Above: Cristiano Ronaldo. Image by Madridismo.ES / Shutterstock.com
The English Premier League was founded nearly 22 years ago, and in that short space of time I have seen it flourish into one of the most respected leagues in world football. Quite frankly, we’ve been spoiled by the talent that has lit up the terraces for the last two decades. But who is the greatest of them all? Well first, let’s look at the candidates.
Eric Cantona – As well as providing us with some unforgettable quotes, he was an insatiable player to watch, and became pivotal in helping United win four league titles in his five years at the club.
Dennis Bergkamp – He’ll probably be best remembered for his ‘did he mean it’ piece of skill to which Nikos Dabizas is reportedly still receiving weekly counseling for. The Dutchman managed to win the league three times, and became Holland’s all time leading goal scorer in 1998, later to be surpassed by Patrick Kluivert.
Alan Shearer – You could probably write his accolades on a postage stamp, but as the league’s all-time top goal scorer I feel he at least warrants a mention.
Thierry Henry – I would probably say that out of all the candidates so far, Henry was best equipped to win a game singlehandedly, picking the ball up somewhere near the half way line and taking it round every player on the pitch, including his team mates.
Cristiano Ronaldo – A true entertainer, and big game player who did something incredible just about every week. He was utterly devastating.
Now although for the most part all five players’ careers overlap they were all at the height of the powers at different times, so how indeed to compare them? Well the best way to look at something is in a wider context, so with that in mind let’s look at each player in conjunction with his Champions League exploits.
To begin with you have to categorically rule out Cantona. As eye catching as he was, you really have to judge him against the context of an extremely weak league. Cantona’s United could only beat what was in front of them of course, but you only have to look at their fruitless European endeavors to see how low English football had sunk at this point. Incidentally, Cantona notched just five champions league goals for Manchester United.
Alan Shearer basically falls into the same category as Eric Cantona, so we can rule him out. Thierry Henry less so, but apart from their appearance in the 2006 finals, Arsenal always came up short in Europe when the serious questions were asked of them.
The leagues greatest player must surely come from its most dominant period in European football, and for this reason I just can’t see past Cristiano Ronaldo. In 2008, after seeing off Arsenal in the semi final, Manchester United triumphed against Chelsea.
For me this was English football at its peak, and at this time its best player was Cristiano Ronaldo, which I feel makes him the greatest player in the history of the English Premier League.