden Boot award in four seasons. His first season in the Prem, he joined the exclusive club of players to score in all four Football League divisions. And perhaps most impressively, he never missed a penalty while in a Saints shirt, going a perfect 34 for 34 in his five seasons at the club.
5. Swansea City – Lee Trundle
Before there was the Jamie Vardy story, there was Lee Trundle. While this one didn’t have the fairytale ending of a Premier League championship (or even any top flight play at all), it’s no less poetic. In the summer of 2003, Swansea City (then in the Football League Third Division) signed Trundle, a 27-year old striker who was playing non-league soccer just three years earlier.
That one-year deal turned into four, over the course of which Trundle was the Swans leading scorer every season. The 86 goals he scored, along with his showboating, goal scoring prowess, and the three consecutive hat tricks he once scored leave Trundle remembered as one of Swansea’s biggest cult heroes.
4. Manchester City – Sergio Agüero
Say what you want about the astronomical price tags of soccer players these days, but it’s hard to argue that Sergio Agüero’s hasn’t been worth it. Manchester City’s £38 million buy price has produced an insane 113 league goals in 164 appearances and 154 goals across 278 all competitions.
Several of those goals of course played part in some of the club’s greatest moments in history, including two Football League Cup titles as well as two Premier League Championships. The Argentinean was the EPL Golden Boot winner for 2014-15, once scored a record five goals in a league game, and was the second-fastest player in Premiership history to reach the 100 goal mark.
3. Crystal Palace – Andy Johnson
An under-the-radar transfer from Birmingham City, Andy Johnson quickly became a Palace fan favorite when he scored two hat tricks in four days near the beginning of the 2002-03 season. Johnson would finish that season as CP’s top scorer, a title he wouldn’t relinquish for the duration of his stint at the club.
Johnson’s 84 all-competition goals in 160 appearances put him 10th all-time for the club, a feat rewarded with a spot in Palace’s all-time XI, as voted on by fans. After winning EPL promotion in 2003-04, Johnson set the club record for top flight goals in a season with 21 the following campaign.
2. Stoke City – Ricardo Fuller
Although his fiery attitude didn’t allow him to leave the club in the best of graces, it’s hard to think of a striker that has done more for Stoke City than Ricardo Fuller. When he wasn’t leading the team in bookings, slapping his teammates in the face, or stomping on opponents, Fuller was instrumental in helping the Potters gain promotion to the top flight for the first time in 23 years.
Between 2006 and 2012, the Jamaican scored 50 goals across all competitions for the club, including 11 league goals in 2009-10 that helped the club avoid immediate relegation back to the Championship. Despite his occasionally-embarrassing antics, Stoke supporters honored Fuller’s contributions by selecting him to the club’s all-time XI in 2013.
1. Manchester United – Ruud van Nistelrooy
Put down your pitchforks and hear us out. While Wayne Rooney’s career at Manchester United is indeed legendary, Ruud Van Nistelrooy’s was near-mythological (plus he starred almost-exclusively at striker, unlike Rooney). Ruud’s then-club record transfer from PSV was delayed for a year due to a ruptured ACL, but once he finally arrived in Manchester, the Dutchman wasted no time in proving his value by scoring in his club, Premier League, and Champions League debuts.
Based on what he was able to accomplish in his short time at Old Trafford, it’s perplexing to try and imagine what van Nistelrooy would have accomplished if not for his falling out with Sir Alex. 150 goals in 219 appearances (0.68 per game), three-times the Champions League Top Scorer, the 2002-03 Premier League Player of the Season and Golden Boot winner, and 38 European goals (second all-time) are among his many Man U accolades.
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