Since the Premier League began way back in 1992, there have been an immense amount of talented players to grace its stage. Scoring goals, playing wonderful passes and providing entertainment for over 23 years, England’s top tier has always been one of the most attractive divisions in modern day football. From Dennis Bergkamp to Cesc Fabregas and beyond, the list of quality players are truly endless.
But who has been the best of the best?
Ever since Brian Deane netted the league’s first-ever goal for Sheffield United against Manchester United in their 2-1 win at Bramall Lane, there have been a whole host of strikes to rattle the back of the net and cajole us all into fits of surprise and emotion. But it’s the creative players, the dynamos and the super-skilful performers who have really captured our imaginations. Through their brilliant touches, outstanding contributions and supreme talent, each and every one of them have created some wonderful memories for us to digest down through the years.
This list aims to focus on precisely these players – past and present. Focusing primarily on assist records, there is also a mixture of goals, style of play and a dollop of unconventionality, in an attempt to compile a semi-definitive short-list that presents some of the most inventive and adroit players that have played in the league since its inception in the early 1990s. Focusing on players who plied their trade at some of the top clubs in the country (due to their successful careers), we’ve tried to ensure only the best of the best have made the cut.
As ever, if you feel strongly about a certain candidate that failed to make the cut, make sure to have your say in the comments thread, below – after all this is a list designed to spark debate as much as it is to draw a line under any arguments.
10. Eden Hazard
In line to win this season’s PFA Player of the Year award, the current Belgium international is already one of the most dynamic and creative players to ever feature in the top flight of English football. The playmaker with the least amount of Premier League playing time in our list, that won’t stop Eden Hazard from continuing to make his mark as his Chelsea career continues to move from strength to strength.
Notching a better shot-assists ratio than anyone in the 2013/14 season, he has also picked up a total of 26 league assists and counting during his three seasons with Chelsea, and at just 24 years of age, the future is looking good for him to go on and add dozens more in the coming years. Combine this with his brilliant talent to mesmerise defenders with some purposeful dribbling and he is clearly one of the most adaptable and well-rounded players to come in from abroad.
9. Andrew Cole
An often neglected candidate when the most creative players roll off the tongue, Andy Cole is nevertheless one who deserves immense credit for what he managed to achieve. Partnering Dwight Yorke during the Red Devils’ glory years, the pair maintained a fantastic symbiotic relationship that saw the current TV pundit flourish both home and away – a consistency that saw him involved in as many as 260 Premier League goals, the fifth best in history.
A terrifically prolific striker, he is second in the all-time goalscorers list behind only Alan Shearer with 187 goals. Indeed, his penchant for rustling the net becomes all the more apparent when you realise that he scored just one of those from the penalty spot – not one to rely on easy chances, he worked hard to make things happen from open play. Crafting a hugely impressive 73 assists in his top-flight career, his talent and work ethic ought to ensure his name is forever recalled as a marksman as well as a more than able facilitator.
8. Wayne Rooney
Has there ever been a more loyal player in the English game than Wayne Rooney? As far as this list goes, the Manchester United star is certainly one of the deadliest and most productive players to play in the English top flight. Involved in over 273 goals, the third-best overall, which has included as many as 89 assists (and counting) he has often produced some wondrously accurate shots and passes to beat many of the league’s best goalkeepers all ends up.
Far from possessing the most assists in the league’s history, he has certainly been one of the most effective, a trait that has made him not only a fantastic long-range goalscorer (yes, we’re referring to that goal against West Ham) but also a player who can set up his teammates in the blink of an eye with some clever, intuitive touches.
7. Thierry Henry
During a charity match at Anfield recently, Thierry Henry produced one of the best pieces of skill you’re likely to see in the modern game – and he’s not even playing as a professional any more. Highlighting just how good he remains, his masked pass to set up Ryan Babel for a clear-cut opportunity had fans everywhere gasping in disbelief; feigning a shot, while simultaneously flicking the ball with his standing foot into the lurking American’s path, he had vine accounts in overload with his continuing genius.
Before all that, he was pretty good in his heyday, too. One of the most inventive players to ever grace the Premier League stage, his ability to turn a match on its head in an instant was in endless supply as he was involved in as many as 249 goals. His creativity was a thirst that remained unquenchable throughout his time in England. Indeed, his record of laying on 20 assists in one season back in the 2002/03 campaign still stands tall, despite the valiant efforts of his former club-mate Cesc Fabregas, and it’s for that reason he places higher than others who have been involved in more goals.
6. Alan Shearer
Ask anyone what type of player Alan Shearer was and it’s likely they will reply that he was a goalscorer in the truest sense of the word. His strikes, along with those of Chris Sutton during the 1994/95 season, helped Blackburn Rovers secure their one and only Premier League title. A legend of the game, indeed – but was he really a creative player?
Statistically, yes. Involved in more goals than anyone else (an astounding 324), some might argue that he is the most innovative of them all – but it’s his haul of goals that make up the majority of this huge figure, after all he is the top scorer in the league’s history and he only nabbed 64 assists altogether. Nevertheless, he knew how to steal goals when he wanted to and much of that was down to his ability to twist, turn and disorient defenders with some great footwork, particularly in his younger days.
5. Cesc Fabregas
Having played for Arsenal under Arsene Wenger and with Chelsea, under Jose Mourinho, Cesc Fabregas has been the creative hub for whichever Premier League team he has been a part of. A personification of what it means to be the inventive spark, his metronomic qualities have ensured his supreme passing always makes life difficult for his opponents, something that has seen him become the first player to collect at least 15 assists in two seasons.
Experiencing success with both English giants, his ability to do well in different situations and under managers who hold vastly contrasting philosophies means he deserves high praise. Only recently, his incredible performances reached new heights against West Bromwich Albion early in the 2014/15 season when he played more final-third passes than any other player in Premier League history. Combine that with his unrivalled record of assisting in six consecutive games and it’s not just inventiveness, but his ability to create goals that sees him stand out.
4. Steven Gerrard
Sitting fourth in the all-time Premier League assists chart we find the MLS-bound Steven Gerrard. Racking up as many as 92, the Merseyside legend has already secured his place among the pantheon of greats. Indeed, ever since Opta began recording in 2003, the ex-England international has registered the most amount of chances created in the league with a mind-blowing 835.
A pillar of the establishment that is Liverpool FC, their long-serving captain departs the top-tier of English football without ever winning the most-coveted trophy of them all; the Premier League crown. That said, he will always be fondly remembered as one of the best to ever feature in the division with his fiery determination, brilliant passing and quality ball control, and has helped the Reds mix it at the top – a series of accomplishments that ensures his creativity will live long in the memory, among his rivals, detractors and, certainly, fans.
3. Dennis Bergkamp
Holding the Premier League record at Arsenal for the most assists in the club’s history, Dennis Bergkamp just had to make it onto our list. Often used as a reference point for Dutch strikers on how to make it, and score goals, in a physically demanding league, the 120-goal Gunner is the archetypal frontman, scoring for fun much like that famous goal against Newcastle United and many more besides.
With an incredible 94 league assists to his name under the tutelage of Arsene Wenger, he really made the talent he possesses in the prime of his career count, having joined the north London club aged 26. With more assists than Henry, Fabregas and Robert Pires, the now-retired star certainly knew how to fashion the most delectable of chances – and who could forget the one he produced against Juventus back in 2001 to set up Freddie Ljungberg at Highbury? Absolute magic.
2. Frank Lampard
Holding the second-highest amount of assists in the Premier League era with over a century and counting, Frank Lampard has been one of the most successful home-grown talents the game has ever seen. Beginning his career at West Ham United, his most fruitful spell came, of course, with Chelsea where he bagged 90 assists in 13 years before eventually moving to the Sky Blues of Manchester City.
A stalwart of the game, his departure to play for New York City FC this summer will see one of the greatest players depart for good in all likelihood. That said, his great record should stand the test of time – one that includes piling up the second highest assists ever in one season as well as being involved in 278 goals, the second best to date. One of his most memorable passes came during Chelsea’s 6-0 rout of the Citizens in 2007 when his perfectly weighted ball with the outside of his boot, to set up Didier Drogba to score, made bystanders of the defence and had the crowd on their feet. A genuine pass master.
1. Ryan Giggs
Standing alone at the top of the Premier League assists chart, it’s nigh on impossible to argue against his ranking as the most creative player in the history of the division. In all, the now retired Welshman nabbed a whopping 162 league assists throughout his time with Manchester United. Although he has played a great deal more games than his challengers for the top spot, he certainly deserves to be called the most creative player to ever feature in the league since it began – the numbers speak for themselves in this case.
Considering he spent 20 seasons there, his determination, loyalty and consistency deserve to be remembered – because although fanciful stars have come and gone, breathing life into the league at alternating occasions, Giggs remained a constant at the top of the tree. A winged wizard, he lit up the game with mazy dribbles, sumptuous assists and a legacy that continues to this day in the records he set. Impeccable.
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