thumbnail Hello,

As we approach 2010, Goal.com's Sulmaan Ahmad selects his Premier League best XI from the past decade...

This has been the decade in which the Premier League's brand building has come good. The early years bore little fruit on the world stage, but now, the money is rolling in and the football is a force to be reckoned with.

English clubs currently set the marker in European competition, both tactically and technically, with many other clubs having to follow their blueprint to keep pace.

This is, in no small part, due to the squad depth afforded by the top clubs in England, not to mention their consistent acquisition of top coaches and, perhaps post-Mourinho Chelsea notwithstanding, sticking by their man.

On top of that, it might also be worth mentioning the absolutely outstanding players to take into account, as well. Only two managed to win the Ballon d'Or - one of whom doesn't even make the XI - but this has been a league saturated with stars; a trend that, regardless of Real Madrid's Nuevo Galacticos, only looks like continuing in the decade to come.

Formation: 3-5-2

Shay Given (Newcastle United & Manchester City)

The only player to make the grade that has never played for one of the 'big four', but he has played in the Champions League. Yes, it was closer to the beginning of the decade, back when Newcastle weren't ... well, in the Championship ... but Shay Given has been nothing short of outstanding all decade.

Some have even gone as far as to declare him the best goalkeeper in the world, which is perhaps an accolade too far, but his consistent heroics, outstanding shot-stopping and leadership have been enough to see him past the likes of Petr Cech (due in part to his unfortunate injury).

His loyalty to Newcastle proved finite right towards the end of the decade, when they approached their ultimate low and Manchester City, with their party-crashing ambitions and promises of greatness, proved too great a lure to resist. His performances haven't let up - already proving a hero in vain in the failed UEFA Cup campaign - but his aim now will simply be to get back into the Champions League before hanging up his gloves.



Rio Ferdinand (West Ham United, Leeds United & Manchester United)

One of several outstandingly talented English talents from the West Ham youth system, Rio made the switch to a high-flying Leeds side at the beginning of the decade for a mammoth £18m, a British transfer record, when he was still just 21. And a defender.

The last thing Leeds would have been expecting was to make almost a 40 per cent profit after just two seasons. He got even better, and fast, before Manchester United broke the British transfer record for a second time, and also saw Rio overtake the legendary Lilian Thuram to become the most expensive defender in the world for a second time.

And now, after seven seasons at Old Trafford, he has done it all. Following the decline of legendary Italian duo, Fabio Cannavaro and Alessandro Nesta, Rio became considered by many to be the best centre-back in the world on his way to leading the Red Devils and then lifting the Champions League in 2008, completing his journey to the pinnacle of club football off the back of skilful, effortless, yet athletic and domineering defending.



Sol Campbell (Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal & Portsmouth)

Something of a forgotten man since joining Portsmouth in 2006, it cannot be forgotten what an incredible defender Sol Campbell was in his prime. Having already made his name as one of the best defenders in the country in the previous decade with Spurs, he was being courted by Barcelona, no less, before controversially opting instead to join Arsenal, reigniting the bitter local rivalry that needed no reignition.

Let that not detract from his simply incredible performances for the Gunners during his five seasons with the club. He was part of the Invincibles side, winning two Premier Leagues and three FA Cups, and of course scoring in a Champions League final, his final ever game for the club, that was to end in defeat.

Even when labelled past it when joining Portsmouth at the age of 30, he has upheld a marked level of consistency, even if he was eventually ousted from the national team by John Terry. Sol has rarely looked short of class, and testimony to his influence is that Arsenal have yet to truly replace his calming and confident presence at the back.



John Terry (Chelsea)

For fun, I was half-way tempted to add Manchester City, with a little question mark, to the club in brackets above, but we all know that just wouldn't be right. John Terry is the first of three one-club men to make it into this list, and it would take a brave man, despite the speculation and despite his silence, to bet against him finishing his career as one.

He rose through the ranks at Chelsea as an archetypal die-hard English defender and carved himself a real niche as one of the best of his kind out there. Elegance and grace he might not have in abundance, but his bottomless reserve of determination and energy have always led him to success.

Now 28, Terry is captain of his club and country, with the only major blight in his career being a slip on the soaking wet Moscow turf that sent an otherwise perfect penalty - that had wrong-footed Edwin van der Sar - six inches too wide, off the post and out. It would have won the Champions League, completing Terry's club trophy haul. He remains determined to bounce back, and continues to be one of the most consistent, match-saving defenders in the league.



Cristiano Ronaldo (Manchester United)

The first player in the XI to have gone abroad - there are three more - but none managed it with quite such a level of accompanying awe-inspiring media coverage. Cristiano Ronaldo arrived in the Premier League just 18 years of age still skilful but erratic, and left probably the most complete attacking player in the world, for an all-time record-smashing £80m, to his boyhood club, Real Madrid.

The way in which United, kings of English football, were made to feel small by the Portuguese did his local reputation few favours, and nor did his perceived persona as an arrogant superstar, but his performances eventually won over everyone in the league, the country and grudgingly, the world.

Having narrowly missed out on the Ballon d'Or to Kaka in 2007, he ran away with it in 2008, following that 42-goal season - all this after the World Cup winking allegations had threatened to cut short his United career. His desire to be the best and incredible work ethic allowed him to get there. He won it all, was absolutely instrumental the whole way, and left on top - just as he will have wanted.



Steven Gerrard (Liverpool)

The only outfield player to make it into the Premier League team of the decade without having won the Premier League, Steven Gerrard has done everything but. He has in the past been regarded as a one-man team, though now he has some pretty handy team-mates for company, and is edging ever closer to that one title that has eluded him all this time.

Yes, Gerrard has also won the Champions League, of course, without being a champion. His role in every significant Liverpool triumph over the years, none less so than Istanbul, has been quite literally unbelievable. Very few can produce the goods on demand quite like him: the big goals, the big runs, even the big tackles from time to time.

As his team-mates have increased in calibre, so has his own play. It would be fair, to a degree, to say that the 29-year-old was something of a typical English midfielder, with the stamina, work ethic, and big shot - but his awareness and passing, both short and long, have come on leaps and bounds. As a player, he will struggle to get any better - and he won't be in this team ten years from now - but he won't worry about that for so much as a second as long as he has a Premier League title to show for it, come quitting time.



Patrick Vieira (Arsenal)

Vieira arrived at Highbury little known to the English public, but the fact he had been signed by Milan just a year previous should have made it somewhat obvious that he was far from a nothing player. Indeed, he fast became the driving force behind Arsenal's midfield and the leader of their charge to the pinnacle of Premier League football. It takes a lot to beat Makelele into any XI, and it was Vieira's uncontainable influence that did just that.

Strong, athletic and just that little bit skilful, Vieira made all the right moves in midfield to make his opponents look ordinary. Perhaps only one player can take greater credit for Arsenal's golden era than Vieira - and we all know who that is - and the only real low point in the midfielder's Arsenal career was his penalty miss in the 2001 UEFA Cup final, which contributed to the Gunners' heartbreaking defeat.

Nevertheless, the man courted in consecutive summers by Real Madrid's Galacticos captained the Gunners during their unbeaten league season . He was the heartbeat of Arsenal at their peak - silverware came and went with him - so it's no surprise Arsene Wenger demanded his signing before he even officially started as coach. Vieira, a born champion, left to pursue Champions League glory - it didn't work out, and Gooners the world around wonder still whether he could have taken them that extra mile in Paris, in that fateful final against Barcelona.



Frank Lampard (West Ham United & Chelsea)

Not many players can lay claim to being quite as good, goalscoring and yet unfashionable as Frank Lampard. The man nicknamed Supergoals has scored 20 or more goals from midfield in five consecutive seasons, having now spent seven exceptional seasons at Stamford Bridge, since joining from a club where his roots run deep, West Ham United, in 2001.

He was undoubtedly the key player behind Chelsea's initial success under Jose Mourinho. Millions were spent, Drogba was a force, Makelele made defensive midfielders seemingly fashionable again, Terry was a rock, Cech considered the best in the world by some, Duff and Robben full of flair and excitement - but picking just one star player from 2004-2006 would produce the same vote almost every single time. The enormity of that feat cannot be underplayed.

Lampard always produces big goals in big games, whether scrappy or spectacular, and plays an efficient and disciplined game in midfield that, despite being unfancy, is highly effective. Jose Mourinho told him he was the best, but I don't think he ever really believed it - remaining a modest professional is what has enabled him to be the understated superstar that he is - similarly to Paul Scholes, whom Lampard edged into the side due sheerly to his influence as an individual over his side's success through the decade.



Ryan Giggs (Manchester United)

He has played and scored in every season of the Premier League to date. Ryan Giggs is a living, breathing, running, shooting and scoring legend. He has been at the height of the game for so long that many might even argue he peaked, at least as a traditional winger, last decade. Yet he's still going.

There were accusations of tokenism when he won last season's PFA Player of the Year award, but that was more a flaw in the voting system - taken midway through the season, at which point the Welshman was performing at the peak of his powers - than anything sinister.

His creativity, consistency and contribution to unending success saw him edge out Robert Pires, who spent six scintillating and successful years with Arsenal. It was close-run, and though Ryan perhaps wasn't quite as fast, furious and full of flair as he has been in the past, with his slower and more intricate game undoubtedly hindering United at times, it was his modest mastery that saw him come good more often than not, with the trophies to show for it.



Ruud van Nistelrooy (Manchester United)

There has never been a more prolific striker in Premier League history than Van Nistelrooy, despite Alan Shearer being far and away in the lead on the goalscoring charts, but taking many more games to get there, and Fernando Torres having made a sensational start to his time in England, but likely to struggle to continue at the same rate as Ruud, who arrived after having been courted for several years by Sir Alex Ferguson, but only managed to make his dream move after a series of serious injuries.

It was the goalscoring touch, though, that never escaped him. He wasn't able to do it in as much style as he perhaps would have liked, but in five seasons, he scored 150 goals in 219 appearances, winning each domestic honour on offer with the Red Devils. He missed out on European glory, left Old Trafford under a cloud after a row with a certain Cristiano Ronaldo, but was still seen as something of a fan favourite, a feeling he reciprocated both towards the club and even his former manager.

He is perhaps the best out-and-out goalscorer the Premier League has ever seen, someone who Michael Owen, of all people, has the job of now replacing at Old Trafford. This, the same Michael Owen who Ruud pipped to this spot, who won the Ballon d'Or and who also left the Premier League for Real Madrid. A phenomenon though Owen was, his position was compromised by his injuries and subsequent dip in goalscoring form - Ruud, on the other hand, was relentless.



Thierry Henry (Arsenal)

If you're looking for quantity of quality, the search for the Premier League's greatest ever player starts and ends with Ryan Giggs. If you're looking for game-to-greatness ratio, it is, and will continue to be for the foreseeable future, the one and only Thierry Henry.

It's astonishing to think he arrived a reject from Juventus, being deployed as a left-winger at a club and in a league that was not a fit for his budding talents. Arsene Wenger knew exactly what he was doing when he signed him for £10m, a value he repaid at least ten times over, perhaps not literally, but certainly for his quality over seven seasons in north London.

At a club that was never considered one of the genuine, ever-present heavyweights in European football, Henry nevertheless leapt past Raul, Van Nistelrooy, Jardel, Shevchenko, Crespo and even Ronaldo as the greatest forward in the world at one stage (editor's note: following on users' comments, it should be clarified that this was at the time, not in terms of all-time legacy). Think influence on the fortunes of his team, think goals-to-games and assists, think show-stopping skill, pace, power and think that somehow, for all his unbelievable ability and performances, he never won the Ballon d'Or nor the Champions League with Arsenal, and ended his time there by proving something of a hindrance to his side - a slight on the way they were heading rather than him, you would think.

At the peak of his powers, he was the most complete and outstanding forward in the world - yet it took that move to Barcelona, where at first he struggled to find his rhythm for a variety of reasons, to finally reach undisputed greatness. It is that which he needed to feel he had accomplished everything as a player, but he was truly most complete during his time in the Premier League, where he will be remembered as one of the greatest ever players for not just years, but decades to come.



Given

Ferdinand - Campbell - Terry

Vieira

Ronaldo - Gerrard - Lampard - Giggs

Van Nistelrooy - Henry

Sulmaan Ahmad, Goal.com

Related