The English Premier League is hardly English these days.As the great Bob Dylan once said, the times they are a-changin'.
Hollywood can no longer produce an original big budget film, our lives are dominated by smartphones and any person with a moderately interesting story to tell can get a reality TV show, among other terribly unfortunate things.
Not exempt to the changing climate of the world in which we live is the English Premier League. Once dominated by native players of the highest order, the first division of football in England has become much more cosmopolitan over the years, particularly in the Premier League era.
That has become increasingly evident in the last few seasons as English players, you know, those players who were born in the country, are no longer the league's best. Athletes from the far reaches of the world come to the little Western European island to ply their trade in one of most popular and demanding divisions in the world, and are taking things to a whole new level.
As we trudge into 2012, there isn't a position on the pitch, natural or otherwise where it can be said that the best player in the EPL is English. Arguments can be made for Joe Hart or Wayne Rooney, but they are few and far between.
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There is a new breed of star in the EPL these days. He's a combination of strength, determination and technical ability. He's smart, willing and leaves it all out on the field. Criticism fuels him. Getting his hands dirty is encouraged, not shied away from. Everything about him exudes the will to succeed.
And he's certainly not English.
If you have the right combination of these things, preferably all of them, you can come into the Premier League in your first match and run the show. You'll not only impress your teammates and the coaching staff on your side of the technical area, but you'll win the hearts and minds of the notoriously skeptical British supporter in the thousands of seats around you and the millions more watching on the tele.
This is no easy task. This season though, and the few preceding it, there have been a crop of players who have really taken the league by storm. Not only that, they've help to rewrite the book on being successful in England. It's no longer exclusively strength and dirty shorts. There has been an evolution and a new player has emerged, one that is not typically English.
So if you're pondering a move to the EPL and want to know how you can be successful...follow the example of these find young stars who are currently making it look easy in a place that is often touted as a grueling place to play.
Goalkeepers - The Right Presence
Protecting a goal in the English Premier League has always been a tough job, one done by a number of great players from around the world. Guys like Peter Schmeichel, David Seaman and even the currently playing Brad Friedel have been mainstays for their teams and all possess varying styles and physiques.
The next wave of goalies in the league will be a hybrid of all three and will most likely come out in much the way that Wojciech Szczesny has for Arsenal over the last two seasons. A monstrous presence between the pipes for the Gunners, Szczesny has the physical attributes to succeed but also the mental ability.
“They have looked pretty solid, even with a big injury list, and Wojciech Szczesny, apart from one uncharacteristic mistake the other night, has been outstanding," said Arsenal legend Martin Keown of the Polish keeper earlier this month. “A year ago people were screaming at Arsene Wenger to go out and buy a world-class keeper, but Szczesny looks like he’s going to be the solution after all.
People were quick to jump on Szczesny, given his inexperience and age. Since then, he's proved almost all the doubters wrong. Through his fearless approach and excellent shot-stopping ability, he's put himself in a class above other young goalies (read: David De Gea) and will likely be the man in net for the London club for some time.
See Also: Tim Krul, Newcastle; Ali Al-Habsi, Wigan
Defenders - All Guts, All Glory
Defending in the Premier League is something a lot of people take for granted. The appeal of the league is the scoring and the fast, physical nature of the game. If you can keep out goals, you are usually viewed and boring or too negative, unless you can score triple that you allow, that is.
It is an art though and with the progression of forward to be more complete players (see below), the defenders have had to adapt from being lumbering pillars to fluid, ever-adapting students of the game.
Want to see how it's done properly? Look no further than Liverpool's Martin Skrtel. The Slovakian center back does it all for the Reds and has become one of the first names on the teamsheet for manager Kenny Dalglish this season. Boasting the league's second best defensive record, Liverpool has relied heavily on Skrtel's influence in the middle to not only defend but organize, lead and even score (he has two goals on the season).
Skrtel's best quality is his unwavering dedication to the Reds' cause, something that has him go into tackles for little regard for his body or own well-being. His play has been so good that English Liverpool legend Jamie Carragher, a player of similar qualities has been shunned to the bench.
"I have been out the side for a while and understandably so," said Carragher of his current situation. "The lads in my position and the whole team have been doing great."
Another perfect example of the new generation of backliners in the league is Vincent Kompany. After a slow start to his Manchester City career, the Belgian has come into his own over the last 18 months or so and now has to be considered the best defender currently playing in the country. He leads by example and his example is not accepting anything less than airtight protection of his goal. Just look at the table.
See Also: Thomas Vermaelen, Arsenal; Fabricio Coloccini, Newcastle; Daniel Agger, Liverpool
Midfielders - Versatility Is Key
Playing one position in today's game isn't the most desirable trait that a player can have on his resume. The style of things has changed in that movement around the pitch to different areas is almost as expected as staying true to your shape when facing a difficult opponent. Simply put, versatility will take you places. Play where your boss puts you and succeed.
Fulham's Clint Dempsey has done this better than anyone so far in 2011/2012 and has been a vital part of the Cottagers for a number of years now. Arguably the best American soccer player on the planet right now, Dempsey does it all for his club and that suits him just fine. Maybe less comfortable in certain areas of the pitch than others, this hasn't stopped Dempsey from netting nine goals in the league this year, tied for first among midfielders with unfortunately rigid Frank Lampard.
"I'm happy with the way things are going and hopefully I can keep putting the ball in the back of the net," said Dempsey after netting a hat-trick against a typically stingy Newcastle side. "Goals seem to come in waves. I'm just trying to keep working hard and keep enjoying the moment while I can because sooner or later they dry up on you."
Again though, it's not all about ability, and despite having lots of it, Dempsey plays in a manner that few other players in the league are able to emulate. He always wants the ball, uses his strength to get it and subsequently keep it, and plays with more heart than most teams have in their entire starting XI. All of this is done on a team that isn't considered one of the 'big clubs.' Bravo.
It doesn't end with Dempsey though, because despite his brilliance for Fulham, it has to be said that Manchester City's David Silva isn't the same type of player and yet he is still considered the most in-form player of all twenty top-flight teams. Working himself into the right spots all over the pitch, Silva could best be described by the tremendously overused 'magician' moniker because he simply does things you don't think possible.
He may not score as much as Dempsey but he creates just as many and makes the players around him better. His presence on the field, wherever it may be, has been vital for Man City so far this season, and like Kompany behind him, is one of the main reasons it is at the top of the table.
See Also: Cheick Tiote, Newcastle; Luka Modric, Tottenham; Juan Mata, Chelsea
Forwards - Speed, Power, Repeat
Scoring goals is the name of the game in football and the EPL has become known for gaudy numbers in that department over the years. However, the one-trick pony forwards are quickly becoming a thing of the past.
Just look at Andy Carroll at Liverpool and how he's performed for the club. Not saying there's nothing to his game other than being a big body with decent feet, but that class of forward is a dying breed. If he had two steps more of pace and a bit more technical ability, he could be the best forward in the league, but he doesn't and won't ever so unless he's in the right situation, surrounded by a specific formation of teammates, success will be hard to come by. Also, has anyone heard from Peter Crouch this season? Eight goals isn't what Aston Villa was expecting from Darren Bent.
Playing up front in England has become like the Wild West. In order to survive, you need to have your wits about you and you need to be ruthless as Josey Wales. Chances can't be left begging, every touch on the ball has to count, however brief it may be.
We all know how god-like Robin van Persie has been for Arsenal, not only this season but practically his whole career in London, and he could be the exception to this 'new breed' rule. Outside of the Dutchman, the top forwards in the league have been Sergio Aguero of Manchester City and Demba Ba of Newcastle.
It is no coincidence that these two players are at the top of the scoring charts with Van Persie leading the way. They both possess the natural ability to score but also have the physical presence, specifically the difficult-to-deal-with body size and blazing speed that will see them into the right areas in and around the area.
"I'm aware of the journey I've made," Ba recently told FIFA.com. "I've now got the chance to express myself, to do what I've always wanted to do in my life, and I make the most of it every day. I'm not really surprised; I know I'm capable of playing well, as I've managed to do in the first half of the season."As Ba and Aguero have proven this season, you need to have more to your game as a striker. Those who can do many things well will always produce. The proof is in the numbers.
See Also: Mario Balotelli, Manchester City; Luis Suarez, Liverpool
Success as a professional athlete doesn't always come naturally. You may be gifted with talent or an applaudable mental state or both...it's putting it together the right way that leads to success.
In the English Premier League, that formula is constantly evolving and right now, the aforementioned group are the right combination of all the elements required. Going forward, they are the prototypes. Fans are going to start clambering for their teams to buy those in this mold. If not...well...
You better start swimmin' or you'll sink like a stone. For the times they are a-changin'.
Shane Evans is an editor for Goal.com USA. His feature, "The Full English" appears every Friday morning. Contact Shane at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions, comments and concerns, follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/shanEvans
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