Recent performances by a certain Tottenham midfielder have got me to thinking – who is the most desirable player in the Premiership right now? If there were to be a complete reset of the clubs and everyone currently plying their trade in the English top flight were available via a draft system – who would be taken as the number one pick? There are several things to consider:
- Skill level – obviously
- Age – preferably, you want a player who is going to be able to play at the top-level for the next five years, so Ryan Giggs would not be a top choice in 2013, when he would have been for at least a decade starting in the mid 1990s.
- Position matters – there is a shortage of great right-backs in the league, but their value is limited as they do not have as many opportunities to win their side a game, or save them, as an elite striker or goalkeeper.
- This is completely subjective and of course I may display a Spurs bias – but fear not, my top ten will not be made up of Defoe, Lennon, Holtby, Vertonghen, Lloris, Dempsey, Walker, Dembele, Adebayor and some left winger from Tottenham.
- The deciding factor I have used in my rankings is whether or not Club A would do a straight swap for a player with Club B and vice versa – so for example, if the contest was between Michu and Adam Le Fondre; Reading would agree to the deal, whereas Swansea would not even consider it – thus Michu is the more valuable player. Or to put it another way, which one would I rather was on Tottenham’s books
- While players like Phillipe Coutino and Lewis Holtby may turn out to be fantastic signings for Liverpool and Spurs respectively, they have not yet had the opportunity to prove themselves in the Premiership and thus will not be included in the list. Maybe next year.
- Manchester City players are perhaps grossly underrated due to their abundance of talent – Samir Nasri, Joleon Lescott, Scott Sinclair and Jack Rodwell may all thrive at other clubs, but none of them have played more than 15 games in the Premiership this season.
These players were close to making the final list, but excluded for either age, injury concerns or performance that is too erratic:
Age: Chelsea – Frank Lampard (34), Ashley Cole (32); Fulham – Brede Hangeland (31); Damien Duff (33); Dimitar Berbatov (32); Liverpool – Steven Gerrard (32); Manchester United – Ryan Giggs (
73 39); Reading – Nicky Shorey (32); Southampton – Rickie Lambert (31); Tottenham – Jermain Defoe (30 – just too old for the type of player he is to have long-term value).
Persistent injuries: Arsenal – Bacary Sagna (Not his fault he had two broken legs from bad challenges, but it raises doubts about his long-term availability now he is 30); Manchester United – Nemanja Vidic; Liverpool (currently on loan at West Ham) – Andy Carroll (who also fits into the next category).
Erratic Performances: Everton – Nikica Jelavic (would have made the list for his performance at the second half of last season when he scored 9 in 13 appearances, but has managed just 6 goals in 25 games meaning he just missed out); Manchester City – Carlos Tevez (won the title with both Manchester clubs, but you never know when he’ll refuse to play or disappear back to Argentina for an extended sabbatical); Manchester United – Nani, Ashley Young (When either are on form, they can be devastating to opponents, yet both struggle perform consistently enough to make the team on a regular basis); Tottenham – Aaron Lennon (has a great season once every three years – this campaign is one of them, but his final ball lets him down far too often).
Other honourable mentions who were just outside my top 50: Everton – Steven Pienaar (his spell at Spurs suggested he may not have as much value away from Goodison Park), Leon Osman; Liverpool – Pepe Reina, Glen Johnson; Norwich – Anthony Pilkington; Stoke – Robert Huth.
Part I – Numbers 50 – 26
(Name – Position – Club – Age)
50. Adam Le Fondre – Striker – Reading – 26
His record of 10 goals in his first Premiership season may not rank him in the upper echelons of the scoring charts, but six of them have come as a substitute and Le Fondre has racked up a goal for every 103 minutes of playing time he has had this year – a better strike rate than even Robin Van Persie (111 minutes per goal). ALF (his initials and thus nickname) has found the net in every division of the English leagues, having played for Stockport (his home town); Rochdale and Rotherham prior to his transfer to Reading in 2011.
49. Phil Jagielka – Defender – Everton – 30
At his previous club, Sheffield United, Jagielka was renowned for his versatility, playing most of the time in the centre of midfield, but also being able to fill in as a defender and – when called upon – as goalkeeper. Since his transfer to Everton for £4 million in 2007, the Englishman has played almost exclusively in the centre of defence and has established himself as one of the most reliable in the league for that position, earning 16 international caps in the process. Jagielka has played in all 26 of Everton’s games this season, helping them stay in the race for a European qualification.
48. Tim Krul – Goalkeeper – Newcastle – 24
The Dutch goalkeeper has proved himself as first choice goalkeeper for Newcastle United at a young age, ahead of veteran Steven Harper and last season kept fifteen clean sheets to help the club to 5th place in the Premiership. With his team in a relegation battle this year, his importance has been highlighted with the concern that Newcastle have over the news that he will miss the next five weeks due to an injury, which could end up costing them their top flight status.
47. Thomas Vermaelen – Defender – Arsenal – 27
A product of the Ajax academy, Vermaelen has been a cornerstone in the Arsenal defence since his move to London, gaining a reputation as a goal scoring defender after scoring 13 in his first 67 Premiership outings, though has not yet netted in the league this year. At the start of this campaign, he was made Arsenal’s captain following Van Persie’s transfer to Manchester United and has continued to perform strongly in central defence, though has looked slightly more vulnerable on the occasions he has been required to deputise at left back.
46. Steven Fletcher – Striker – Sunderland – 25
It was not until Sunderland’s 10th Premiership match this season that one of their players other than Fletcher scored a goal (of the club’s 6th to that point, 5 had been scored by the Scot, with the other coming via an own goal by Demba Ba). Since then he has taken his tally for the campaign to 10, just two shy of his best ever return in the Premiership – achieved last season with Wolves – and although that might not rank among the leaders, he has been played predominantly as a lone striker throughout his career and leads the line well, providing a useful outlet for his team when they are under pressure.
45. Wes Hoolahan – Midfielder – Norwich City – 30
If he was five years younger, Hoolahan’s performances for Norwich since their return to the Premiership would justify him being higher up this list. The attacking midfielder was the creative force behind Grant Holt’s impressive season last year, providing seven assists as well as scoring four times himself in the league and this year he has continued his fine form even with the frontman struggling.
44. Hugo Lloris – Goalkeeper – Tottenham Hotspur – 26
When the French international keeper started in place of Brad Friedel against Aston Villa on October 7th, it ended a run of 310 consecutive Premiership appearances by the American and Lloris’s form since then has seen him win the job full-time. At 26, he already captains his national team and is considered young for a goalkeeper – he could be playing at a top-level for more than a decade more. For Spurs this season, Lloris has shown great shot stopping ability as well as confidence in dealing with crosses and has conceded less than a goal a game in league games (14 in 16 starts, compared with Friedel’s 16 allowed in 10 matches).
43. Michael Carrick – Midfielder – Manchester United – 31
The oldest player on this list, Carrick is likely to be able to continue his form level for slightly longer as any drop off on pace he suffers will barely be noticeable as he hardly has any to begin with. What he does provide is an anchor in midfield, someone who can take care of the ball and provide incisive through balls to create chances for the more flashy Manchester United players in front of him to convert. Because of his style of play, during his spell at Tottenham his influence on the side was most evident when he had been sold – as his absence set the team back significantly.
42. Joe Allen – Midfielder – Liverpool – 22
A younger version, but the same style of midfielder as Carrick, Joe Allen is a possession player who does not give the ball away too frequently. In his first Premiership season with Swansea last year, he completed 91% of his passes and he fits in perfectly with Brendan Rodgers style of play – a fact that led to him following his manager to Liverpool, leaving his home town club. The one criticism that can be leveled at Allen is that he does not do enough in the attacking third, something he has been working to rectify this year and he scored his first two goals for Liverpool in the last month – in the FA Cup defeat to Oldham and in the home leg of their Europa League tie against Zenit St. Petersburg.
41. Clint Dempsey – Midfielder – Tottenham – 29
After scoring 23 goals in all competitions for Fulham last season, Dempsey’s strike rate this season has dropped in part because of a decrease in playing time at Spurs, who have several other players in the attacking midfield role favoured by the American. However, he did find the net in five consecutive matches for Tottenham and scored the goals that earned his new club both a win at Old Trafford and a draw against Manchester United at White Hart Lane.
40. Adel Taarabt – Midfielder – Queens Park Rangers – 23
The words “mercurial” and “enigmatic” were made for players like Taarabt, who can be in equal parts amazing and frustrating to watch, especially for supporters of the teams for whom he plays. Having spent several years in the youth team and reserves at Spurs, the Moroccan flourished upon his transfer to QPR, where he was player of the season in their 2010-11 campaign that resulted in promotion to the Premiership. Playing in the top flight, Taarabt has been at times majestic – most notably this year in a 2-1 win over Fulham, in which he scored both goals – but far too often he fails to deliver the level of performance of which he is capable.
39. Antonio Valencia – Midfielder – Manchester United – 27
The Ecuadorian is a traditional winger who is one of the best crossers in the English game and he has been an important part of the Manchester United squad since his transfer from Wigan for £16 million in 2009. Although he has had no trouble in adapting to the challenges of playing for one of the biggest clubs in the world, he does have a history of injury struggles and was restricted to just ten league games in 2010-11 due to ankle ligament damage. This campaign, with Ji-Sung Park having left United for QPR, Valencia has become an even more important part of the team. He is a more consistent performer than fellow wingers Nani and Ashley Young, and has linked up well with Robin Van Persie, providing three assists thus far for the Dutchman.
38. Mohamed Diame – Midfielder – West Ham United – 25
The anchor of the West Ham midfield, Diame has proven to be an excellent free transfer signing by Sam Allardyce, following the Senegal international’s release by Wigan after three years at the club. His good performances this season resulted in interest from other clubs – including Arsenal – during the January transfer window and West Ham’s boss cited the retention of Diame as being the best piece of business they had done in the month.
37. Youssouf Mulumbu – Midfielder – West Bromwich Albion – 26
Mulumbu was the creative force behind West Brom’s improbably strong start to the season, which saw them in third place after their opening 13 matches. The Congolese midfielder has been able to play further up the pitch this season thanks to the addition of Claudio Yacob, who has carried out the lion’s share of the defensive duties, to the benefit of both Mulumbu and his team.
36. Javier Hernandez – Striker – Manchester United – 24
With eight goals in just fifteen league appearances this season – four of which have come as a substitute – Chicharito has a goal for every 86 minutes of playing time, the best of anyone who has scored more than once in the Premiership in 2012/13. However, the reason that his playing time is so limited is because of his lack of consistency – he is as likely to be anonymous during a match for Manchester United as he is to win them three points. If he could continue his excellent strike rate as a regular in the starting line-up, then he would be challenging for the golden boot every season – but with Wayne Rooney, Danny Welbeck and Van Persie as his competition, he may not find the opportunity to do so at Old Trafford.
35. Ryan Shawcross – Defender – Stoke City – 25
An uncompromising defender who is a tough tackler and strong in the air, Shawcross is now known for his consistently strong showings for Stoke, rather than just the player who felt the wrath of Arsene Wenger after he had broken Aaron Ramsey’s leg in 2010. He also provides an aerial threat from set plays – though he is not a regular goalscorer – and made his England debut against Sweden last November.
34. Yohan Cabaye – Midfielder – Newcastle United – 27
Part of La Revolution at Newcastle – the wave of players that have joined the club from the French leagues since the beginning of last season – Cabaye has proven to be one of the best box-to-box midfielders in the game. With great vision and technical ability on the ball, the Frenchman’s primary role has been that of playmaker for Alan Pardew’s side, though he has also contributed nine goals in his fifty Premiership outings, most of which have been spectacular long-range strikes.
33. Christian Benteke – Striker – Aston Villa – 22
32. Fernando Torres – Striker – Chelsea – 28
If value were to judged on this campaign alone, Benteke would be ranked much higher on this list and far above Fernando Torres. The Belgian has netted 11 times in the Premiership in his first season with Aston Villa – his teammates have amassed just 15 between them – compared to 7 by the Spaniard, who has only 14 goals in his 72 league appearances for Chelsea. Nevertheless, Benteke’s best ever return in a single campaign was 17 in 2011-12 – which was in the Belgian League, not considered to be one of the elite competitions in Europe – and there is the possibility he is a one-hit wonder; whereas Torres had a proven track record with both Atletico Madrid and Liverpool, notched 24 goals in his first Premiership season, and starred for Spain in their 2008 European Championship triumph. Benteke is being targeted by many of the richer sides in the Premiership right now, but if they were given a straight choice and price tags were removed, most clubs would still opt for Torres, despite his disappointing tenure at Chelsea.
31. Ramires – Midfielder – Chelsea – 25
The Brazilian is able to play either on the right side of midfield, or in the centre, and his pace, stamina and tackling ability have made him a key part of the Chelsea team. In last season’s Champions League, it was Ramires who provided the pass for Didier Drogba’s winner against Barcelona in the semi-final first leg and he scored a crucial away goal in the return match to ensure Chelsea would progress, after he had picked up a booking that meant he would be suspended for the final. This year he has played in all but 3 of his side’s league fixtures, finding the net on four occasions.
30. Lukas Podolski – Striker – Arsenal – 27
With eight goals and nine assists already in his first season in the Premiership, Podolski has shown the type of form for Arsenal that he displayed during his two spells with F.C. Koln, rather than his less successful stint with Bayern Munchen. The German international has also scored four times in the Champions League, including one against his former employers in last week’s defeat to the German league leaders. Podolski can play on the left or in the centre of attack – a versatility which has helped establish him as a regular in the Arsenal starting line-up – and he also provides a threat from set plays, scoring the only goal of the game from a free-kick against Stoke earlier this month.
29. Tom Cleverley – Midfielder – Manchester United – 23
Cleverley is the latest midfield player to hail from the Manchester United youth system which has had a knack of producing stars in that position over the last 20 years. The probable successor to Carrick as the anchor in the centre of the park for the Red Devils, Cleverley enjoyed successful loan spells at Watford and Wigan prior to breaking through into the United first team. He has played 24 times in all competitions in 2012-13 to this point, scoring four times in the process.
28. Daniel Sturridge – Striker – Liverpool – 23
Despite having great pace and technique, Sturridge failed to establish himself at either his first club, Manchester City, or his second, Chelsea. His most prolific season was 2011-12, when he played 30 Premiership games for the Stamford Bridge outfit and scored 11 times, but he was often used out on the wing rather than as a central striker, his preferred position. During a loan spell at Bolton the year before, Sturridge found the net 8 times in only 12 league appearances and the potential he has shown led to Liverpool spending in the region of £12 million to bring him to the club in the January transfer window. The English striker has already begun to repay that fee, scoring four times for his new club in his first five Premiership matches for them.
27. Romelu Lukaku – Striker – Chelsea (Currently On Loan at West Brom) – 19
The product of the Anderlecht youth system, Lukaku found opportunities limited during his first year at Stamford Bridge, spending most of the season in the reserves. On loan at West Brom this campaign, he has flourished and has already scored 12 times, more than anyone has managed thus far for his parent club. At just 19, he could be one of the top Premiership strikers for the next 10 years, something that will hugely benefit Chelsea when he returns there this summer.
26. Gary Cahill – Defender – Chelsea – 27
Since his transfer from Bolton in January 2012, Gary Cahill has picked up Champions League and FA Cup winners medals, cemented his place as an England regular, and replaced John Terry as the lynchpin of the Chelsea defence. He is a tough tackler, strong in the air, comfortable on the ball and has also scored some fantastic goals, including a volley from outside the box against Chelsea earlier this season. Cahill’s biggest weakness is his positional awareness – far too often he allows opposition strikers to get in behind him and he does not have the pace to make up for this fault. If he can improve on this aspect of his game, he could become the best central defender in the league.
CLICK HERE FOR PART 2 – 25-1.