In what seems like a sea of different leagues and different divisions in the world of futbol, the English Premier League has forged an iron reputation in terms of futbol quality. It’s become one of the most watched leagues in the entire world, therefore attracting the brightest stars in the sport. Throughout its history, we’ve seen some of the greatest players pass through the likes of the league’s top clubs. Cristiano Ronaldo, Eric Cantona, David Beckham, Steven Gerrard, the list goes on and on. If you can be a star in the English Premier League, then you can probably play soccer anywhere in the world.
There are, however, world class players that have never had the honor of strapping their boots for an English Club. The original footballing league in England was founded in 1888, but the current format of the League was only inaugurated in 1992. Since then, the Premier League has enjoyed seeing its fan zone expand worldwide, making the EPL the most watched league in the entire world.
Here are some players who never made a turn for the “Prem”. Some bounced from team to team while some stayed with their respective clubs for their entire careers. But one thing is certain, all of these players would have been a threat in the Premier League.
Here’s another famous Brazilian legend for the list. Rivaldo won the FIFA Ballon D’or just once in 1999, during his five year stint with Barcelona. After that, the Brazillian jumped from league to league, playing in the Greek league for a few years and then the Brazilian league. Like many of his Brazilian counterparts however, he never made the move to a top club in the Premier League, although I’m sure many would have loved to have him in his prime.
I’m sure most people didn’t know that the defender we most commonly refer to as Cafu has another name. His real name is Marcos Evangelista De Morais. Cafu is a legend of sorts. Now retired, the Brazilian player is the most capped player in Brazil soccer history, and is the only player in the world to have appeared in two World Cup Finals, winning two of them in 1994 and 2002. Cafu never made it to the Premier League, opting to play in Roma and Milan in Italy’s Serie A for his prime years. As a player, Cafu had pace, was energetic, and had tactical intelligence, and proved to be one of the greatest right backs in the world.
18 Xavi Hernandez
Xavi Hernandez is an important piece of the ultimate Barcelona team that was so powerful in the beginning of the 21st century. He was with the club from 1991, starting in the youth league, until 2015, where Xavi left the club to join Al Saad. At 35 years old, it doesn’t seem likely that Xavi will ever play in the Premier League, and that’s too bad. Considered the ultimate playmaker, Xavi was a wizard on the pitch, playing most of his career with the likes of Andres Iniesta, Lionel Messi and Ronaldinho.
Over the years, he developed his own unique style cemented around his amazing ability to find space on the pitch. This combined with world class skill and pin point passing made him the ultimate Barcelona man. Sorry Premier League.
17 Francesco Totti
Talking about Italian legends that remained faithful to the motherland, what about the legendary Francesco Totti? The oldest player to ever score in a Champions League game, it seems Totti is finally near the end of his career. He began playing for Roma in 1992 and has never left, remaining faithful to the Italian capital after all these years. He’s obviously the most capped player in team history and to this day remains the youngest player to ever be made captain in the Serie A. He’s the second highest goal scorer in the league’s history with 244 goals and counting, although all signs are pointing towards retirement at the end of the season.
16 Carlos Puyol
Where can you start with Carlos Puyol. The Spaniard full-back, similarly to Maldini, was a one-club man, playing his entire career with Barcelona, and captaining them for the final 10 years of his career. Puyol was a matador in defense, a bull that didn’t give you an inch of space until that ball was cleared from danger. He was a general, led by example, and stepped up in the biggest moments. Most importantly, he kept his team respectful at all times, played the game with brutal honesty, and was the ultimate team player. He won notably three Champions League titles and five La Liga titles. A player like Puyol could have been hugely successful in the Premier League because of the physical aspect of his game, but unfortunately we’ll never know.
15 Luis Figo
Luis Figo, now retired at 43 years old, was a Portuguese legend that spent 10 years of his career split between Barcelona Real Madrid, playing Sporting CP for the first six years and finishing off in Internazionale in 2009. Everyone who has the decency of calling themselves a football fan know of the genius and skill of Luis Figo. The Portuguese winger has 106 assists in La Liga, second only to Lionel Messi, and his controversial transfer from Barcelona to Madrid was a transfer record at the time of 37 million Sterling Pounds. Figo was enormous for the Portuguese national side, captaining the team for a few years, becoming their fourth highest goal-scorer in the meantime.
14 Alessando Del Piero
Among footballing legends that hail from Italy, Alessandro Del Piero is perhaps the most prolific. He played the bulk of his career for Juventus as a deep forward, scoring 290 goals for the club. His talent was always limited to Serie A when it came to playing in Europe, the Italian remaining faithful to the club from Turin. Still, he had ability on the ball, his free-kicks, and his sheer creativity and ability to finish would have made him a star in the Premier League. His 346 goals in all competitions makes him the second highest Italian born scorer of all time. Del Piero was truly a player that defined his generation, and took the Azurri to the next level.
13 Andres Iniesta
Andres Iniesta is another legendary midfield Barcelona player that came in through Barcelona’s stellar academy, La Massia. He made his first team debut at age 18, and never looked back, or anywhere else for that matter, playing with Barcelona still to this day in an integral midfield role. At age 31, it isn’t necessarily the end for Iniesta, but a move to the Premier League in the next few years doesn’t seem all too likely. He had an astounding international career as well with a dynasty Spanish side, and even scored the winner in the 2010 World Cup Final against Holland. Iniesta is a sublime player, a unique talent, and an integral part of the Barcelona side that has been so good in the past few years.
12 Gianluigi Buffon
Is there any name more famous in Italian football history that Gianluigi Buffon? Sure, the keeper has never played in the Premier League, but he’s actually never played for any other league other than the Italian one. He’s been the netminder for Juventus since 2001, and at 37 years old, he won’t be leaving anytime soon. He bleeds the white and black of Juventus, and even stayed with the club when they were relegated in 2006. That loyalty was greatly appreciated by the club, who have him as his keeper to this day.
Arguably one of the best goalies to ever play, Buffon has won it all. Seria A and B titles, a World Cup, and a great reputation to boot. Any team in the Premier League would have benefitted from his netminding, but Juventus have got this star until he retires it seems.
11 Paolo Maldini
Paolo Maldini was a legendary Serie A defender that spent all of his 25 seasons of football with AC Milan, for a total of 647 appearances in Serie A and 29 goals. He has 902 appearances with the Club, of course a record for Milan. He leaves behind the legacy of a gentleman, a true center back with a calm demeanor at all times. Nicknamed “Il Capitano by his teammates who considered him a leader, his number 3 shirt was immediately retired when he stopped playing. With Milan, he won the Champions League five times and the Serie A seven times. He will go down in history as a class act, one of the greatest defenders ever, and an ambassador to the game forever.
10 Roberto Carlos
Another legendary Brazilian defender for the books. Roberto Carlos is a left back, considered by many as the most offensive minded defender to ever play. At 42 years old, Carlos is still a player/manager for the Dehli Dynamos in India. Roberto is perhaps best known for his wicked curve shot; a shot unlike anything you’ve ever seen, that can almost take a complete U-turn. This shot was incredible to see in real life, and a quick Youtube search will do justice to my words. The bulk of his club soccer was played with Real Madrid for 11 seasons, another essential piece to the Galacticos. In 11 seaosns, he appeared in 370 contests scoring 47 goals in the process. With Madrid, he would win a whooping three Champions League titles and four La Liga titles.
9 Zlatan Ibrahimovic
A manager can only dream of having a striker like the great Ibrahimovic on their team. The clinical Swedish striker has propelled pretty much every team he’s played with to glory, in almost every league. But to this day Zlatan has not made the move to the Premier League, something soccer fans around the world would love to see one day. He’s played in Sweden, Spain, Italy, Holland and France. It seems it’s just a matter of faith that Zlatan finish his career in a team like Manchester United or Arsenal. The striker did play under Mourinho, the current Chelsea manager, when in Inter Milan, and the two had a great relationship, and with rumors linking the Portuguese manager to Old Trafford, there’s no telling what could happen.
Ronaldinho Gaucho is perhaps one of the most famous Brazilian footballers to ever play soccer. His dazzling skill, his scoring ability, and that famous smile of his have cemented his reputation into the soccer hall of fame. He’s played for a very large array of clubs, but it was his time in Barcelona between 2003-2008 that dazzled millions around the world, where we earned himself the FIFA Ballon D’Or two years running in 2004-05.
Today, Ronaldinho skill on the pitch and form has diminished somewhat. He played with AC Milan for three years after leaving Barcelona, then jumped around different clubs, trying to find the form that made him the Ronaldinho we loved to watch, the one that got the Bernabeu to their feet when he was wearing a Barcelona jersey. At 35 years old, it seems unlikely the Brazilian will ever play in the English League.
7 Franz Beckenbauer
At age 70, legend Franz Beckenbauer is still heavily involved in the football world. He led Germany’s successful bid to host the World Cup in 2006, he has a column for tabloid Bild and he’s a pundit for Sky Germany. Nicknamed Der Kaiser when he was in his prime because of his style and leadership on the field, Beckenbauer remained true to his hometown of Munich, playing the bulk of his football with Bayern Munich before crossing the ocean and playing with the New York Cosmos for a few years. Franz is also only one of two players to win the World Cup as a player, and later as a manager. As a central defender, there were none like him, and he’s credited with the invention of the sweeper role in modern day football.
Time to talk about my favourite player ever, the one some people call “The Phenomenon” but I call the real Ronaldo (sorry I’m a Messi fan thick and thin). Ronaldo was a great strike – the best striker even – to ever play football. His first big Club was PSV for two seasons, where some bigger clubs quickly took notice of the young lad making waves in Holland. He quickly moved to Barcelona, where he scored an astounding 34 goals in 37 appearances. From there on to Madrid, to play for the historic Galacticos. He announced his retirement in 2011 having never played for an English Club.
But perhaps it isn’t too late. Even chubby Ronaldo at 39 years old could probably still do some serious damage in the Premier League, but we’d be more likely to see him play a season in the MLS perhaps.
5 Zinedine Zidane
“Zizou” is arguably the greatest footballer to bless the game, up there with the likes of Lionel Messi, Diego Maradona, and Pele. The bald sensation is now 43 years old and is the newly made manager of Real Madrid, where he played for five years. Zidane with the Madrid between 2001-2006, arguably one the best club sides to ever play football, referred to as The Galacticos. Zidane played with Juventus before joining Madrid, and with Cannes and Bordeaux before that. He won three Ballon D’or in his career, a feat achieved only by Cristinao Ronaldo, Ronaldo de Lima, Johan Cruyff and Messi. He was magic, but never for an English club.
4 Johan Cruyff
The prolific Dutch footballer, still in contention to be considered one of the best of all time, won the Ballon D’Or an astounding three times as a player in the early 1970s, during his years with Ajax and Barcelona, where he became the legend he is considered today. Cruyff became synonymous with “Total Football”, a style of play from the time where a player who moves out of his position is replaced by another from his team, thus allowing the team to retain their intended organizational structure. In this fluid system, no footballer is fixed in their intended outfield role. On the field, Cruyff commanded this style of play. As he puts it himself, “football is a game you play with your brain. You have to be in the right place at the right moment, not too early, not too late." Johan never made a move to England in his career, although I’m sure it would have been something special.
3 Diego Maradona
Diego Maradona was joint FIFA Player of the Century alongside Pele. So between 1900 and 2000, he and Pele were tired for greatest. I think just that in itself speaks volumes about the legend that is Diego Maradona. At only 5'5", his skill and speed on the ball was completely unmatched. His dribbling, balance and exceptional vision made him a weapon, the perfect number 10, and a huge asset. The only stain on his career was his addiction to cocaine from the mid 80’s until the 2000’s. It began to interfere with his career but caused more serious health problems after he retired. Still he will go down as one of the best ever, comparable today to Lionel Messi, who now only needs to win a World Cup to finally pass Maradona as the greatest ever.
Pelé; is there a more recognizable name in the game of football? Is there a more influential football persona to ever exist? At age 75, Pelé is still very involved in the sport, taking on various roles and commercial ventures since retiring in 1977. In 1999, he was voted World Player of the Century by the International Federation of Football History & Statistics. For one of the greatest players of all time, his club career was limited to Santos and New York Cosmos. But his main successes were at the international level, where he became the only player to ever win three World Cups. So what made Pelé so unique? How about his goal scoring capabilities? It is said that in 1363 total career games, Pelé scored an mindblowing 1281 goals, averaging out to almost a goal per game.
1 Lionel Messi
At just 28 years old, Messi is already widely believed to be the best futbol player to ever play the game. He’s won a record four golden boot awards and is in the heart of the race for his fifth. Joining Barcelona’s youth academy La Massia at age 14, Messi has been with the club since and has become their most storied player in their long history, shattering all records at an incredible pace.
Messi and Barcelona have a long history, and its created a bond between Messi and his family and the entire club. If Messi were to move, as unlikely as it would be, it may never be the Premier League. Sorry EPL fans, the only time you’ll see Messi at Stamford Bridge will be for a Champions League matchup.