DRIVE-TIME: The Most Extravagantly Gifted Premier League Players of All-time
April 03, 2018
While people are always debating the best Premier League players of all-time, there’s less discussion concerning the most naturally talented footballers to have graced the English top flight during the last 26 years.
Although not all of these players will have achieved sustained success or longevity in the English game, they have managed to light up the EPL with their extravagant talents while earning cult favourite status among their fans.
Below, we’ll rank the five most extravagantly gifted EPL performers, based solely on their ability what they brought to the league.
5. Georgi Kinkladze, Manchester City and Derby County
In many ways, the ridiculously talented playmaker Georgi Kinkladze was ahead of his time as an EPL player. A diminutive and extraordinarily well-balanced player with incredible dribbling and passing ability, he was a prototype ‘number 10’ at a time when the majority of English clubs with played with a rigid, 4-4-2 system.
Although this and City’s genuine lack of Premier League quality at the time restricted Kinkladze’s impact at Maine Road, he managed to produce some magical moments and breathtaking solo goals. Even when City were relegated at the end of the 1995/96 (despite Kinkladze’s influence), the Georgian remained a huge favourite and was regularly serenaded by fans with a makeshift rendition of the Oasis hit Wonderwall.
The Georgian remained at Maine Road for three years in total, shining in the First Division and regularly showcasing his unique ability to create and score truly majestic goals. In all, Kinkladze scored 22 goals in 118 games for City, while he also appeared briefly for Derby County between 1999 and 2002.
Due to his loyalty and innate natural ability, he remains a legend among City’s ardent fans and must surely go down one of the most gifted players ever to pull on the light blue shirt at Maine Road or the Etihad.
4. Matt Le Tissier, Southampton
Matt Le Tissier was another incredible talent who arguably suffered from the inflexible tactics that defined the early Premier League era, with the Guernsey-born attacking midfielder probably best deployed in a relatively free role behind a central striker.
So, despite boasting stunning close control and vision along with an unerring eye for goal, Le Tissier only managed to win a meagre eight caps for England and failed to lift a single major trophy during his career.
Having spent his entire playing career at Southampton (Le Tissier allegedly turned down a move to Spurs in 1990), however, Le Tissier became a legend on the South Coast and managed to score a stunning 209 goals in his 540 appearances across all competitions.
Le Tissier is also well known for scoring a number of utterly memorable EPL goals, including one truly stunning effort against Newcastle when he controlled a bouncing ball on his heel and juggled it over the heads of two defenders before slotting a low effort into the bottom corner of the net.
In truth, Le Tissier’s unorthodox and enigmatic style (along with immense loyalty to the Saints) probably hindered his career, and there’s little doubt that the midfielder would have emerged as a true great had he played in the current era.
3. Dimitar Berbatov, Spurs, Manchester United and Fulham
At times, Bulgarian striker Dimitar Berbatov cut a lazy and frustrating figure on the field of play. Bereft of pace and dynamism, he would often look disinterested during games, while he was not the type of forward to press defenders or chase lost causes.
With the ball at his feet, however, there’s little doubt that Berbatov is one of the most talented and technically gifted players ever to grace the Premier League. Capable of playing as an orthodox number nine or a deep-lying number 10, Berbatov boasted incredible close control and was also capable of beating defenders for skill even in relatively tight spaces.
Not only this, but Berbatov was also a prolific striker with supreme aerial ability, scoring 122 goals in 305 appearances during his time at White Hart Lane, Old Trafford and Craven Cottage.
The quality of his touch and ability to link play was particularly evident at Old Trafford, especially in 2008/09 when he starred alongside Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez. He scored 14 goals and laid on numerous assists during this season, with a stunning run, flick and pass setting up Ronaldo for a simple finish against West Ham.
2. David Ginola, Newcastle United, Spurs, Aston Villa and Everton
Another of the early wave of continental players to grace the EPL, Ginola was unique in that he was ideally suited to the English game. A fast and fleet-of-foot winger with superb touch and an eye for the spectacular, Ginola starred in Kevin Keegan’s attack-minded Newcastle side after joining from Paris St. Germain for £2.5 million in 1995.
The Frenchman spent two years on Tyneside, before joining Spurs in the summer of 1997. Here he matured into a well-rounded and talismanic player, as he began to showcase his superb dribbling ability and an exceptional passing range.
A superb solo goal for Spurs against Barnsley in 1999 embodied everything that was unique about Ginola, as he collected the ball on the left and slalomed his way past five defenders before sliding the ball casually into the bottom corner.
The brilliant Frenchman also became a key player for Aston Villa and Everton has he grew older, and while he continued to score superb goals he also adapted his game to play a deeper, more central role that enabled him to use is vision and ability to create chances for his teammates.
1. Eric Cantona, Leeds and Manchester United
We finish with the EPL’s first true talisman, and a man who managed to win four Premier League titles in just five seasons at Old Trafford (after also starring when Leeds United pipped the Reds to the old First Division title in 1992).
Make no mistake; the English league had scarcely seen anyone like Cantona before, with his short fuse and raw talent meaning that he constantly walked the line between genius and insanity. There was certainly no shortage of controversy during his time in England, but his contribution to Sir Alex Ferguson’s first and second title winning sides cannot be underestimated.
A charismatic player with a strong physical presence, Cantona was also a deceptively effective dribbler with a keen eye for goal. He remains best known for his outstanding vision and ability to pass through a packed defence, however, with one stunning, outside of the boot chip completely bamboozling the Spurs backline and laying on a goal for Denis Irwin in the 1992/93 season.
At his best, the enigmatic Cantona was a catalyst for United’s immense domestic success in the 1990s, as he transformed a solid and organised side into title winners. This is a testament to his extravagant talent, as is the fact that he managed to provide 70 goals and a whopping 56 assists in just 156 EPL appearances.