In 2012/13, it was decided that a footballer would need to have played at least five Premier League matches over the course of a season to get their hands on a winner’s medal. Fair enough, really.
However, we’ve decided to apply that logic to every season of the Premier League era to bring you some of the forgotten champions of English football.
The following 25 players did enough to get something shiny for their collection, but probably not quite enough to live long in the memory of most fans.
Ronnie Wallwork (Manchester United, 2000/01)
Manchester United’s Class of ’92 were such a terrifically talented group that those who never got the same chances as the likes of Giggs, Scholes and Beckham have become forgotten men.
Wallwork is one, a midfielder who somehow remained at Old Trafford until 2002 despite repeatedly being sent out on loan and even attacking a referee in Belgium to earn an initial lifetime ban from football. But in 2000/01, despite having previously played just nine times for United, he racked up 12 league appearances as Alex Ferguson’s side won the title.
Alexei Smertin (Chelsea, 2004/05)
Smertin had a knack for being in the right place at the right time. He was signed aged 28 by Claudio Ranieri in 2003 but immediately sent out on loan to Portsmouth for the season, before returning to Stamford Bridge just as Jose Mourinho replaced the Italian as manager.
The Portuguese never seemed convinced by the Russian and later loaned him out to Charlton, but not before Smertin had made 11 Premier League starts as Mourinho’s side clinched the league title in 2004/05.
Tony Gale (Blackburn Rovers, 1994/95)
Gale isn’t really a Premier League player. He is synonymous with the 1980s – one of those pundits who mutters that things are no longer like they were in his day. Therefore, the fact that he was in the same Premier League-winning squad as Shay Given is enough to snap your brain in half.
They are two players from different eras. It’s like John Lennon standing on stage with Blur for a version of ‘Tender’. But, it’s true – he started 15 games for Rovers in 1994/95. He even played against Robbie Fowler in the Premier League. Time is a funny thing...
Jeremie Aliadiere (Arsenal, 2003/04)
Aliadiere spent eight years contracted to Arsenal and rewarded their patience with one Premier League goal. The Frenchman was 16 when he joined, as Arsene Wenger looked to find the next Nicolas Anelka-style bargain, and made his debut in the 2001/02 season but didn’t play enough games to merit a medal.
He did, however, appear 10 times during the Gunners’ 'Invincibles' season and even started against Liverpool, Leicester and Middlesbrough without scoring. In fact, he didn’t score any league goals for Arsenal after August 2002, but somehow didn’t depart the club until 2007.
Nathaniel Chalobah (Chelsea, 2016/17)
Chalobah has spent much of the season on the treatment table at Watford, but not many of his team-mates can claim to be a league champion. The midfielder earned a medal thanks to his squad role at Chelsea under Antonio Conte, when he played in 10 league games for a total of 159 minutes.
Chalobah spent seven years as a first-teamer at Stamford Bridge, but those were the only Premier League appearances he ever made for the club. Still, he clearly chose a good season to be involved.
Ritchie De Laet (Leicester 2015/16)
You could argue that almost any of Leicester’s 2015/16 squad could be in this list given the pre-season expectations placed upon them. Claudio Ranieri shed his tinkering tendencies to use a settled starting XI for much fo the season, but there were still a few fringe squad members who collected a medal.
One of those was De Laet, who played 12 league matches in that fairytale campaign, despite spending the second half of the season on loan at Middlesbrough. The Belgian actually went on to win the play-off final in May too, becoming the first player to win promotion from the Championship and the top flight title in the same season.
Alexander Buttner (Manchester United, 2011/12)
Things seemed to be going so promsingly for Buttner, who penned a five-year deal with United the summer before Alex Ferguson’s retirement, having won man of the match on his league debut and earned enough appearances to take a winner’s medal home.
However, he was dropped by David Moyes, who also blocked his move to Besiktas – much to the left-back’s anger. He eventually departed for Dynamo Moscow the following summer but played just 18 games for the Russians before joining Vitesse Arnhem following a year on loan at Anderlecht. Now 30 years old, Buttner is yet to win another league title or even feature in the Champions League again since leaving Manchester.
Tomasz Kuszczak (Manchester United, 2006–07, 2007–08, 2010–11)
Not the most notable Manchester United goalkeeper of all time, but Kuszczak made at least five appearances in the Premier League in five consecutive campaigns under Alex Ferguson. There is great value in a No.2 who's happy to do their job with minimal fuss, and the Pole gave United a reliable backup option with Edwin van der Sar in his twilight years.
A reserve role means he has been largely forgotten, but even so, Kuszczak can boast as many Premier League titles as Ashley Cole, Dennis Bergkamp, Cristiano Ronaldo and Frank Lampard.
Matthew Upson (Arsenal, 1997/98 and 2001/02)
The mind can play tricks on you. It could be easy to dismiss Upson’s time at Arsenal as brief and forgettable, but the defender played five or more games in two separate Premier League triumphs with the Gunners.
In the first, 1997/98, he suffered with injury problems and had Tony Adams, Martin Keown and Steve Bould ahead of him. But during the second in 2001/02, he formed a solid partnership with Sol Campbell and played 14 games before his season was ended by a broken leg in February.
Jack Rodwell (Manchester City, 2013/14)
Rodwell’s appearance in the Netflix documentary Sunderland Til’ I Die has cemented his reputation as the archetypal greedy, entitled modern footballer after he refused to tear up his lucrative contract – which he was within his rights to do by law.
His decline is startling. Manchester City paid £12m for his services in August 2012 after he'd impressed at Everton, but Rodwell was soon on the treatment table and his injury problems prevented him from establishing himself at the Etihad. However, by the time he left to join Sunderland in 2014, he'd picked up the requisite five appearances as City won the league under Manuel Pellegrini; 83% of his total league minutes came in one game, a goalless draw away at Stoke.
Luke Chadwick (Manchester United, 2000/01)
Chadwick was not one of United’s most successful academy products of the 1990s, but he still did enough to scoop a Premier League winner’s medal at Old Trafford. Sixteen of the striker’s 25 top-flight outings for the Red Devils came in their victorious 2000/01 campaign, when Alex Ferguson’s charges finished 10 points clear of runners-up Arsenal.
Chadwick even contributed two goals that year, scoring in the 3-0 win at Bradford in January and the 1-1 draw with Leeds two months later.
Carlton Cole (Chelsea, 2005/06)
Carlton Cole spent most of his Premier League career at West Ham, but he began life as a professional in west rather than east London. The striker’s biggest first-team involvement at Chelsea came when he played 16 times in all competitions in 2002/03, but it was his final campaign at Stamford Bridge that brought the only piece of silverware of his career.
Cole’s nine outings meant he didn’t qualify for a medal back in 2005/06, but the centre-forward will always have fond memories of playing a role in Jose Mourinho’s second title triumph with the Blues.
Juan Cuadrado (Chelsea, 2014/15)
On paper, Chelsea’s signing of Cuadrado in January 2015 ticked all the boxes; a speedy and direct dribbler who thrived in attacking transitions seemed like the perfect player to help Jose Mourinho’s men over the line in the Premier League title race.
Chelsea did indeed finish at the summit of the standings, but Cuadrado had little to do with it. The Colombia international made only four starts and a further eight appearances as a substitute, before joining Juventus on loan in the summer.
Simon Davies (Manchester United, 1995/96)
There is nothing spectacular about Davies’ list of clubs after leaving Old Trafford in 1997: Luton, Macclesfield, Rochdale, Bangor City, Total Network Solutions, Bangor City, Rhyl, Chester and Airbus UK. Yet no one can ever take the former midfielder’s Premier League title victory away from him.
Davies was a bit-part player when United beat Newcastle to the crown in 1996, but he still appeared in six league matches – not sufficient for a medal in those days, but certainly enough for him to feel like a part of the club’s latest success under Alex Ferguson.
Nathan Dyer (Leicester, 2015/16)
Nathan Dyer has been on Swansea’s books for the last decade, save for a glorious season spent on loan at Leicester in 2015/16. The winger moved to the King Power Stadium on deadline day in September and went on to make 12 league appearances as Claudio Ranieri & Co. stunned the Premier League.
With Riyad Mahrez and Marc Albrighton nailing down the two wide berths in Leicester’s 4-4-2 formation, all of Dyer’s contributions came from the bench – but there was one crucial last-minute winner against Aston Villa which will long be remembered in the city. The look of jubilant bewilderment on his face when the Foxes lifted the trophy after a 3-1 victory over Everton was a sight to behold.
Stephen Hughes (Arsenal, 1997/98)
The first of Arsene Wenger’s three Premier League triumphs came with a squad featuring Tony Adams, Patrick Vieira, Dennis Bergkamp and… Stephen Hughes. The midfielder made seven starts and another 10 appearances off the bench as the Gunners pipped Manchester United to top spot despite losing their final two games.
Hughes remained at Highbury in 2000, after which he represented Everton, Watford, Charlton, Coventry and Walsall, before hanging up his boots in 2009. The 1997/98 Premier League is the only trophy he ever won.
Jiri Jarosik (Chelsea, 2004/05)
Chelsea were already well on their way to a first Premier League title when Jarosik pitched up in west London in early 2005. The midfielder made his debut in a 2-0 victory over Tottenham in the middle of January, before going on to make a further 13 appearances for Jose Mourinho’s rampant side.
The Czech’s Stamford Bridge stay was brief: he spent the following campaign on loan at Birmingham, before joining Celtic on a permanent basis in summer 2006.
Gabriel Obertan (Manchester United, 2010/11)
Obertan was widely considered a flop after failing to impress in either of his two seasons at United, yet he was still part of a title-winning team in 2010/11. That says more about the quality of his team-mates and, above all else, manager Alex Ferguson, but the winger’s seven outings in the league earn him a spot in our list.
The ex-France Under-21 international swapped Old Trafford for St James’ Park at the end of that season, but he did little to impress Newcastle fans either. Now 30, he currently plies his trade with Turkish outfit Erzurumspor.
Gerard Pique (Manchester United, 2007/08)
Pique’s time at United hasn’t exactly been forgotten, but many don’t realise that he was involved in a title-winning season at Old Trafford. The central defender, who has subsequently added eight more league winner’s medals to his collection at Barcelona, made nine of his 12 Premier League appearances in 2007/08, when the Red Devils pipped Chelsea and Arsenal to the championship.
Keen for more regular first-team football, Pique re-joined boyhood club Barca at the end of that season. As the above haul demonstrates, he hasn’t done badly since.
David Pizarro (Manchester City, 2011/12)
Having worked with Pizarro at Inter in the mid-2000s, Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini didn’t hesitate in bringing the then-32-year-old to the Etihad Stadium halfway through his second full season at the helm. Signed on loan from Roma, the experienced midfielder played five times to help City win their first title of the Abu Dhabi era.
He returned to Serie A in summer 2012 to embark on a three-year spell at Fiorentina, before heading home to Chile to join Santiago Wanderers.
Brahim Diaz (Manchester City, 2017/18)
Manchester City’s 2017/18 triumph may be relatively fresh in the memory, but Diaz’s contributions are already fading from view. The Spaniard joined Real Madrid in January after refusing to sign a new deal at the Etihad Stadium, but he at least departed with a Premier League winner’s medal among his possessions.
The midfielder played five matches last term as Pep Guardiola’s men swept all before them, amassing a record 100 points and scoring a frankly ridiculous 106 goals.
Jonathan Greening (Manchester United, 2000/01)
More synonymous with Middlesbrough and West Brom, Greening enjoyed the most successful spell of his career (in terms of trophies, at least) at United. Signed from York in 1998, the midfielder made seven appearances in all competitions in the famous Treble campaign, then played four Premier League matches as United crushed all comers in 1999/00.
He finally broke the five-game mark the following year, featuring in seven top-flight encounters as Alex Ferguson’s men made it three championships in a row.
Gokhan Inler (Leicester, 2015/16)
Esteban Cambiasso was Leicester’s player of the year in 2014/15, and his exit – plus that of manager Nigel Pearson ahead of the following campaign – meant some Foxes feared the worst ahead of the big kick-off.
As it happened, Claudio Ranieri did a miraculous job in replacing Pearson and unthinkably guiding Leicester to Premier League glory. Inler wasn’t quite as impressive – just five appearances totalling 195 minutes – but he still did just about enough to claim a winner’s medal.
Stevan Jovetic (Manchester City, 2013/14)
Jovetic played 44 matches during his time at the Etihad Stadium, but he’s easily forgotten given City’s subsequent success. The former Fiorentina forward played a back-up role throughout his first campaign at the club, starting just twice – both goalless draws against Stoke and Norwich – and appearing in another 11 games from the bench.
That was still comfortably enough to earn the Montenegrin – who scored in thrashings of Tottenham, Southampton and Aston Villa – a winner’s medal at the end of the campaign.
Anders Lindegaard (Manchester United, 2012/13)
He might well be a niche quiz question in years to come: 'Name the Manchester United goalkeeper from Sir Alex Ferguson's last game in charge.' Well, now you know: it was Lindegaard shipping five goals in that madcap 5-5 draw against West Brom to round off Fergie's glorious spell at Old Trafford – one of 10 appearances that season.
He'd enjoyed two separate mini-runs in the first team up until that point, deputising for David de Gea when the Spaniard was sidelined with short-term injuries. But that was as good as it got: one Premier League appearance under David Moyes was his lot until joining West Brom on a free transfer in summer 2015, followed by a loan spell at Preston and fruitless stint at Burnley.