Analysis. History. Perspective.

Sports Then and Now

Premier League Forwards: Then and Now

Posted on February 19, 2018 by John Harris

Since 1992, the Premier League has caught the imagination of sports fans everywhere, and over the last 24 seasons, it has risen to become one of the most popular leagues in the world; indeed, by some measures, it is the most entertaining competition on the planet.

Alan Shearer scored 260 career goals in the Premier League.

Alan Shearer scored 260 career goals in the Premier League.

There are many reasons behind the Premier League’s success, but one factor has consistently helped to make it an enthralling spectacle, and that’s the number of top-class forwards who have graced the competition over the years.

From early stars such as Alan Shearer and Andy Cole to the current leading scorer Harry Kane – the favorite with sports betting companies to clinch the 2017-18 top scorer title – Premier League fans have been blessed with some prolific forwards. To celebrate the league’s heritage of top-quality strikers, we take a look at five of the all-time greats and compare them to the current season’s top five goalscorers.

Then: the all-time Premier League strikers

If there is one striker who is synonymous with the Premier League, it is the competition’s all-time leading scorer, Alan Shearer. In 441 games for Blackburn and Newcastle, Shearer scored 260 Premier League goals, topping the scoring charts for three seasons from 1995 to 1997. Strong, tireless, and dominant in the air, Shearer was the quintessential English striker.

Shearer’s main rival was the mercurial Andy Cole. A controversial figure, he moved from Newcastle to Manchester United, for whom he won five Premier League titles. Blessed with pace and a silky touch, Cole won over the Manchester United fans and formed one of the Premier League’s deadliest strike partnerships with Dwight Yorke.

There are a number of candidates for the title of the Premier League’s first overseas star, but none were as deadly as Thierry Henry. Signed by Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger, Henry became a global star, mesmerising defenses as he helped Arsenal to become one of Europe’s top sides. No top ten Premier League striker scored his goals more quickly.

A prolific forward in the Liverpool tradition of Ian Rush and John Aldridge, Robbie Fowler came through the Liverpool youth system to become the sixth-highest Premier League scorer of all time, playing a key role in the club’s famous triple cup-winning season of 2000-01. A quick and opportunistic striker, Fowler was perhaps the last of the old-fashioned goal poachers.

Though Liverpool have never won the Premier League, the club has contributed more than its fair share of top goal scoring talent, and they produced another star in Michael Owen. Prodigiously quick and gifted, Owen scored 150 Premier League goals and made 89 England appearances, as well as playing for Real Madrid, Stoke, Newcastle, and Manchester United.

Now: the Premier League’s finest, 2017-18

One of the hopes of the Premier League founders was that the competition could produce new generations of English talent, and Harry Kane is the embodiment of that hope. Winner of the Premier League Golden Boot in 2016 and 2017, and not yet at his peak as a striker, he has scored his goals at a faster rate than any other player in the 100 goal club.

African players have made a major contribution to the Premier League, and Mohamed Salah is the latest from that continent to write his name in the top scorer lists. Arriving at Liverpool from Roma for a club record fee, Salah made an immediate impact, and has formed a key component in a deadly and prolific Liverpool attacking cohort.

Sergio Agüero has inherited the mantle of Henry as the Premier League’s top overseas striker. Quick, strong, and possessed of a dazzling array of skills, Agüero has shown an old-fashioned loyalty, sticking with Manchester City since he joined the club in 2011 and leading them to two Premier League titles to date.

Whereas once, English football turned out big centre-forwards or diminutive goal poachers, Raheem Sterling is typical of the new breed of English strikers of the Premier League era.  Fast, with an eye for goal, and possessing a polished technique, Sterling, who graduated through the same system as Fowler and Owen, is now thriving at Manchester City.

The modern Premier League may attract the best players from around the world, but it still has room for strikers who came up the hard way. A fast, tireless centre-forward in the Alan Shearer tradition, Jamie Vardy started his career in non-league football but grabbed headlines when he spear-headed Leicester’s astonishing 2015-16 title charge.

A key factor in the rise of the Premier League has undoubtedly been the quality of the strikers that it has been able to attract. However, though the competition has become a cosmopolitan league with a global profile, it has continued to showcase the best in homegrown goalscoring talent, retaining that distinctive flavor that has helped it to establish a pre-eminent place in the affections of football fans worldwide.

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