English football has been graced by some incredible foreign talents over the years, particularly since the Premier League’s inception in 1992.
The flair, quality and excitement these players have brought to the English game has revolutionised playing styles, tactical thinking and our enjoyment of the game, with matches frequently decided by moments of individual brilliance.
Often, we sit down and discuss the best imports to grace our shores, but we rarely touch upon the greatest to play for each current Premier League club. So here at 90min, we thought we’d do just that – only including players in the Premier League era, while Scotsmen and Welshmen don’t count.
After much wagging of the chin, here’s who we’ve gone with…
Arsenal – Thierry Henry
The choice for Arsenal’s greatest foreigner falls to someone who is also rightly considered as one of the club’s greatest ever players. Henry joined the Gunners just before the turn of the millennium in 1999, and from that moment he never looked back.
The French talisman scored an incredible 228 goals in 375 games for Arsenal, making him their all-time leading goalscorer. He helped the north Londoners to six pieces of silverware, playing a pivotal role when the club became ‘Invincible’ during the 2003/04 season.
Aston Villa – Dwight Yorke
While Yorke went on to play for five other clubs, he is most cherished for his time at Aston Villa, where he began his career. Born in Trinidad and Tobago, he made 205 appearances for the Villans, netting 66 times in nine years at Villa Park.
While he left the Midlands on a slightly sour note, Yorke will always be a legend to Villa fans for what he did for the club. His goal tally wasn’t topped at any of his other clubs, where he was the Premier League’s top scoring non-European player until 2017.
Bournemouth – Joshua King
One of the more recent entries on this list is King, who is still at Bournemouth after joining from Blackburn in 2015. Born in Oslo, he is a Norway international, making his Løvene debut back in 2012.
King has played over 150 games for the Cherries and is closing in on half a century of goals at the Vitality – continuing to play a crucial role as he enters the prime years of his career.
Brighton – Bruno
Bruno joined Brighton relatively late in his career, arriving at the AMEX Stadium when he was 31. The Catalan born defender had spent his whole career in his native Spain, but became a cult hero in his time with the Seagulls.
The Spanish captain made 235 appearances in seven years, helping Brighton reach the top flight for the first time in 34 years. Retiring at the club in 2019, Bruno has gone down as one of their greatest foreign players.
Burnley – Brian Jensen
Jensen was Burnley’s number one goalkeeper for a decade, making 300 appearances after arriving from West Brom in 2003 on a free transfer – where at one time, he was the only goalkeeper in Stan Ternent’s squad.
His standout moment with the club came in 2009, when he helped the club reach the Premier League promised land. Jensen started as Burnley won the Championship play-off final, thanks to Wade Elliott’s early goal against Sheffield United.
Chelsea – Didier Drogba
There was strong competition for Chelsea’s greatest foreigner, but it could only be one man. Drogba was one of José Mourinho’s first signings in 2004, and instantly made an impact for the Blues with his stylish play and clinical goalscoring instinct.
Drogba’s 164 goals in blue put him fourth in Chelsea’s all-time leading goalscorers’ list, the highest of any foreign player on the list. The Ivorian’s crowning moment came in the 2012 Champions League final, where he scored the equaliser and winning penalty against Bayern Munich – the Blues’ first ever triumph on the biggest European stage of all.
Crystal Palace – Wilfried Zaha
While Zaha grew up in south London and previously played for England, he was born in Abidjan and actually plays his international football for Ivory Coast. Club career wise, he joined Crystal Palace’s academy aged 12, and has spent all but one year of his career at Selhurst Park.
For much of that time, Zaha has been Palace’s star man and is widely regarded as one of the club’s best ever players – particularly in the modern era. Has over 350 appearances to his name and is perhaps the best dribbler of a ball that the Holmesdale faithful have laid eyes on.
Everton – Tim Cahill
Cahill is not only one of Everton’s best players, but one of the most exciting to have graced the Premier League. After six years at Millwall, the Australian moved to Merseyside in 2004 for a fee of £1.5m – which proved to be an absolute bargain.
The Toffees talisman made 276 appearances, netting 68 times in eight years at Goodison Park. His 56 goals make him the third highest scoring Australian in the Premier League, topped only by Mark Viduka and Harry Kewell.
Leicester City – Riyad Mahrez
Leicester’s 2015/16 title-winning squad was full of fantastic players, though one of the best was certainly Riyad Mahrez. En route to lifting the Premier League trophy, the Algerian registered 17 goals and 10 assists in what was an outstanding season for him.
Mahrez made 179 appearances for the Foxes, before moving on to pastures new in the form of Manchester City.
Liverpool – Luis Suárez
When Liverpool signed Suárez from Dutch giants Ajax in 2011, no one could truthfully predict the extent of his impact on English football. The Uruguayan was renowned for his goalscoring prowess, but took it to another level upon arrival at Anfield.
Suárez netted 82 goals in 133 matches – that’s a rate of 0.61 per game. He was twice named Liverpool’ Player of the Season and won the PFA equivalent in his final year at the club.
Manchester City – Sergio Agüero
Agüero is undoubtedly one of the Premier League’s greatest foreign imports, and his goalscoring instinct will be appreciated even more when he leaves England. Manchester City found themselves an incredible striker in the Argentine.
Agüero is City’s all-time leading goalscorer, and no foreign player has found the back of the net more times in the Premier League than him.
Manchester United – Cristiano Ronaldo
Ronaldo’s status as one of the greatest footballers in the history of the game is undisputed, and his success at Manchester United doesn’t go unrecognised. Signed by Sir Alex Ferguson from Sporting CP in 2003, he netted 118 times for the Red Devils in six years at the club.
The Portuguese dazzled Old Trafford game after game, playing a part of a squad which won trophy after trophy. Ronaldo left Manchester with nine major honours and dozens upon dozens of personal accolades, with immortal legendary status at the Theatre of Dreams.
Newcastle – Shay Given
One of just two goalkeepers to make their way onto the list, Given deservedly earns his title of Newcastle’s best foreign player. In 12 years at St James’ Park, the shot stopper made 448 appearances, putting him third in the Magpies’ list of most appearances.
The Irish goalkeeper was one of the best in the league at his peak, though seems to be under-appreciated by opposition fans. He departed Tyneside in 2009, and later retired from the game at the remarkable age of 42.
Norwich City – Wes Hoolahan
In between spells at Blackpool and West Brom, Hoolahan made a name for himself for a decade spent at Norwich. The Irishman made over 350 appearances for the Canaries throughout his 10 years at the club, forming a strong relationship with the Carrow Road faithful as they climbed their way to the Premier League from League One.
His departure in 2018 brought the end to an era, where he went on to leave his new club West Brom after a single season, heading to Australian side Newcastle Jets.
Sheffield United – Peter Ndlovu
Sheffield United haven’t seen many players from Zimbabwe arrive at Bramall Lane – with the exception of 2001. Peter Ndlovu joined from Birmingham City after being released, going on to make a name for himself at the Blades.
Ndlovu scored 21 times in 126 appearances for Sheffield United, helping them reach the Championship playoff final in 2003. After three years, he left to join South African club Mamelodi Sundowns, but remains a popular figure back in Yorkshire.
Southampton – Marians Pahars
Pahars moved to Southampton in 1999, leaving his native Latvia for the bright lights of the Premier League, becoming the first player from his country to play in the division.
The striker scored 45 goals in 143 appearances for the Saints, enjoying a decent career on the south coast.
Tottenham – Son Heung-min
In terms of talented foreigners to come through the doors at Tottenham, Son is absolutely up there with the best. He brought an end to eight years in Germany to head to White Hart Lane.
Son has been prolific in five fruitful years in north London. His talent, speed and flair has made him one of the league’s finest attacking players, recognised and celebrated as one of Asia’s best ever players.
Watford – Heidar Helguson
Graham Taylor looked to Scandinavia in the 1999/2000 season in search of a striker, and found with Icelandic forward Heidar Helguson. The 22-year-old joined from Norwegian side Lillestrøm, for a then club record fee of £1.5m.
Helguson spent six years at Watford, making 186 appearances for the Hornets. 28 league goals and dozens of clinical performances later, he continued his journey in England, moving to London to join Fulham.
West Ham – Paolo Di Canio
Dimitri Payet just misses out on this list, but it had to be Paolo Di Canio. The Italian striker joined West Ham in 1999, making 136 appearances and scoring 51 goals.
West Ham had a fantastic player in Di Canio, one who is fondly reminisced about decades after leaving Upton Park. He is best remembered for his audacious scissor kick volley against Wimbledon, which remains one of the best goals in Premier League history.
Wolves – Raúl Jiménez
Nuno Espirito Santo’s arrival kickstarted the revolution at Wolves which saw them reach the Premier League- it has continued thanks to the goals of Raúl Jiménez. His initial season-long loan was made permanent in 2019.
The Mexican striker has an eye for goal and a gift for finding the back of the net in style, surely going on to earn legendary status in the Black Country.
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