The greatest all-time Premier League XI based on games played
LW: Ryan Giggs
Games: 632, PL club: Manchester United
A seriously impressive game total for the old blood-twister who also hoovered up a scarcely believable 13 league titles and 109 goals. Giggs went from flying teen sensation to crafty 40-year-old central midfield string-puller, all thanks to yoga and not having butter on his toast. Or something.
It’s the twentysomething left-wing version of Giggsy we’re picking here though – the position where he played the majority of his 1,000-year career, to a fan chorus of Joy Division (away) and silent prawn sandwich consumption (home). Chuck 40 additional First Division appearances on for his actual total, if you can bring yourself to recall a time before 1992.
CM: Gareth Barry
Games: 653, PL clubs: Aston Villa, Man City, Everton, West Brom
Versatile, dependable, consistent. He may not set pulses racing, but Barry was a fine Premier League footballer. He's played on the left of midfield in the past - but it’s in middle where we’d need him if we’re going to shoehorn this lot into the 4-5-1 formation that works.
Marathon man Barry is firmly established as a midfield anchorman these days – finally out of the top flight, having been relegated with West Brom – but it’s worth remembering that he displayed more attacking intent in his youth. In the mid-2000s, he scored eight, then nine league goals in two seasons at Aston Villa - though admittedly he was on spot-kick duty. Probably also takes a mean throw-in. Right?
CM: Gary Speed
Games: 535, PL clubs: Leeds, Everton, Newcastle, Bolton
In the first Premier League season of 1992/93, the defending top-flight champions were a Leeds side boasting supreme midfield talent. Each man ideally fitted their role; Gary McAllister the playmaker, Gordon Strachan the magician, David Batty the destroyer and young Gary Speed - the box-to-box engine room who could score, run, pass, head and tackle.
Welshman Speed played on the left or in the centre for four Premier League clubs, and has the rare distinction of being fondly remembered by fans of them all. Tragically, Speed died in 2011, aged just 42 – and the genuine warmth in the tributes of all who played with him spoke to the fact that he was just as pleasant off the pitch as he always came across to those who watched him on it.
CM: Frank Lampard
Games: 609, PL clubs: West Ham, Chelsea, Man City
The only player apart from Giggs and Barry in the 600+ club, Lampard was often referred to as ‘Fat Frank’ despite clearly being in absolutely incredible nick. Snaffled a crafty 177 league goals, which isn’t bad from midfield - mainly for Chelsea, where he won three league titles among a swag of silverware.
Lampard’s scoring prowess and advanced centre-mid position should hopefully make up for the fact that our lone striker isn’t the most, erm, prolific. At least this side’s frontman will be able to benefit from Lampard’s pinpoint set-piece delivery. Better corners than Müller, this lad.
RW: Steven Gerrard
Games: 504, PL club: Liverpool
Unfortunately Stevie G will have to shift over to the right flank, which does come with the bonus of not pairing him with Frank Lampard. Right-midfield is a role that the Liverpool powerhouse filled under Rafa Benitez in the mid-2000s, while he later played successfully ‘in the hole’ behind a peak Fernando Torres (at a pinch, Gerrard could even fill in at right-back).
Frankly, though, he will probably just play where he always played: wherever Steven Gerrard wanted to be. That’s fine by us, as he was a superb all-action dynamo; cloned from old copies of Roy of the Rovers in a Scouse laboratory, determined to leather spectacular goals and rock out to Phil Collins no matter the cost. Give that man the armband.
FW: Emile Heskey
Games: 516, PL clubs: Leicester, Liverpool, Birmingham, Wigan, Aston Villa
Yes! Admit it to yourselves – you’d like to think that the skills of Thierry Henry, Wayne Rooney, Sergio Aguero, etc sum up the Premier League - but all this time you’ve been watching Big Emile stroll around up top and spin his imaginary decks.
Admittedly, it would be ideal if Alan Shearer had make it to 516+ appearances - damn those knee injuries - but let’s not be hard on Big Hesk. A 110-goal tally doesn’t make him the greatest of plunderers, but he was fast (for a while), willing, and his unselfish runs created openings for others.
With the goals this side boasts in midfield, Heskey is actually the perfect man to lead the line (we keep telling ourselves). So here it is – the ultimate Prem XI. The last 26 years of La Liga hasn’t got anything on this. Sorry, what’s that? Lionel who?