The Premier League has been graced by an illustrious wave of foreign talent over the course of 26 years of the English top flight’s modern era, with an influx of South American superstars one of the most exciting pools of talent to arrive on British soils during that time.
Stars of Brazil, Argentina and numerous other South American nations have gone on to become household names in English football, with the unique qualities of these imports going on to define the successes of their teams over the years.
Here is a starting lineup of the very best South American players in Premier League history…
1. Ederson (GK)
He may only have signed for Manchester City less than two years ago, but Ederson has gone on to redefine the requirements of the modern goalkeeper in the Premier League.
The ‘sweeper ‘keeper’ style is one which had gradually developed in the English game following the arrival of Pep Guardiola as City manager in 2016, as the Spaniard axed long-time number one Joe Hart due to his lack of technique with the ball at his feet.
Claudio Bravo failed to convince as Guardiola’s first exponent of his desired style, with many questioning the need for a goalkeeper to be able to pass out from the back. However, after starring in City’s title triumph in his debut season at the Etihad, Ederson soon changed all that.
2. Pablo Zabaleta (CB)
Another who was a defining figure in Manchester City’s recent emergence as one of English football’s superpowers, Pablo Zabaleta was a huge presence in defence as the Citizens won their first league title in 44 years during the 2011/12 season under Roberto Mancini.
Zabaleta remained an integral player as CIty’s rapid rise continued to be fuelled by their financial riches and on-pitch successes, winning the title once more in 2013/14, cementing City as one of the country’s big hitters and Zabaleta’s status as one of the league’s best defenders.
The Argentine now plays for West Ham at the age of 34, but it was his nine-year spell with City which established Zabaleta as an iconic Premier League defender. Primarily a right back, Zabaleta has the necessary qualities to hold down a right-sided centre back role in this shape.
3. David Luiz (CB)
Despite often being questioned for his defensive discipline and the occasional error-prone display, few defenders have captured the spectator’s excitement and imagination more so during the Premier League era than David Luiz.
The Brazilian has become renowned for his flamboyant style, often proving more effective going forward than in protecting his own goal, but Luiz has always produced when it mattered most during two separate spells with Chelsea.
A Champions League triumph crowned his first spell at Stamford Bridge in the 2011/12 campaign prior to moving to PSG in 2014, before Luiz returned to west London two years later to play a significant part in the Blues’ Premier League title success in his first season back.
4. Gabriel Heinze (CB)
A disciplined figure at the back during his three-year stay at Old Trafford, Gabriel Heinze was a pioneering figure in bringing a more technically astute style to central defensive play in the Premier League.
The Argentine joined Manchester United from PSG in 2004 and went on to become dependable figure in Sir Alex Ferguson’s defence. Equally capable of playing at left back and in the centre of the backline, Heinze won the title with the Red Devils in 2006/07.
Also winning 72 caps during his international career, Heinze’s title-winning season at Old Trafford earned him a move to Real Madrid, where he went on to win the 2007/08 La Liga title the following season.
5. Alexis Sanchez (RM)
Though the Chilean has enduring a more difficult year since joining Manchester United last January, Alexis Sanchez has often been one of the most exciting players in English football since arriving in the Premier League from Barcelona in 2014, scoring 63 goals in 145 games.
Sanchez is yet to be win the title in the English top flight, but became one of the leading lights of the division during his three-and-a-half year stay with Arsenal. An attacker who matches sublime skill with tireless work rate, Sanchez is in many ways the complete forward.
A La Liga winner during his time with Barcelona, Sanchez fired his Arsenal side to FA Cup glory twice in 2015 and 2017, scoring in each final, and is one of the finest talents to have represented the Gunners during their ‘new era’ at the Emirates Stadium.
6. Fernandinho (CM)
For all the riches and star names at Manchester City’s disposal, Fernandinho has proved to be impossible to replace or even provide adequate cover for at the heart of City’s midfield. The 33-year-old has won two Premier League titles with City in 2013/14 and 2017/18.
The Brazilian has been an ever-present in the engine room since joining the Citizens in 2013. City have won 128 of the 186 Premier League games in which Fernandinho has featured, emphasising his unquestioned importance to his side.
Signed from Shakhtar Donetsk for £34m, Fernandinho has proved to be a relative bargain during a period in which City have splashed vast sums more on a plethora of stars to bolster their ranks. During his five-and-a-half years at the club, the Brazilian has been indispensable.
7. Gilberto Silva (CM)
Another Brazilian who preceded Fernandinho in providing a solid midfield base for his side, Gilberto Silva was a hugely commanding presence alongside Patrick Vieira during Arsenal’s ‘Invincibles’ title triumph in 2003/04.
Like Fernandinho, Gilberto offered those around him greater licence to express their attacking abilities, with the Brazilian providing uncompromising discipline and balance in the middle of the park.
The Gunners hero arrived at Highbury in 2002, having won the World Cup with Brazil during that summer, and proved to be an immense figure during his six-year spell in north London. Arsenal won 105 of their 170 Premier League games in which Gilberto featured.
8. Philippe Coutinho (LM)
Despite failing to win a Premier League title during his five-year spell with Liverpool, Philippe Coutinho is another who will live long in the memory as one of the finest attacking talents to ever have graced the English top flight with sheer technical brilliance.
The Brazilian became Liverpool’s main man following the departure of Luis Suarez to Barcelona in 2014, and few other players could have thrived with the weight of Anfield on their shoulders in the manner which Coutinho did.
Coutinho scored 41 goals in 152 Premier League appearances, starring as one of the leading lights as Brendan Rodgers’ side went close to winning the title in 2013/14, before continuing as the technical leader of Jurgen Klopp’s revolution before moving to Barcelona in 2018.
9. Luis Suarez (RF)
Another who failed to secure a Premier League title during a famed spell at Anfield, Luis Suarez certainly left his mark on English football in many ways besides silverware.
The Uruguayan made an instant impact for Liverpool after arriving from Ajax in January 2011, replacing the departed Fernando Torres with aplomb and instantly establishing himself as the leading man on Merseyside.
A number of controversial instances became infamous, but his return of 69 goals in 110 Premier League appearances and a spell of consistent attacking brilliance throughout his three-and-a-half year spell at Anfield established Suarez as a true great of English football.
10. Carlos Tevez (LF)
Another star striker whose stay in the Premier League was often permeated with controversy, Carlos Tevez became a hugely divisive figure in English football, not least in Manchester after completing a cross-city move from Manchester United to join rivals City in 2009.
The Argentine maverick became the poster boy for City’s new era of financial dominance and their emergence as major players for the Premier League title. Having won back-to-back titles with United in 2007/08 and 2008/09, Tevez went on to secure another title with City in 2011/12.
With a combined total of 84 goals from 202 appearances between his spells with both Manchester clubs, Tevez possessed the attacking quality to back his troublesome reputation as one of the most controversial, but brilliant, figures to have starred in the Premier League.
11. Sergio Aguero (ST)
Another star striker for City whose status as a Premier League icon has been fuelled more by sheer consistency and goal scoring brilliance is Sergio Aguero.
The Argentine has become a true ground-breaker since joining the Citizens in 2011, most notably firing his side to their first league title in 44 years with his infamous late winner against QPR on the final day of the season in 2012. Two more titles have followed in 2013/14 and 2017/18.
That goal alone etched Aguero’s name into both City and Premier League folklore, and he has since become the highest non-European scorer in Premier League history, the eighth highest in all, and City’s all-time top scorer with 153 goals in 225 league games to date.