Analysis

Ranked! The 30 best strikers in Premier League history

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10. Ian Wright

STATS

  • Games: 213
  • Goals: 113
  • GPG: 0.53
  • Titles: 1

“179, just done it,” read the T-shirt as Ian Wright celebrated. The excitement had got the better of him: actually, he’d just bagged his 178th goal for Arsenal, and wasn’t supposed to show off the jersey unless he netted twice. As it turned out, No.179 followed five minutes later and Cliff Bastin’s club record was broken. Out came the T-shirt again.

Wright became a legend at Arsenal in the early Premier League years and his last act as a Gunner was to win the title, aged 34, before moving across London to West Ham. The striker’s spell with the Hammers was arguably most notable for the time he damaged the dressing room of referee Rob Harris after being sent off against Leeds, receiving a three-match ban. Wrighty always had a temper, but there were few better finishers.

9. Ruud van Nistelrooy

STATS

  • Games: 150
  • Goals: 95
  • GPG: 0.63
  • Titles: 1

Few players enjoy their best years after a cruciate knee ligament injury, but Van Nistelrooy was one of them. “The injury gave me a mental strength that I didn’t have before,” he told FFT. The injury delayed the Dutch forward’s arrival at Manchester United from PSV.

Yet he was named PFA Players’ Player of the Year after his first campaign at Old Trafford and bagged the Premier League golden boot a year later, hitting 25 goals in the league as part of a whopping 44 in all competitions.

His goals-per-game ratio was mightily impressive but, surprisingly, the striker won only one league title in five seasons with the Red Devils.

A breakdown in relations with manager Alex Ferguson and Cristiano Ronaldo led to his departure in 2006.

8. Didier Drogba

STATS

  • Games: 254
  • Goals: 104
  • GPG: 0.41
  • Titles: 4

“When you are criticised by your fans, not everyone would have been able to handle that. Some players would have gone under.”

A £24m signing from Marseille in 2004, Drogba’s first few months in the Premier League were not perfect – he was struggling for goals and being lambasted for his diving.

But the Ivory Coast international managed to turn things around and become a legend.

The powerhouse in Jose Mourinho’s back-to-back title victories of 2004-05 and 2005-06, he won the golden boot a year later before repeating the feat with 29 goals in 2009-10 – finished off
with a hat-trick against Wigan on the final day as the Blues won the league once more.

After spells in China and Turkey, he returned to Chelsea to claim a fourth title in 2015 and is the only African to hit 100 Premier League goals.

7. Luis Suarez

STATS

  • Games: 110
  • Goals: 69
  • GPG: 0.63
  • Titles: 0

Luis Suarez £22.8m, Andy Carroll £35m. Those were the amounts Liverpool paid on January 31, 2011 – the comparison seems absurd now.

The Uruguayan arrived with baggage. Not only was he an international villain after his handball denied Ghana a goal at the 2010 World Cup, he’d also served a ban for biting an opponent during his time with Ajax.

Suarez didn’t hit the goal trail straight away – in 2011-12, he found the net just 11 times, though he struck the woodwork eight times.

There was more controversy too: he was banned for racially abusing Patrice Evra (and later for another bite, on Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic).

Then came the bizarre £40,000,001 bid from Arsenal after the goal-getter had netted a rather more impressive 23 in 2012-13.

But he reached top form a year later: scoring 31 times in 33 league matches as Liverpool nearly clinched the league crown under Brendan Rodgers.

The PFA Player of the Year award and European Golden Shoe were his, as was a move to Barcelona in 2014.

6. Dennis Bergkamp

STATS

  • Games: 315 
  • Goals: 87 
  • GPG: 0.28 
  • Titles: 3

“It’s like solving a puzzle – I always had a picture in my head of how everything would look two or three seconds later.”

Dennis Nicolaas Maria Bergkamp was one step ahead of the rest. Recruited by Bruce Rioch, he combined intelligence with elegance to produce 87 goals and 94 assists, linking up with Ian Wright to seal the league title for Arsenal in 1998, then Thierry Henry to win it in 2002 and in the Invincibles year of 2004.

The Dutchman was PFA Players’ Player of the Year when he struck 16 goals in 28 games in 1997-98. His incredible treble at Leicester was hailed by Martin O’Neill as “the best hat-trick I have ever seen”, and a bedazzling turn and finish against Newcastle in 2002 was named the best ever goal in the Premier League.

Dennis’ success in England definitely left Stuart Pearce red-faced. The former Nottingham Forest full-back had called the £7.5 million signing from Inter Milan “a massive gamble” during an interview with The Sun.

“I’d have taken Stan Collymore ahead of Bergkamp,” explained Psycho. “Even for £1 million more – Liverpool have got a much better deal than Arsenal.”

He was wrong. Very wrong.

5. Wayne Rooney

STATS

  • Games: 482
  • Goals: 208
  • GPG: 0.43
  • Titles: 5

“Remember the name, Wayne Rooney,” commentator Clive Tyldesley bellowed. It’s a little-known fact that he did this with every young player back then, with Clive turning up at youth internationals shouting, “Remember the name, Stacy Long!” and, “You’ll be hearing a lot more about this kid, Sean Doherty!”

He was spot on about Rooney, though. That stunner for Everton against Arsenal in October 2002, aged 16, was the first of what would prove to be 208 Premier League goals and counting, on the way to five titles with Manchester United and the PFA Players’ Player of the Year prize in 2010.

He has weighed in with a whopping 100+ assists as well, his tally only bettered by Ryan Giggs, Cesc Fabregas and Frank Lampard. Decent.

4. Sergio Aguero

STATS

  • Games: 203
  • Goals: 143
  • GPG: 0.70
  • Titles: 2

“Defenders look at me, see a short little kid, try to tackle me and then I’m off – see you later.”

If trying to tackle the Argentine is hard enough, stopping him from finding the net is near-impossible. Only Harry Kane and Thierry Henry can rival the Man City striker’s goals per game ratio, averaging one every 108 minutes.

Dennis Bergkamp may have scored the best goal of the Premier League era, as voted by supporters, but Aguero netted the most memorable. His late, late strike against QPR that sealed City the title in 2012 was one of English football’s most dramatic moments.

The goal came at the climax of the first of six full campaigns to date at City, with the 29-year-old hitting the 20-goal mark in four of those.

Incredibly, Sergio has still never made a PFA team of the season despite being top-scorer in 2014-15, when Kane and Diego Costa were picked instead.

3. Eric Cantona

STATS

  • Games: 156
  • Goals: 70
  • GPG: 0.45
  • Titles: 4

“I didn’t punch the fan strong enough – I should have punched him harder.” By that point, Cantona had already kicked Crystal Palace fan Matthew Simmons in the face in any case, so he had probably got the message.

If Cantona will be partly remembered for going all kung fu at Selhurst Park in 1995, no one at Manchester United will ever forget the way the French forward transformed a club who hadn’t secured a league title for 26 years into the force of the Premier League era.

Collar up, chest out, Eric commanded a pitch and bagged almost a goal every other game – superb stats for someone who was often deployed as a withdrawn striker. He also scored the first Premier League hat-trick, for Leeds in a 5-0 rout of Tottenham, in 1992.

2. Alan Shearer

STATS

  • Games: 441
  • Goals: 260
  • GPG: 0.59
  • Titles: 1

December 29, 1993. Ewood Park. 8.09pm. Tim Sherwood crosses in from the right, Alan Shearer finds a yard of space in the box and sweeps the ball beyond Everton goalkeeper Neville Southall.

It was a trademark Shearer goal – the sort he scored so regularly for Blackburn Rovers, and later Newcastle United. But this one was significant, even if he didn’t know it at the time. It put him out on his own as the all-time leading scorer in the Premier League. He has held the record ever since. In 24 years, no one has come even close to it.

The newly formed Premier League was 16 months old back then. Astonishingly, despite Shearer already leading the goal charts, he had actually spent several of those months on the sidelines because of a cruciate ligament injury. He did not start a single league game from Boxing Day 1992 to September 1993.

He had smashed 16 goals in 21 games before his setback – Teddy Sheringham top-scored that term with only 22 across the entire campaign. On Shearer’s return to fitness, his first 19 starts for Blackburn delivered another 24 goals.

He scored 31 times in just 40 games in 1993-94, 34 in 42 matches in 1994-95, then 31 in 35 outings in 1995-96, taking home the Football Writers’ Player of the Year gong in ’94 and PFA Players’ Player of the Year honour in ’95 en route to the Premier League title.

No wonder Rovers owner Jack Walker wanted Shearer to stay at Blackburn so much, he was offered a player-manager position in 1996 aged only 25.

Shearer politely declined, signing for Newcastle in a world-record £15 million deal and immediately becoming Premier League top scorer for a third consecutive year.

By his retirement in 2006, Shearer had netted 148 league goals for the Magpies, taking his tally to 260. Along the way he also set Premier League records for the most hat-tricks (11), the most trebles in a single campaign (five, in 1995-96) and the most goals in a game (five, against Sheffield Wednesday in 1999).

The Premier League’s never witnessed a goal-scoring machine quite like him – although that celebration could still do with a bit of work ...

1. Thierry Henry

STATS

  • Games: 258
  • Goals: 175
  • GPG: 0.68
  • Titles: 2

“I need to score crappy goals,” Thierry Henry told FourFourTwo in 2001. “I don’t want to look pretentious, but I usually don’t do crappy goals. I like to do some beautiful thing on the pitch. I like to play to the crowd.”

A few months earlier, Henry had scored arguably his greatest goal in the Premier League, flicking the ball up and lashing it beyond Manchester United goalkeeper Fabien Barthez at Highbury. It was both graceful and brilliant.

Henry may not have scored as many Premier League goals as Shearer, but he didn’t play in as many matches – 258 to Shearer’s 441. And the ex-Arsenal man’s goals-per-game ratio is actually greater.

The France international achieved this with a panache that made him both an Arsenal and Premier League icon. ‘Va va voom’ was not just about searing pace, it was about delivering the beautiful and the seemingly impossible.

Take the solo goal he scored against Liverpool back in April 2004, slaloming past pretty much the entire Reds defence.

Henry never did stop scoring beautiful goals for the Gunners, but adding in the (very) occasional crappy one upped his strike rate. He found the net 24 times in 2001-02 to help the north Londoners win the title, following it with 24, 30, 25 and 27 in each of the next four seasons.

No other player has ever hit more than 20 goals in five consecutive campaigns. On four of those occasions he was Premier League top scorer, collecting the PFA’s Player of the Year prize in 2003 and ’04 and the Football Writers’ award in 2003, 2004 and 2006.

Thierry made a brief return to London in January 2012 on loan from New York Red Bulls, with the sole league strike of his second spell – a last-minute winner away at Sunderland – ultimately crucial in Arsenal’s quest to secure qualification for the Champions League. Even at 34, he was making the difference.

While Shearer lifted the title just once, Henry was seldom away from the sharp end. His second crown, when he was the star of the Invincibles team of 2003-04 with 30 goals in 37 appearances, earned him Premier League immortality.

This feature originally appeared in the December 2017 issue of FourFourTwo. Subscribe! 

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