25. Benito Carbone vs Newcastle (1997/98)
Carbone had a touch of evangelism to him. He arrived at Sheffield Wednesday at a time when foreign players were still scarce in English football and that isolation framed his excellence. Helpfully, he looked like the imagined caricature of a foreign player, but the Italian also oozed technical class - and never more so than in August 1997 when, before flick-flacks and rabonas, a bicycle kick was the height of footballing sophistication.
24. Frank Lampard vs Everton (2006/07)
Behold the power of the right camera angle.
Was this Frank Lampard’s most important or best goal for Chelsea? No on both counts, but there isn’t a more vivid depiction of his ball-striking. It could be argued that this wasn’t even the finest goal scored in this game (Didier Drogba would win it with a late, dipping volley), but it still characterises the nonchalance with which Lampard use to rake 30-yarders into top corners.
23. Luis Suarez vs Newcastle (2012/13)
The touch! Suarez has scored better goals. He even scored better goals for Liverpool that season. But that misses the point: most forwards can finish, many of them from long range and with great power. By contrast, few who have played in England had Suarez’s first touch or his habitual awareness of what was going on around him.
On first viewing this was “neat”, by the third replay it looked - and continues to look – very special.
22. Gareth Bale vs Stoke (2010/2011)
Control: that’s the important bit here. Pretend that you’re younger than you are, do yoga three times a week, and that your hip bone wouldn’t be fractured just by attempting this. Even then, to maintain so much control over a waist-high ball would be remarkable.
This owed much to Aaron Lennon's drifted cross and to Stoke's decision to leave one of the most dangerous players in the league unmarked at the back post, but Bale showed another shade of excellence at a time when his game was growing ever more diverse.
21. Steve Froggatt vs Everton (1998/99)
What’s the appropriate verb here? The same tired descriptions have been trotted out so often and been drained so efficiently of meaning that Coventry winger Froggatt’s goal – so truly hit, so obviously destined to knock someone out if not for the goal netting – almost requires a category of its own.
Another which has been forcefully consigned to history on account of its lack of post-millennium gloss.
Goal from 0.48 onwards
20. Muzzy Izzet vs Tottenham (1998/99)
Younger football fans won’t remember Filbert Street, but it was the kind of place where – how to be polite? – it was hard to imagine good goals being scored. By the late 1990s, Martin O’Neill had built a formidable Leicester side, but they were more functional than spectacular.
Emile Heskey was at the more mobile stage of his career, Steve Guppy was one of the best crossers in the country and Matt Elliott was a truly terrifying centre-half. Izzet usually supplied any genius on show, but this was still probably not what anybody expected to see at the end of a largely forgettable game with Spurs.
19. Dalian Atkinson vs Wimbledon (1992/93)
The two parts of this goal that everyone remembers – Atkinson's chipped finish and the fan with the umbrella who joins in the celebration – have obscured the obvious: look who it was scored against. Playing against Wimbledon in the early '90s might not have been what it was in the late 1980s, but Aston Villa's Atkinson had to ride some particularly robust challenges during his surge upfield. The tackling laws didn't offer nearly the same protection that they do today, and he did remarkably well just to stay on his feet.
Hans Segers' curious positioning probably invited the finish and stopped this from appearing higher up the list, but it's still a wonderful goal which has stood the test of time.
(Starts at 0:24)
18. Harry Kewell vs Arsenal (2002/03)
The trouble with goals scored at the end of the season, or at least those scored by teams with little to play for, is that they tend to be easily dismissed. In May 2003, Leeds’s only objective on arriving at Highbury, before their descent into financial oblivion, was to finish Arsenal’s title hopes for that season.
And they did just that, handing Manchester United the championship after a 3-2 win, which begun with Harry Kewell carving this angled shot beyond David Seaman. Kewell burned brightly but briefly. History may record him as a Champions League winner (Liverpool in 2005), but really his career peaked early in those thrilling years at Leeds.
17. Cristiano Ronaldo vs Portsmouth (2005/06)
Not the free-kick he scored at Old Trafford against the same opposition, but the spitting drive he unleashed at Fratton Park. At that point of his career, Ronaldo was still largely treated with distrust and reliably received plenty of abuse on the south coast that night, wolf-whistled and jeered every time he touched the ball.
This, on his weaker left foot, was quite an answer. Looking back now, this was one of the earliest indications of the goalscoring force he would ultimately become.
2:04 for Ron's rasper
NEXT: Thierry you bad, bad man
16. Eric Cantona vs Arsenal (1995/96)
Between March 4 and April 18 1996, Manchester United played six Premier League games, winning all but one. In five of them, Eric Cantona scored their only goal. It was an amazing sequence which underlined his post-ban importance to Alex Ferguson's side and, embedded within that run, was this gem against Arsenal at Old Trafford.
Some fault lay with David Seaman for his ill-judged rush to the edge of the box, but Cantona’s first touch was excellent and his second perfect. Within the pantheon of great Cantona goals, this is actually a bit of outlier. The French forward was 18 months away from retirement when he scored this goal and yet rarely had he looked so balletic.
15. Thierry Henry vs Blackburn (2006/07)
In the years after the Invincibles era, the accepted starting point of their slow decline, Arsenal still played arguably the best football in the country. Maybe not in the same strong doses as they once had, but they could still be wonderful to watch.
And Henry, too. He lacked the supporting cast of previous years, but he was still capable of making football look insultingly easy. Sometimes, his affected cool when celebrating goals was irritating, but – on reflection – also entirely appropriate. Some players are stunned by what they're able to achieve, but Henry never was: he expected to be great.
14. Alan Shearer vs Everton (2002/03)
In retrospect, even though Shearer’s scoring record remains highly revered, his ball-striking ability has become somewhat overlooked. Sure, he was a traditional centre-forward who took advantage of lapses in defensive concentration, but his career is littered with goals of the highest technical quality.
Shearer was tough, attritional and a bit of a bully, but the power he often generated shouldn’t be mistaken for any lack of finesse. A dropping ball, a soft pitch, 25 yards out; this goal for Newcastle is a violently enduring reminder of his range.
13. Michael Essien vs Arsenal (2006/07)
Some goals are enhanced by their environment and this is unquestionably one of them. Whether certain moments deserve extra gravitas for occurring in big games is debatable, but this happened during a time when the marquee fixtures were often a let-down. Arsenal vs Chelsea, Chelsea vs Liverpool; Manchester United vs Liverpool; those fixtures often parodied Sky Sports’ wild-eyed hyperbole.
But Essien delivered: a fabulous goal of huge importance – a late equaliser in a game in which Chelsea had few chances. More important than that, or more memorable anyway, is the noise which leaked from the stands when the supporters finally saw the movement on the ball. The power and technique were exemplary, the physics absurd.
12. Matt Le Tissier vs Newcastle (1993/94)
His 'other' goal from that game. The more famous of the two might just feature later in this list, but this – his and Southampton’s second goal in a 2-1 win – deserves its own entry.
There are other Le Tissier goals which are more obviously brilliant, but this one is so seductive. If part of his charm lay in his everyman appearance and 'normal bloke touched by God' playing style, then this was that quality at its most radiant. A languid first touch, a gentle volley into the top corner and then a knackered trudge back to the halfway line. When it's time to tell your grandchildren about him, you'll use the Blackburn goal to illustrate just how good he was and this one to describe who he was.
Goal from 0.30 onwards.
11. Tony Yeboah vs Wimbledon (1995/96)
This is the lesser of the two Yeboah goals. Do you know what the issue with this one is? Alan Reeves’s defending, with his flailing arms and 'please don't hurt me' back-turn. So died the reputation of the Crazy Gang...
Yeboah’s touch is delicate and precise and his finish is certainly ferocious, but the effect of the crossbar embellishes the aesthetic. And – to bring a touch of controversy to the list – it’s all a bit... clumsy. Phenomenal yes, but the Leeds striker had already gone one better.
10. Wayne Rooney vs Manchester City (2010/11)
Fine. Here’s the Rooney bicycle kick… again.
You'll find it from 0:15
9. Thierry Henry vs Manchester United (2000/01)
At his best, Henry did whatever he wanted on a football pitch, and often his raw athleticism and superior skill could make him look like an adult at a school sports day.
But there was a sprinkling of imagination to his football, too, and he played with a love for the game which would occasionally manifest in startling ways. True, he enjoyed a preposterous physical advantage over most of his opponents, but few of them were a match for his mind, either. Never was that more apparent than here – in a clash between Arsenal and their main rivals, no less.
NEXT: Going backwards to go forwards...
8. Didier Drogba vs Liverpool (2005/06)
His signature goal. Drogba scored one similar when Chelsea faced Barcelona the following season, but the Premier League variation had difficulty on its side. The skill was hard enough – to hold off Jamie Carragher, to create enough separation to fashion a shooting angle – but the physics of the goal are absurd. To generate so much power and whip while going backwards is almost physically impossible. Almost.
7. Wayne Rooney vs Newcastle (2004/05)
Given recent events, nobody will have gone more than a day without seeing this goal. But to leave it off the list on those grounds would be contrary and wrong: it’s so descriptive.
This was Young Rooney, Angry Rooney, Liable To Scream In A Referee’s Face Before Doing Something Like This Rooney. And he was thrilling. An intoxicating blend of fury and ability that was never more watchable than he was here.
6. Dennis Bergkamp vs Newcastle (2001/02)
Did he mean it? Yes – and it really shouldn’t be that contentious.
Most of the cynicism exists because Bergkamp produced something few people had seen before at St James’ Park and because the bounce and spin of the ball was so unusual. But watch his reaction to his first touch: his movement was fluid and, rather than reading and reacting to an unexpected ricochet, he never broke stride. He knew where the ball was going, he knew how he was going to finish; it was exactly as he saw it in his head.
Or, as Bergkamp would tell The Guardian in 2015: “I thought the ball was a little too much behind me so I had to turn to control it. The quickest way to turn the ball was going that way. It looked a bit special, or strange, or nice, but for me it was the quickest way to the goal.”
5. Georgi Kinkladze vs Southampton (1995/96)
Interestingly, Kinkladze’s role in the Manchester City team would eventually cause great resentment among his team-mates. Tactically, everything became so focused towards the Georgian that a clear hierarchy would develop and fractures would begin to grow in Alan Ball's doomed squad.
The cost (of that and other factors) was relegation in May 1996, but the benefit was plain to see. City were regularly awful in the early-to-mid 1990s, reckless and chaotic, but Kinkladze was often brilliant and he never burned as brightly as he did on this gloomy afternoon at Maine Road.
4. Matthew Le Tissier vs Newcastle (1993/94)
The description writes itself and the internet is already heaving with loving tributes to Le Tissier. The appeal of this goal, like nearly every moment associated with him, lies in how it characterised his playing style: all of his craft and originality will forever remain packed into these few seconds.
Had it been scored by someone else it would still be among the finest Premier League goals in the competition’s history. That it belongs to Le Tissier and is replete with his various signatures allows it to endure all the more. It’s his masterpiece and even the bobbled finish at the end seems somehow right, acting as the rough edge to his brilliance.
3. Paolo Di Canio vs Wimbledon (1999/2000)
One of the challenges when compiling this kind of list is the regularity with which a lot of these goals are shown. Over time – and quite unfairly – Di Canio's goal has had its glint tarnished and, sadly, we’ve even become deadened to the resonance of Martin Tyler’s reaction in the commentary box.
Go outside and try this. Pump up an old Mitre, get a friend to fire it at you from 40 yards, and see if you can come close to replicating either the contact or the grace. Your neighbours will love you for it.
2. Tony Yeboah vs Liverpool (1995/96)
Iconic, because every Sunday morning when a ball breaks to a wheezing amateur on the edge of a wobbly-lined penalty box, this is the goal they envisage themselves replicating.
That’s quite the accolade: to score a goal which takes ownership of a genre. By late 1995, Nayim had filed the patent on optimistic punts from 40 yards and a year later David Beckham would plant his own flag on the halfway line, but does any player in the history of the game hold a more enviable two-goal association than Tony Yeboah?
Whenever anybody who lived in England in the 1990s sees the underside of a crossbar struck – in any game, in any competition – they think of him and they think of this.
1. Rod Wallace vs Tottenham (1993/94)
Hold those reflexive judgements and consider a couple of things. At the time that Wallace scored this goal, football was still quite primitive: the pitches weren't carpets and the players weren't super-athletes. Consider also how people might react to this today if it existed in gleaming high-definition and had been scored in a new-built cathedral stadium. Imagine the aesthetic, then – the angles, the slow motion, the applause rippling through the gentle-banked tiers. It would look wonderful.
Perhaps there's a prejudice at work, too? After all the famous faces who have come through the league and all the billions of pounds spend, it can't be that its greatest individual moment was produced by someone born in Lewisham. Truthfully, if Cristiano Ronaldo, Thierry Henry or Eden Hazard had run 70 yards, beaten three players and produced this finish, nobody would have ever stopped talking about it.
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Seb Stafford-Bloor is a football writer at Tifo Football and member of the Football Writers' Association. He was formerly a regularly columnist for the FourFourTwo website, covering all aspects of the game, including tactical analysis, reaction pieces, longer-term trends and critiquing the increasingly shady business of football's financial side and authorities' decision-making.
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