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FourFourTwo's 100 best foreign Premier League players ever: 70-61

Words: Seb Stafford-Bloor, Jon Spurling, Joe Brewin, Richard Edwards, Chris Flanagan.

70. Riyad Mahrez

Before 2015/16, Mahrez had shown only fleeting glimpses of the match-deciding player he would blossom into, after a low-key and sometimes-frustrating first season in the Premier League under Nigel Pearson. 

But in a shocking summer of 2015 for great escapists Leicester, Pearson went and in his place arrived Claudio Ranieri. Quite how much that change affected Mahrez can only be reduced to speculation, but the wire-legged wideman was a galvanised forced from the opening day of his team's triumphant season. The Algerian became a dazzling – and at times downright indefensible – force for the Foxes, netting four goals in the first three games of the campaign and barely lifting his foot off the gas from there. 

Mahrez became rightfully relied upon as the man to manoeuvre his team beyond sticky situations; a December hat-trick at Swansea was followed up by a beautiful goal that ended Jose Mourinho's tenure at Chelsea, then two more goals at Everton which put Leicester top at Christmas. There were more – who can forget the slalom and finish at Manchester City? – in a twinkle-toed season that ended with a PFA Player of the Year award and a league winner's medal around his neck. But was it a mere one-off? JB

69. Mikel Arteta

For an illustration of how smart a footballer Mikel Arteta was, look at who he sits next to now: the Spaniard is one of Pep Guardiola's assistants at Manchester City. While that was an appointment partly determined by Arteta's experience of English football, it also spoke to his tactical acumen and ability to feel the patterns of a game.

Arriving at Everton in 2005, he spent six successful years at Goodison Park in David Moyes's establishment-upsetting side before moving to Arsenal in 2011. The more dynamic parts of his game may have faded over time, but his later career was characterised by his care for the ball and his understanding for when – and how – to involve the more celebrated attacking talents surrounding him.

He was often maligned, as nearly every possessional player is by the mainstream, but was a highly watchable midfielder who played his steady percussion in England for nearly 12 years. SSB

68. Alexis Sanchez

There may be ongoing doubts about his Arsenal future, but the former Barcelona forward remains an explosive and dynamic force in his team's attack. Equally adept at playing out wide or more centrally (it remains a moot point as to which is his best position), Sanchez has demonstrated the full range of his finishing skills this season, from his soft shoe-shuffle dummy and finish against West Ham, to his recent Panenka penalty against Burnley.

His blistering goal against Aston Villa in the 2015 FA Cup Final guided Arsenal to victory, but he'll need to win more silverware to be ranked alongside the likes of Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp. Assuming he stays put, that is. JS

67. Juan Mata

What kind of person doesn't like Juan Mata? A decadently gifted playmaker who blogs to fans in his spare time and offers welcome respite from the typical footballer cliches. Smart, erudite, talented and humble; it's very hard to resist that.

His three years at Chelsea brought a European and FA Cup double and also a Europa League medal, before Manchester United paid a then-club record fee to take him to Old Trafford. It was a strange transfer at the time, apparently animated by something other than pure footballing reasons, but even as United have stumbled on their way back to the top of the game he's produced some glowing moments: that goal at Anfield, for instance, could be watched on repeat for a long time. 

In Proper Football Man parlance, Mata is a 'triffic little footballer and has been a pleasure to watch. SSB

66. Nolberto Solano

The first Peruvian to play in the Premier League was a class act at Newcastle under both Kenny Dalglish and Bobby Robson, as well as enjoying spells at Aston Villa, West Ham, Leicester, Hull and, erm, Hartlepool.

Wideman Solano threw himself into life in the north-east and remained a firm favourite at St James’ Park throughout his two spells with the club. He was a regular goalscorer and carved out chance after chance for Alan Shearer with his industry out wide, while he was also a free-kick exponent of the highest class.

Widely respected throughout his Premier League career, Solano's one regret was the lack of silverware he managed to accrue. RE

65. Branislav Ivanovic

This list comes at a bad time for Ivanovic, who was sold to Zenit St Petersburg in January having been dying a slow death for almost two years. Eight years in the Premier League will do that to a player, but it shouldn't disguise what a useful – and versatile – cog in the Chelsea machine he was after arriving in 2008. A right-back who could play centre-half, or the other way around? It's a legitimate question: he was excellent in both roles.

And the goals, too. Most famously, his late header won the Europa League in 2013, but he also scored in the thrilling second-league comeback against Benfica and was part of the mighty resistance in the Camp Nou on the way to the European Cup. Ivanovic blended into the background at Stamford Bridge but he was instrumental in far more of the club's success than is commonly recognised. SSB

64. Youri Djorkaeff

Sam Allardyce revived the careers of several previously great players during his time at Bolton – and arguably Youri Djorkaeff was the first.

The Frenchman had been a star of the Bleus side which won the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000, but he'd fallen badly out of favour at Kaiserslautern when Big Sam made his move for the 33-year-old in February 2001, Bolton's first season after promotion.

The move worked for both parties – Djorkaeff's signing was a real coup for Bolton and helped them stay up, while the club helped Djorkaeff win a place in France's 2002 World Cup squad. The former Inter star liked life at the Reebok so much that he stayed for another two seasons, before a brief spell with Blackburn. His creative inspiration and star quality did much to help Bolton grow and attract more big names to the club. CF

63. William Gallas

A difficult one, because Gallas was a keen practitioner of player power before it became the norm. There's really no escaping the fact that his Chelsea exit damaged his legacy and tarnished his reputation; the events leading to that transfer (as a makeweight in the Ashley Cole deal) are still disputed, but it certainly wasn't his most professional moment.

It's a shame, too, because he was a pivotal part of Chelsea's ascension under Jose Mourinho and yet rather needlessly involved himself in Arsenal's mid-decade stagnation. Consequently, the light now tends to fall more often on his self-indulgence than it does his better moments.

As if to complete the circle, he ended his Premier League career at Tottenham, thus ensuring that he could never be truly loved or trusted by fans of either of his previous clubs. That's a natural consequence entirely of his creation, but it does deflect from what he was as a player: combative, competitive and – occassionally – capable of being impassable. SSB

62. Emmanuel Adebayor

Controversial and outspoken, Adebayor isn't exactly worshipped at any of his four former Premier League clubs, Arsenal, Manchester City, Tottenham or Crystal Palace. On his day, though, the Togo international was almost unstoppable.

Tall, powerful and with a surprisingly delicate touch for a big man, he scored goals aplenty at the Emirates before departing to moneybags City, where his celebration after scoring against his former club incensed Arsenal fans in 2009. At White Hart Lane, he became infamous for his gargantuan wage as Tottenham tried (and failed on more than one occasion) to offload him.

Released at the end of last season by Palace, Adebayor's whirlwind 10-year Premier League career finally appears to have blown itself out. JS

61. Mesut Özil

How will history treat Ozil's career at Arsenal? Over time, will all the acrimony melt away and will the more facile criticisms fade to silence?

Hopefully, because despite the occasionally anaemic performances Ozil has regularly been a fabulous garnish on Premier League life. He's an acquired taste and perhaps someone who doesn't quite fit the English culture, but his deft subtlety has nevertheless left an imprint on the division – though sadly for him, one he hasn't yet come close to conquering.

His assists have often been fetishised and some of his defenders can be a little cultish, but there are few players in Arsenal's history who have embodied craft with such purity. SSB

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FourFourTwo's 100 best foreign Premier League players ever