Soccer is a sport that is easy for most to grasp. The objective is to get the ball into the other team’s net. There are those that do this prolifically, those who finish in style but with rarity, and those who spend their days standing by the goalposts Filippo Inzaghi-ing their way to the top of the scoring charts. These are the players who ensure that the match ball goes over the goal line, and upon whom a team’s match-day fate largely depends. Over the course of its 25-year history, England’s top league has been the home to some of the world’s most celebrated scorers. This list highlights the best ever strikers to star in the Premier League era.
10. Matthew Le Tissier
Between 1992 and 2002, a string of otherwise excellent Premier League goalkeepers were left looking a bit stupid by shots from Matthew Le Tissier. The Southampton forward mercilessly swept up Goal of the Season awards for many years before hanging up his boots (presumably kicking them from a great distance only for them to loop smoothly over the hook). A one-club-man through to the end of his Premier League career, Le Tissier’s 209 goals from 540 appearances, and a strike-rate of 48-converted penalties from 49 taken, highlights the spectacular consistency of the Englishman that Southampton fans still refer to as ‘Le God’.
9. Ian Wright
One of the few great strikers to transcend the old Division One and Premier League eras, Ian Wright was a pacey, direct forward player best known for his time with Arsenal. 185 goals in 288 games in his seven years at Arsenal meant that the Englishman became a club hero. Wright’s movement off-the-ball and his ability to judge the positioning of defenders and goalkeepers, seemingly through some form of psychic power, gave him the edge in terms of opportunities. Then his impudent finishing ensured even the smallest of defensive errors was punished. In the early-to-mid 1990s, there were few strikers could time a run and a produce a nonchalant finish quite like Ian Wright. Wright seemed to improve rapidly with age. And his 23 goals in the 1996-1997 season, when Wright was 34, tied his best Premier League performance. He then helped Arsenal achieve their first Premier League title in 1997-98, adding 10 more goals.
8. Luis Suarez
Suarez’s speed, strength, and immense shooting power have helped the Uruguayan bag 82 goals in 133 games, after a January 2011 transfer from Ajax to Liverpool. One of Suarez’s leading attributes is his ability to strike a ball both quickly and powerfully. In the precious seconds other players use to generate back-lift, Suarez has already bamboozled the goalkeeper with an accurate, crashing finish into the corner of the goal. Suarez also holds an exceptional dribbling ability that allows him the space to create his shooting opportunities. A legend of the modern era, Suarez’s goal-scoring helped Liverpool finish within two points of the title in 2014. His Football Writers Association and PFA Player of the Year awards in the 2013-14 season were just the start, as a big summer transfer to Barcelona would pave the way for future silverware (and plenty more goals) in Spain.
7. Ruud Van Nistelrooy
When he joined Manchester United from PSV in 2001, Ruud Van Nistelrooy was a player who had already developed a refined striker’s instinct. In two seasons at PSV, he had scored 62 goals in 67 appearances. After his move to Old Trafford, his name was often written on the score sheet even before matches started just to save time during the game for busy football writers. Contributing 150 goals from 219 appearances during his time at United, including 43 Champions League goals in 54 matches, Van Nistelrooy was one of the league’s best predatory strikers. The Dutchman’s movement and strength found him in ideal positions, where his fast reflexes and ball control enabled him to place the ball past even the most agile goalkeeper.
6. Gianfranco Zola
In 2003, Chelsea F.C. asked their fans to vote for the greatest ever player in the club’s 98-year history. 60% voted for Gianfranco Zola. Standing a mere five-foot-six-inches tall, Zola was a larger than life character when on the field. His smiling presence and sportsmanship endeared him to Premier League audiences far away from his Stamford Bridge home. The Italian also had the ability to match his character. He was brought to the club in 1996 under Ruud Gullit and became a near-instant hit due to his superior control and unending vision. He could also strike a ball better with a flick of his instep than most can when using their entire body for leverage. While “only” scoring 80 goals in 312 appearances, Zola defined the Premier League for a generation.
5. Dennis Bergkamp
Like Thierry Henry, Bergkamp struggled when playing in Italy, only to then go on to become one of the most important players in Premier League history. Bergkamp’s superhuman control of a soccer ball gave him an unfair advantage over his human counterparts during his 1995 to 2003 stint as Arsenal front-man. Netting 120 goals in 423 appearances for Arsenal, Bergkamp’s finishes were usually preceded by skill and invention that was more witchcraft than reality. The prime advantage he held over the opposition was his decisiveness and speed of thought. He played the game three seconds before everyone else on the field. This talent assured Arsenal were to become a successful attacking unit during Arsene Wenger’s early years as Arsenal manager.
4. Didier Drogba
Powerful and aggressive in the box, Didier Drogba was crucial in helping Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea win consecutive Premier League titles in 2004 and 2005. He would win the title again with Carlo Ancelotti in 2010. During his 8 years at Chelsea, Drogba battered and bruised his way to 157 goals in 341 appearances for the club and become known as the quintessential big game player. Drogba scored nine goals in nine finals over the course of his time at Chelsea, showcasing both his temperament and his complete focus on ensuring success for his team. The term “leading the line” could have been coined for Drogba, as his exceptional ball control and strength helped forge the way for Chelsea’s goal-scoring midfielders to crash through the opposition.
3. Eric Cantona
A striker of great power and finesse, Eric Cantona was the figurehead during Manchester United’s early dominance of the Premier League in the 1990s. There are few more iconic clips from the Premier League era than that of Cantona turning around to eyeball his Old Trafford faithful after chipping the ball over Lionel Perez in the Sunderland goal. Cantona was more than simply a great striker; he was an unflinching leader. Brought to the club from Leeds United by Sir Alex Ferguson in November on 1992, Cantona went on to win four Premier League trophies. A man who could turn even the most mundane of Monday night kick-offs into a spectacle, Cantona had incredible balance and poise with the ball. While rarely operating as the main striker, he scored 82 goals in 185 appearances and had a galvanizing effect on Manchester United that still resonates among many on the pitch, and on the coaching staff, at Old Trafford today.
2. Thierry Henry
Given that he was one of the fastest ever players in the Premier League era, it seemed quite unfair that Thierry Henry also had the vision and technique to manipulate a football in any way he so wanted. Whenever writers use the name Thierry Henry, they should technically use “Thierry HENRY!” as that was the common pronunciation of his name by commentators of the late 90s and early 2000s. A likeable character on the field, Henry was the talisman of Arsenal’s 2002 and 2004 title-winning sides. He scored 226 goals for Arsenal and was nominated as FIFA World Player of the Year twice during his years in England. Most of Henry’s goals came through his alarming ability to consistently achieve the seemingly impossible with a ball at his feet, as he marauded from the wing and drove his team forward.
1. Alan Shearer
It seems millennia ago now that Alan Shearer dragged his Blackburn Rovers team to the title in 1995. But for the many helpless goalkeepers and defenders who came across Alan Shearer in his career, the image of the proud Geordie striker, right hand raised, wheeling away in celebration is likely burned into their retinas. The former Southampton, Blackburn Rovers and Newcastle United number nine scored 260 goals in his 18-year Premier League career. This as-yet unparalleled feat was achieved through Shearer’s unerring precision and fierce power when given the task of finding the net. Biologically engineered to score goals, Shearer was equally adept at blasting in a free kick 30 yards from goal as he was at putting away a loose ball in the box.