The modern Premier League is packed full of talents from across the globe with some of the world’s finest footballers currently showcasing their skills on these shores, but the first decade of the division was a time when England’s leading centre-forwards reigned supreme.
No fewer than 11 Englishmen scored 15 or more league goals between the division’s inaugural season and the 1998/99 campaign, with the Premier League’s Golden Boot shared between six different players eligible for England in the league’s first six seasons.
To put that into context, only three English forwards – Kevin Phillips, Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy – have won the accolade in the past two decades of the competition.
We’ve decided to look back on a golden era for home-grown centre-forwards, ranking the best English strikers of the nineties:
9. Dion Dublin
Yes, believe it or not, one of the greatest faces in property-related television was once hammering home goals in the most watched league in world football.
Dublin became the most expensive signing in Coventry’s history during the mid-nineties after arriving from Manchester United and became an instant favourite, forging a reputation as one of the division’s best with the powerful star netting 61 league goals in 141 appearances across four seasons.
Dublin – who won three of his four England caps whilst at Coventry – finished as the joint-leading scorer in the Premier League to win a share of the Golden Boot in 1998, before signing for Aston Villa and enjoyed a blistering start – netting seven goals in his first four appearances.
He became a cult hero during six seasons at Villa Park and netted 56 goals for the club across all competitions, even overcoming a career-threatening neck injury to remain a key figure and starring at both ends of the pitch with Dublin occasionally utilised at centre-back.
8. Chris Sutton
Sutton became somewhat of a forgotten man at international level despite his feats domestically, winning just a sole England cap and falling out with manager Glenn Hoddle after a refusal to play for England B.
The forward had broken into the Norwich side as a teenager and starred during the Premier League’s inaugural season, scoring 25 league goals to fire the Canaries to a shock third-placed finish and attract interest from bigger clubs.
Big-spending Blackburn won the race for his signature and it would be at Ewood Park where Sutton enjoyed the finest seasons of his career, forming a prolific partnership with Alan Shearer as Rovers were crowned champions in 1995.
He scored 47 league goals in 130 appearances for Blackburn before a big-money move to Chelsea failed to work out, later moving to Celtic and winning four league titles and the PFA Scotland’s Player of the Year award amongst his honours north of the border.
7. Les Ferdinand
Les Ferdinand was amongst the most feared forwards in English football during his peak years in the nineties, scoring 20+ league goals in three of the first four seasons of the rebranded Premier League.
Ferdinand began the decade at Queens Park Rangers and scored 60 Premier League goals across three seasons for the west London outfit, before earning a £6m move to an ambitious Newcastle side.
There are few players more adored than a goalscoring number nine on Tyneside and in Ferdinand the Magpies’ fans had a player to cherish, a ruthless goalscorer who often seemed to pause time as he hung in the air before powering home headers.
Ferdinand was named as the PFA Player of the Year in 1995/96 after firing Newcastle to a runners-up finish, scoring 50 goals in just 84 appearances for the club before moving on to Tottenham.
6. Michael Owen
Michael Owen’s emergence may have come at the end of the decade but the arrival of the talented teenager ranks amongst the most exciting introductions the Premier League has seen.
Owen scored on his debut for Liverpool as a 17-year-old before bursting onto the scene during his first full season in 1997/98, scoring 23 goals in all competitions to win a share of the Premier League’s Golden Boot.
He remains the youngest player ever to win the Golden Boot and after starring for England at the ’98 World Cup he retained the accolade the following season, hitting 18 goals in 30 league appearances to share the honour once more alongside Dwight Yorke and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink.
Owen was simply electric in his formative years with his lightning pace striking fear into even the division’s best backlines, and whilst the bulk of his honours – including the 2001 Ballon d’Or – came after the turn of the millennium, it was arguably the fresh-faced teenager of the nineties that was the forward at his best.
5. Teddy Sheringham
Perhaps the least traditional forward on this list, Sheringham was as adept at creating goals as he was scoring them, though holds the distinction of being the first ever recipient of the Premier League’s Golden Boot.
The forward started his Premier League career with Nottingham Forest before being signed by Tottenham early in the division’s inaugural campaign, enjoying a prolific start to his time in north London with 28 goals in all competitions in 1992/93.
Sheringham fired 98 goals in just 197 appearances for Spurs over a four-year spell, before signing for Manchester United in search of silverware and winning three league titles and the Champions League amongst his honours at Old Trafford.
The star’s intelligent movement and link-up play saw him established in the England side for much of the decade, scoring 11 goals in 51 caps at international level and featuring at three major tournaments.
Having begun his career in the early eighties he would remarkably continue playing until 2008, Sheringham holding the record as the oldest outfield Premier League player and as the division’s oldest goalscorer.
4. Ian Wright
Ian Wright rose from the depths of non-league to become one of the division’s greatest forwards of the nineties, signing for Arsenal in the final season of the pre-Premier League era following a prolific stint at Crystal Palace.
Wright’s incredible repertoire of finishing saw him become an instant hero in north London and he was so often the difference for the Gunners in the league’s formative seasons, a notoriously resilient backline looking to the star to be the match-winner.
He scored 104 league goals in just 191 Premier League appearances for Arsenal and helped the club to a wealth of successes, winning the first-ever domestic cup double in 1992/93 before adding the European Cup Winners’ Cup the following season.
Wright finished his Arsenal career as the club’s all-time leading goalscorer with 185 in all competitions, departing after playing his part in a Premier League and FA Cup double in 1997/98.
3. Robbie Fowler
Robbie Fowler is another player – like the aforementioned Wright – often referred to as an instinctive finisher, with the former Liverpool forward regarded amongst the most natural goalscorers the Premier League has seen.
Fowler exploded onto the scene as a teenage talent after coming through the Reds’ academy ranks, scoring prolifically and establishing himself amongst the league’s leading talents.
He remains the youngest ever player to reach 50 goals in the division having achieved the feat aged just 20 years and 251 days, with Fowler netting 30+ goals in each of his first three full seasons and winning back-to-back PFA Young Player of the Year accolades in 1995 and 1996.
Injuries halted the progress of a player still affectionately nicknamed ‘God’ by the Liverpool faithful, though the early years of Fowler were a clinic in finishing and he remains the seventh-highest scoring player in Premier League history.
2. Andy Cole
The fastest player in the history of the Premier League to reach 50 goals, Andy Cole was a sensation when arriving in the top-flight with Newcastle during the division’s second season.
Cole had fired an ambitious Magpies side to promotion and took to the top flight like a duck to water, scoring 34 goals – a record for a Premier League season – during the 1993/94 campaign to win the Golden Boot and PFA Young Player of the Year award.
The goals continued to flow at a rapid rate and he moved to Manchester United in a shock £7m deal the following year, rifling in 93 goals in 195 league appearances and winning five league titles and the Champions League.
His fruitful partnership with fellow Red Devils forward Dwight Yorke remains the stuff of legend, whilst his 189 goals are the third-highest in Premier League history with only one of that tally remarkably coming from the penalty spot.
1. Alan Shearer
It’s been almost 15 years since Shearer’s retirement but he remains the benchmark when it comes to assessing number nines, the greatest goalscorer in the history of the Premier League and a man who would smash his own gran in an aerial duel if it meant heading home an inviting cross.
Shearer, put simply, was a goalscoring sensation with the best years of his career coming at Blackburn, scoring 30+ league goals in three consecutive seasons – an achievement no player has ever managed more than once – and inspiring the Lancashire side to the title in 1995.
After plundering home an incredible 112 goals in just 138 league appearances for Rovers he headed home in a £15m world record deal, signing for boyhood side Newcastle in a bid to end the Magpies long-wait for silverware success.
Those trophy-winning hopes never materialised despite the best efforts of the Geordie goal machine, though his club-record 206 goals in all competitions secured legendary status and ensured he never has to pay for a pint in Tyneside again.