Golden Games: Top 50 Premier League individual performances ranked


In the breathless moments after the final whistle in the Premier League, a player is ushered into a makeshift interview room, told he has been named man of the match and invited to draw big conclusions about the game and its importance. .

After a particularly impressive solo display, the player may be asked, “Where does that fit?” — to which the default response is “Yes, no, it’s up there.”

“Right up there” is a safe answer because, really, how can a player be expected to self-analyse so soon?


Players know when they’ve played well or poorly, but over the course of 90-plus minutes of physical effort and intense focus, on and off possession, alternately following instinct and making split-second decisions under pressure, it’s quite unlikely they will. have considered their performance in a broader context.

However, the question will always be asked, because when we watch sports we love to quantify the unquantifiable. It is never enough to say that he has witnessed a great performance. There is always the temptation to wonder and debate what your classification is.

All of which brings us to Golden Games, a series in which the athletic The writers will pay tribute to what we consider to be the 50 best individual performances of the Premier League era. (And before anyone else says it, yes, we know full well that football was around long before 1992 but, with this summer bringing the 30th anniversary of that particular rebranding exercise, it feels like an opportune time for this.) .

So… 30 seasons. Would you like to guess how many individual performances it adds up to? Well, let’s talk about it.

From the historic opening weekend in August 1992, when all but 13 of the 242 headlines were from the British Isles and when all the hype about “A Whole New Ballgame” seemed terribly out of place, to that dramatic and culminating Sunday afternoon last month, there have been 11,646 games. Each game has had 22 players in the starting eleven, so that’s… yes, 256,212. And on top of that there have been 53,737 starts as a substitute, so that does…

Yes, that is correct. Congratulations to all of you who knew that precisely 309,949 games have been played in the Premier League out of a total of 4,488 players.

No fewer than 653 of those appearances, which spanned a 20-year period with Aston Villa, Manchester City, Everton and West Bromwich Albion, were made by Gareth Barry. That may sound like a lot until you realize it’s only 0.21 percent of the total. You could throw Ryan Giggs (632 appearances), Frank Lampard (609), James Milner (588) and David James (572) into the mix and you’d still be under one percent of total appearances made.

Will any of Gareth Barry’s 653 appearances make the final list? (False images)

and whom the athletic we’re looking to celebrate the top 50. That’s not the top one percent. That’s not even the top 0.1 percent. It is the top 0.01613168618063 percent. It’s like asking him to name the 50 best days of his life… if he lived to be 849 years old.

But without wanting to give away too many spoilers, Ali Dia’s lone appearance, that infamous Southampton cameo against Leeds United in November 1996, did not make the top 50. Neither did Peter Enckelman’s nightmare with Aston Villa against Birmingham City in September. 2002 or Jon Walters’ tough afternoon at the office (two own goals and a missed penalty) with Stoke City against Chelsea in January 2013. See? We’re already three down. We’ll be down to 50 in no time.

I’ll let you in on something. Actually, we did not take into account the 11,646 matches. We spent weeks debating, and not just amongst ourselves, which performances over the course of the Premier League era stood out in our collective memories.

It’s not just about the big names and the best players. We did that for our Premier League 60 series two years ago, and some of the arguments are just beginning to die down.

About half of the players who made that list also appear on this one, but there are some very notable absences, along with a few others who are best remembered for an extraordinary performance: a day where “Where does that rank?” could actually have gotten a straight answer.

Of course, our selections are subjective. Newspapers have published player ratings for decades and in more recent times there have been many more sophisticated attempts to use data to measure individual performance, but either who or the Sky Sports Power ratings (which respectively had Kevin De Bruyne and Son Heung-min as the best in the Premier League this season), no system is foolproof.

Cristiano Ronaldo, for example, came in just short of a perfect ten (9.7) when he scored a hat-trick for Manchester United against Norwich City in April, but was that really one of the Premier League’s best performances? ? Or was it, say, his display away from Tottenham last October (one goal, one assist, just 8.5 in the who scale) more impressive?

So this exercise was not data-driven, not least because data from the Premier League’s first two decades is so disappointingly sparse. Instead, we tapped into our memory banks, scoured the archives, endlessly debated, and sought out a broader experience to build a very, very long list of performances that was ultimately arduously narrowed down to 50.

As well as the full-time club reporters we cover, we seek the expertise of fans and writers from clubs such as Barnsley, Blackpool, Bradford City, Oldham Athletic, Reading, Swindon Town and Wigan Athletic. If we couldn’t find room for, say, goalkeeping exploits from Matt Clarke or a hat-trick from Jan Aage Fjortoft or Aruna Dindane, we wanted to make sure we at least gave them full consideration.


Fjortoft’s performance was among hundreds (and hundreds (and hundreds))) considered (Getty Images)

We only had one basic rule. No player could appear more than once. So if, say, a brilliant Belgian midfielder at a club in the North West was already on our shortlist for a riveting performance from 2017 and then produced another in the closing weeks of this season, it would have been a matter of choosing between those two screens. That particular player might end up appearing once (spoiler alert), but neither he nor anyone else will appear twice.

Instead, we’ve produced a list that we think reflects the good and the good and, more importantly, some performances that proved exceptional in more ways than one.

Inevitably, we find more room for scoring prowess and creative genius (and goalkeeping) than for understated excellence in other areas. (Really, your try to persuade your colleagues of the merits of Billy Kenny’s performance in the first Merseyside derby of the Premier League era when almost 30 years ago you saw him in a drunken teenage haze and when, deep down, you try As much as I can, as much as I can. I really remember is a couple of crisp tackles).

But we have insisted on a variety, so that it is not single a case of remembering one hat-trick after another. We have also taken care to ensure sensible distribution. Some seasons don’t feature at all, but the early years of the Premier League feature prominently; in fact, at the time of writing (because a last-minute switch can never be ruled out with these things), I’m delighted to tell you that no season comes up more often than 1993-94.

Some of you may be upset or bewildered that a certain performance or a certain player, or even a certain club, does not appear.

Please don’t be. It is not intended to be a definitive list. It’s a bit of fun, designed to give our readers something else to enjoy during the interval between one Premier League season and another. (You mean giving our writers something to write about over the summer? How dare you? There’s always so much going on. This is just another offer.)

As with the Premier League 60 series, we hope you enjoy the content rather than worry unduly about rankings or any perceived slights about your favorite player or club.

It’s inevitable that some clubs will feature more than others (and some not at all), but there is a wide variety of players, a wide variety of personalities and a wide variety of stories behind the performances. And sometimes context, circumstances and backstory will allow us to see a player’s contribution in a very different light.

In some cases, where installations allow, we will use Wyscout to assess performance and analyze it in detail. In other cases we might look at him through the eyes of his opponents.

And, where possible, we’ll get some insight from the players themselves, and maybe now, decades later in some cases, they’ll be able to remember through the mists of time that the performance in question really did measure up. Right at the top 0.01613168618063 percent.

(Main graphic — photos: Getty Images/design: Sam Richardson)

We’ll be threading all the articles in this series here, as well as posting them on the app.

No. 50: Jamie Vardy for Leicester-Manchester United