Jim Beglin's greatest Premier League XI of all-time
Since the inception of the Premier League in 1992, some of the greatest players in the game's history have graced the top-flight of English football and left lasting impressions among fans across the world. The lucrative television rights deal in the early 90s made the Premier League known to the wider audience and it soon became the destination for the brightest prospects of the beautiful game, which saw an influx of overseas talent due to its glitz and glamor.
Before I reveal my team, I'd like to apologize to the players I've missed out on. Numerous other players stood out to me, but these are the ones I've gone with and I've also explained the reason behind my choices.
In the long history of the Premier League, Manchester United have been the most dominant force in the competition, so it should come as no surprise that as many as six former Red Devils make my team!
Goalkeeper: Peter Schmeichel
Peter Schmeichel, the Great Dane, is head and shoulders above any other Premier League goalkeeper. What I admired about him was the fact that he didn't suffer fools gladly - he was the first one to hold someone accountable if something went wrong on the pitch. He basically had the strength of character in a team filled with big personalities at Manchester United and was a vociferous, commanding presence at the back who was always dictating and passing on information to the ones ahead of him.
Amongst all the great players, Sir Alex Ferguson deemed him the most important player at Manchester United and that just goes to show he's out there on his own as the greatest goalkeeper in Premier League history. If you want to know how good he was, just have a look at ten of his best saves on YouTube and you'll get a real flavor of what he was about.
Schmeichel was famous for his star-jump technique and so many times over the years, opponents have been intimidated by his spreads. I was fortunate enough to be working when he made one of his best-ever saves - it was against Rapid Vienna in the UEFA Champions League and had striking similarities to Gordon Banks' wonder-save against Pele at the 1970 FIFA World Cup in Mexico.
I likened the two events on commentary and it's something I'll never forget. It was Matchday 6 and a cold night in Vienna, as Schmeichel produced an outstanding save to deny Rene Wagner. The header seemed destined to find the back of the net, but he somehow got to the ball and scooped it high - it was just incredible! Manchester United won that game 1-0, so you can tell how important his save was.
I have huge respect for Petr Cech and he'd be the next in line in terms of the greatest Premier League goalkeepers. His warm-up routine was absolutely incredible - he used to put himself through a lot to get into that mindset and I've had the pleasure of watching this from pitchside.
I felt sorry for his injury against Reading as he had to play with a head guard thereafter, that was a real shame. That said, he came back really strongly and established himself as one of the best goalkeepers in the Premier League, so he's definitely next in line after Peter Schmeichel.
Right-back: Gary Neville
Gary Neville was Manchester United's Mr. Trustworthy. He was also Mr. Consistent - not just over the course of a season - but throughout his decorated career for club and country. He got forward when the situation called for it, but he didn't do anything like the modern-day full-back in attack. He did it because it was part of his job and not with any kind of attempt to impress.
Very rarely did he make mistakes and for that reason, he was one of the first names on the team sheet for Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United. If he wasn't injured, he made the team and you always knew he was never going to let you down. Neville was all about his professionalism - there was no flamboyance to his gameplay and there was just a feeling that he'd deliver what was expected of him.
As an attacker, it was complicated to get past him because he knew where to be and when. He knew his job inside out and was another massive presence in that Manchester United team that won so many medals over the years - that's what separates him from other good players in that position.
Neville burst onto the scene at Manchester United as a kid, stayed all the way through and walked away when it was time to call it quits. He didn't try to soldier on and move to another club to pick up a paycheck - he just decided that the game was moving on and retired without any hesitation whatsoever.
I'd be absolutely thrilled with someone like Gary Neville because as I said before, he never lets you down. That's the kind of strength that comes from within and not from the manager, so it just goes to show what a massive character he was. He wasn't just part of successful sides over the years - he influenced his teams to do well and was a respected figure in the dressing room.
Cesar Azpilicueta and Kyle Walker are obviously fantastic players in their own right and I would have loved to have picked Paul McGrath as well, but Neville beats his competitors due to his longevity and trophy haul.
Center-back: Rio Ferdinand
Rio Ferdinand had the perfect skill set to fit into that position - a lot of boxes were ticked and he was made to play as a central defender. He was always confident and comfortable regardless of who he came up against and could deal with pretty much anything that was thrown at him - very rarely did you see him get bullied.
He had the pace and the composure to step into midfield, which is a lovely asset for a central defender. His recovery pace was quite something - it was absolutely vital in his partnership with Nemanja Vidic, who was another brilliant central defender in the Premier League for Manchester United. I spoke in one of my other earlier columns about these little combinations within a team and Ferdinand x Vidic was another one of those that worked so well for Sir Alex Ferguson.
Ferdinand also had a silkiness about him that many other central defenders didn't have. Manchester United were a hugely footballing side and Vidic was pretty much the out-and-out defender at the back who was rough and ready to get stuck into challenges, while Ferdinand had other qualities to complement the Serbian perfectly.
In my dream Premier League XI, Rio Ferdinand is the cement mix, while John Terry is the concrete!
Center-back: John Terry
I've said it so many times on commentary over the years that John Terry is one of the finest defenders in Premier League history owing to his positioning. He didn't have too much pace and wasn't the quickest on the turn, but he compensated by just reading and anticipating danger much better than the others. He almost owned that near-post position brilliantly and popped up at that spot time and time again to deny teams by just being where he should be and getting in the way.
You look back on his career and he was always in the right place at the right time to make defining contributions to several Chelsea sides over the years. In terms of the playing talent at the club, he was the boss man and pretty much ran the dressing room as the leader of the team.
Terry is also the all-time leading scorer for a defender in the Premier League and his ability in front of goal turned out to be a priceless boost for the Blues. He was confident that he could get his head to anything on both ends of the pitch and his goalscoring exploits were of huge value to Chelsea - to score as many as he did with that bit of extra effort impacted his team quite significantly.
I want to apologize to the likes of Virgil van Dijk and Vincent Kompany, but longevity at the top level played a huge role in my decision. Kompany was a similar character to John Terry in the way he influenced his team - just have a look at how the Manchester City faithful speak about him and that will give you an idea of how highly regarded he is. He is revered for what he did for the club and gave them the foundation to create a dynasty, along with David Silva, Sergio Aguero and a few others. I was there when he scored that goal against Leicester City to give the initiative to Manchester City in the title race in 2019 and it was off the scale. His teammates screamed don't shoot, but he did, and the rest, as they say, is history!
Rio Ferdinand and John Terry make my team for what they achieved over an enormous period of time, but Kompany deserves a mention, at the very least.
Left-back: Ashley Cole
Ashley Cole had the athleticism, stamina and energy to go at it for a long time and enjoyed a hugely successful career for club and country. He may not have been one of the standout leaders at Chelsea, but he let his game do the talking and did his job to an incredibly high level. His performances took him into territory that had many great players - he was regarded as the best left-back in the world during his prime. In the Euro 2004 semi-final against Portugal, he was absolutely sensational. It's almost as if he said "look at me now and see how far I've come."
I can't remember too many attackers terrorizing him and it goes without saying that he came against some incredibly menacing wingers in the Premier League. He had that quickness about him and could get back into the right position to prevent a cross from being delivered into the box, but what I liked about him is the fact that he did it repeatedly at the top level.
Like Gary Neville, he showed incredible levels of consistency and deserves huge praise for what he achieved in his career. Cole won a staggering seven FA Cups - which is more than any player in history - and also won several other titles, so his medal haul is hugely impressive. I played as a left-back, but I remember watching him and being in awe of ability and how well he managed everything that was thrown at him.
This is probably my Irish bias coming into play, but I think Denis Irwin deserves a shout as well. He was a phenomenal player who I had the pleasure of playing with once - he was essentially a right-back but he slotted in at left-back like he played there all his life and could do it all!
In many ways, he's underrated because he was really quiet. It wasn't his nature to be vociferous or talkative - he just wanted to get on with the game and let his feet do the talking on the pitch. He could take a great free-kick and scored the odd goal or two, so overall he was just a class act who is right up there with the best left-backs in Premier League history, for me.
Right-winger: Cristiano Ronaldo
We're now entering the territory of superstardom and Cristiano Ronaldo was certainly one of the biggest attractions in the Premier League during his Manchester United stint. He came to England as a young boy from Sporting Lisbon with an ambition to become the best player in the world and that became very obvious in his time at Old Trafford.
He set himself on the road to becoming the best player he could be and knew he had the power and the ability to pull it off - nothing was going to get in his way! He loved the spotlight and the stardom that came with it and almost fed off it to produce the Cristiano Ronaldo show whenever he could. I don't like to say things like this lightly and I don't mean to disrespect the rest of his teammates, but once he began to mature, it got to a stage where he was winning games on his own. Ronaldo knew that he could turn it on whenever he wanted to and grab the game by the scruff of the neck by doing something outrageous.
He was a raw talent when he arrived and Sir Alex Ferguson allowed him to do whatever he wanted within the boundaries of the game, much like Eric Cantona. As the years went by, he began delivering magic week in and week out and in turn, his ego began to grow. Ronaldo's showmanship matured at Manchester United and he took it onto another level at Real Madrid - he polished his career progressively and added a shine to his game due to his desire to reach the highest level.
We've all heard stories of his long training sessions and the work he does behind the scenes to look after himself - no wonder he's still going strong at the age of 36! He wasn't at his best at Euro 2020 but wow, he scored five goals and cemented his legendary status on the international stage.
I'm a Lionel Messi man, but I have immense respect for Cristiano Ronaldo and you just can't ignore what he's done over the years. David Beckham is another player I enjoyed watching, so he deserves a special mention.
Central midfield: Roy Keane
I can't remember which game it was because it was so many years ago, but I was working for an Irish Radio station at the time and was sent pitchside to conduct a few player interviews after the game. Roy Keane was hailed as the biggest midfield talent since Liam Brady and was still a young lad, so I decided not to interview him. Next thing you know, he came over and almost berated me by asking why I didn't offer to interview him - that was my first little flavor of Roy Keane the character! He was a fearsome competitor and a bold guy who didn't tolerate anything he didn't like. He just wanted results and didn't really care how his team won - he operated in a world of "cannot lose."
He was a very good passer of the ball and exuded infectious energy that rubbed off on the rest of his teammates - you just had the belief that if Roy Keane played, everything was going to be okay. The levels he demanded were an extension of Sir Alex Ferguson - he ruled by fear and affected everyone in a positive way.
I remember the UEFA Champions League semi-final against Juventus in 1999 and he was absolutely incredible in the second leg. That was a seriously good Juventus side, but Keane produced a performance for the ages and pretty much ran the show for Manchester United. He picked up a yellow card and ended up missing the final along with Paul Scholes, but Manchester United came from two goals down to win the tie 3-2 and it was all driven by Keane, who also got his name on the scoresheet that night!
He had the biggest heart you could ever want and threw himself at absolutely everything that came his way. Keane worked tirelessly for the team and obviously that changed a little bit as he got older, but he wouldn't let you get away with it if you didn't deliver what he wanted. Patrick Viera, his adversary, was another incredible central midfield player, as was his former Manchester United teammate, Paul Scholes.
Central midfield: Steven Gerrard
Liverpool's Mr. Dynamic, Steven Gerrard, is one of the most sumptuous passers I've had the pleasure of watching in the Premier League. Imagine a midfield of Roy Keane and Steven Gerrard - they'd have complemented each other perfectly! Anything Keane couldn't do, Gerrard excelled at. He led by example in the big moments and just raised his game when his team needed him.
Unlike many other players, he didn't play in great teams. He carried Liverpool teams over the years by producing a standard that few could match in world football. Paul Scholes loved a tackle but he wasn't particularly great in that aspect and Patrick Vieira's physicality was off the charts, but Gerrard had no issues with his game whatsoever.
Jose Mourinho and Sir Alex Ferguson were both interested in acquiring his services all those years ago, but he stayed on at his boyhood club and cemented his status as an all-time great. His love for Liverpool prevented him from winning more trophies, but he is up there with Kenny Dalglish as one of the greatest players in the club's decorated history based on which generation you're from.
When you look back at Gerrard's best goals for Liverpool, some of them are absolutely outrageous. The equalizer against West Ham United in the 2006 FA Cup final immediately comes to mind - I was there with my son that day and that's a goal I'll remember for a long, long time. His strike against Inter Milan at Anfield and the one he scored against Middlesbrough from almost near the halfway line were memorable goals as well - we could form a list and just keep on going! He must have problems deciding what his best goal is because there are so many to choose from, but that just goes to show how he was always the man for the big moments.
Gerrard could change games in a flash with a moment of magic and the Liverpool players who played alongside him are incredibly lucky, because they always knew that he would do something to turn the game on its head. When I played for Liverpool, we would often turn to Ian Rush and believe he would score when we needed him, which was pretty much the case with Gerrard in his prime.
What he's doing as a manager currently is basically something he has done throughout his career, which is upholding the lofty standards he has set for himself. He has basically brought Rangers back to the top after all their troubles and is making quite the impression as a bright young tactician.
Kevin De Bruyne is pushing closer these days - in two or three years, he could well be there! Another player who deserves a mention is Cesc Fabregas, who I thought could be a Ballon d'Or winner some day when he burst onto the scene at Arsenal. He was a sumptuous passer who was really smooth and calm on the ball - watching him play under Arsene Wenger was absolutely gorgeous.
Another player on my apology list is Frank Lampard, he's very unlucky not to be there on my team. He was a midfielder, but his finishing was incredible and he remains Chelsea's all-time leading goalscorer, which is absolutely phenomenal considering the players they've had over the years.
Left-winger: Ryan Giggs
Ryan Giggs was one of the most exciting sights in the Premier League - he was fearless from a very young age and drew comparisons with the legendary George Best. Some of my mates were season ticket holders at Old Trafford and they used to go just to watch the Welshman explode on the left flank. Giggs had a lovely free running style that was a joy to watch and had no respect whatsoever for the defenders he came up against - he just ripped them apart!
The audience at Manchester United worshiped him and he was a treat to watch. He thrilled and entertained for more than two decades and developed into a central midfielder as the years went by. He wasn't the best midfielder and it goes without saying that he was better off as a winger, but he had the intelligence to adapt to a different position and was a lovely passer of the ball.
I admire him for being able to do that - he tried to change his game to keep up with the times, as opposed to staying in wide positions and attempting what he used to do in his prime. Giggs had a wonderful, natural flair to just bypass players in his younger days and also had the cleverness to extend his career by adapting to a central midfield position in his 30s.
With David Beckham, Roy Keane, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs, Manchester United were blessed with an embarrassment of riches. The variation across the four players is as good as it comes and they could pretty much deliver whatever was asked of them.
I was also a huge fan of Robert Pires. Thierry Henry naturally grabbed all the headlines at Arsenal, but Pires was an incredible player as well. He wasn't pacy, but his head was always up and he drifted inside to weave his magic. There was a craftiness and guile that stood out about him - he was a wonderfully clever player who could just drift past players with consummate ease.
Striker: Thierry Henry
Thierry Henry had a majestic elegance about him and did everything with grace. He was a struggling winger at Juventus, but Arsene Wenger turned him into a spectacular striker who was absolutely lethal in front of goal. He remains Arsenal's all-time leading goalscorer - the fact that he went from an uncertain winger to that tells you everything you need to know about him!
Even the likes of Ryan Giggs and Cristiano Ronaldo could occasionally get riled up, but Thierry Henry was absolutely unplayable on his day. There was a spell at Arsenal where he won games on his own by doing ridiculous things with the ball and he had the unique ability to score goals as well as create them - sometimes he attracted so many players that it created lots and lots of space for his teammates to exploit!
Henry's dribbling ability was tremendous and he was capable of winning games with his individual brilliance. If defenders got tight to him, he would simply roll them. If they stood him off and gave him two to three yards of space, he'd terrorize them with his acceleration, so he was almost impossible to play against. There was an advertisement for a French car and the phrase they used to describe the vehicle was Va Va Voom - which is associated with the quality of being exciting or vigorous. Considering his style of play, his dynamism and showmanship - Thierry Henry was Va Va Voom!
He absolutely shredded defenders and almost had them going to bed with nightmares - that's the kind of player he was. I'm not advocating this, but I was once asked how I'd stop a player of Thierry Henry's class and caliber and I replied that the only way to do so would be to kick him early on and leave one on him! I wasn't the kind of player who got stuck into tackles, but that would've been my only way of stopping him had I come up against him.
Henry's dazzling brilliance was there for everyone to see and he is undoubtedly one of the greatest players in Premier League history.
Striker: Alan Shearer
260 goals in 441 Premier League appearances - wow! Alan Shearer was a #9 and his job was to score goals, but he was never satisfied and always had half a mind on his next goal. His appetite for the game remained for the entirety of his playing career and he always came back with a greater desire to score goals despite suffering his fair share of injury setbacks.
On his Premier League debut for Blackburn Rovers, he scored two long-rangers and announced himself on the grandest stage in some style. Shearer could hit the ball with real venom, excelled in the air and was also very good in terms of being in the right place at the right time to score what I call pop-ups. He did everything with aggression and force - nothing was tapped in, they were absolutely banged in with sheer decisiveness!
Shearer knew all the tricks of the trade and was very clever in the way he manipulated defenders. He used everything in his locker to achieve what he did and would be a £200 million striker in the transfer market today, that's how good a goalscorer he was!
I worked on his testimonial and we were reliving some of his finest moments - believe me there were so many! He was an unstoppable talent back in the day and is definitely one of the finest attackers to have graced the Premier League.
The likes of Wayne Rooney, Sergio Aguero and Gianfranco Zola all had brilliant careers and can be so proud of what they achieved, but Thierry Henry and Alan Shearer were levels above the rest, in my opinion.
Greatest Premier League XI (4-4-2): Peter Schmeichel; Gary Neville, Rio Ferdinand, John Terry, Ashley Cole, Cristiano Ronaldo, Roy Keane, Steven Gerrard, Ryan Giggs, Thierry Henry, Alan Shearer