English football was revamped in some style with the introduction of the Premier League in the nineties, and by the following decade the competition had become the sporting behemoth we know today.
The start of the decade saw Manchester United and Arsenal play out the division’s most iconic rivalry as Premier League titles were shared between the two sides, before a certain Russian billionaire catapulted Chelsea into the elite to upset the status quo.
There were nine appearances by Premier League sides in major European finals in a decade where the division was truly stacked with talent, and we’ve decided to attempt to whittle down the very finest footballers of the 2000’s.
Here are our rankings of the 10 best Premier League players from the noughties:
10. Ruud van Nistelrooy
Ruud van Nistelrooy perhaps remains an overlooked name when it comes to discussing the Premier League’s all-time very best, but there were few forwards as feared during the Dutchman’s prolific pomp at Manchester United.
Van Nistelrooy signed for the Red Devils in a £19m deal from PSV Eindhoven and wasted little time in announcing himself to English football, scoring 36 goals in all competitions during his debut season to be named as the PFA Player of the Year.
The following season saw him eclipse those exploits with a staggering 44 goals, Van Nistelrooy finishing as the leading scorer in the Premier League, Champions League and FA Cup, inspiring United to the league title with no Premier League player having ever scored more across all competitions in a single season.
44 – Ruud van Nistelrooy scored 44 goals in all competitions in 2002-03 – no Premier League player has ever netted more in a single campaign. Relentless. #OptaPLSeasons pic.twitter.com/QrU7kjLFJr
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) April 6, 2020
The Netherlands international was a ruthless finisher whose finest work came inside the confines of the penalty area, perhaps no player better in one-vs-one situations with his desire to score goals bordering on an obsession.
He spent five years in the Premier League and scored 150 goals in just 219 appearances in all competitions, the star finishing ahead of legendary figures in Alan Shearer and Dennis Bergkamp in our rankings with the finest performances from both stars perhaps coming in the nineties.
9. Patrick Vieira
Arsenal’s rise in the late nineties and early 2000s proved the greatest challenge to Manchester United’s early dominance of the Premier League era, Arsene Wenger building a side which won three league titles across the turn of the millennium.
Central to each of those successes was midfield monster Patrick Vieira, a formidable footballer and amongst the most complete midfield players of the Premier League era.
The France international was physically imposing and the heartbeat of an Arsenal side which moved into a new era in the early noughties, captaining the Gunners’ legendary ‘Invincibles’ side that completed an entire campaign without defeat in 2003/04.
Vieira was dynamic covering the ground but had the guile to pick passes and score goals when rampaging forward, the quintessential box-to-box star and a midfielder who left an indelible mark on the history of the capital’s most successful side.
8. John Terry
The bedrock of the Chelsea side who emerged as contenders for the game’s biggest prizes in the 2000s, John Terry was the home-grown hero on which a hugely successful side was built.
Terry came through the academy ranks at the west London side before captaining the side throughout the Roman Abramovich era, leading the club to a first league title in 50 years during the 2004/05 campaign before retaining the Premier League the following season.
That first title-winning campaign saw Terry named as the PFA Player of the Year – just the second defender to win the accolade in the Premier League era – as Chelsea were crowned champions with a record-low of just 15 goals conceded.
Terry’s leadership and lionhearted style saw him become the greatest captain in Chelsea’s history, and arguably the best central defender the Premier League has seen.
7. Ryan Giggs
Ryan Giggs became the most successful player in the history of British football during a career of unprecedented silverware and incredible longevity, winning six of his record 13 league titles and the Champions League throughout the 2000s.
The Welshman was a virtual ever-present during the great Manchester United sides of the era, beginning the decade as a jet-heeled wide presence before adapting to a more central role in his latter years.
Perhaps the only player who would command a place in the top 10 for both the nineties and noughties, Giggs’ recorded the most assists in the history of the Premier League during a career that is unlikely to ever be repeated.
He was named as the PFA Player of the Year during another title-winning season in 2008/09, adding to the back-to-back Young Player awards he collected following a captivating emergence during the previous decade.
6. Frank Lampard
The greatest goalscoring midfielder the Premier League has seen and an irreplaceable figure in Chelsea’s biggest successes of the era, Frank Lampard set unprecedented levels of consistency during a glittering career at Stamford Bridge.
Lampard crossed the capital from London rivals West Ham in 2001 before becoming a key cog in Chelsea’s winning machine under Jose Mourinho, the appointment of the ‘Special One’ in 2004 leading to back-to-back league titles.
The former England international was named as the FWA Footballer of the Year as Chelsea secured the first of those triumphs, later finishing the year as runner-up to Ronaldinho for the Ballon d’Or.
Lampard incredibly scored double figures for league goals for six successive seasons during the 2000s, part of 10 consecutive campaigns he would achieve the feat to stand as the fifth-highest goalscorer in the division’s history – a staggering achievement for a midfield player.
Few players have ever possessed Lampard’s knack of ghosting forward into the box to score, an unteachable asset that made the Chelsea icon one of the game’s greats for more than a decade.
5. Paul Scholes
One of football’s most iconic one-club men and the most successful English player of all-time, Paul Scholes was one of a number of academy graduates who helped Manchester United dominate the Premier League.
Scholes had already won three Premier League titles before the 2000s before adding a further six throughout the next decade, alongside an FA Cup, two League Cups and the 2008 Champions League.
Scholes was a genius in the centre of the pitch with his sublime technique and unrivalled vision, the centre-piece of several great Red Devil sides and a midfielder for who opposition players struggled to get close to.
The early part of the decade saw Scholes thrive as a roaming attacking player before refining his game and dropping deeper in the latter part of the noughties, picking up possession deep and spraying passes with laser-like precision across the Old Trafford turf.
4. Steven Gerrard
The only man on this list famously without a Premier League winners’ medal but a player whose talent ensures his place amongst the division’s greats, Steven Gerrard was, for so long, the beating heart of Liverpool.
Gerrard rose through the club’s academy ranks before shouldering the Reds’ expectations for more than a decade, often delivering when it mattered most for his boyhood side in that signature ‘Roy of the Rovers’ style.
There has arguably never been a more complete midfielder in the Premier League with Gerrard seemingly capable of carrying his side singlehandedly at times, becoming the only player in history to score in the finals of the Champions League, UEFA Cup, FA Cup and League Cup whilst ending on the winning side on each occasion.
Gerrard was named as the PFA Young Player of the Year in 2001 before winning the senior accolade five years later, his standing amongst his peers recognised with eight inclusions in the PFA Team of the Year – more than any other player in Premier League history.
3. Wayne Rooney
Arguably the most exciting arrival the Premier League has seen, a 16-year-old Wayne Rooney announced himself to world football in sublime style during the early 2000s.
The boyhood blue wowed as a teenage sensation at Everton before quickly outgrowing those familiar surroundings, a move to Manchester United catapulting the star into the elite.
Rooney scored a sensational Champions League hat-trick on his debut and starred for the Red Devils throughout the decade, winning three Premier League crowns during the noughties and forming part of an iconic forward partnership with Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez as United won the Champions League in 2008.
Rooney was a whirlwind of fury and skill in his early years before evolving into a mature goalscoring talent, though never lost his insatiable desire for hurtling around Premier League pitches and providing moments of improvised ingenuity.
2. Cristiano Ronaldo
Had the twinkle-toed Portuguese superstar extended his Premier League career any further, he most certainly would have topped these rankings given the breathtaking standards he has reached since leaving Manchester United.
That said, the version of Ronaldo that starred in English football was still a frightening footballing talent, arriving as a fleet-footed and raw teenager before leaving as arguably the best player in world football.
Ronaldo was captivating in full flight with his repertoire of tricks, flicks and stunning strikes, working in tandem with the aforementioned Rooney and helping Sir Alex Ferguson’s side to three consecutive Premier League titles between 2007 and 2009.
The winger became the first player in history to win all six individual awards during the 2006/07 campaign, before securing the first of his five Ballon d’Or accolades after a 42-goal season inspired United to a Premier League and Champions League double the following season.
1. Thierry Henry
Premier League fans have been treated to some truly special talents throughout the years, but perhaps no player has truly dominated the division like prime Thierry Henry.
Arsene Wenger spotted the potential in the underperforming Juventus winger before turning his compatriot into the most feared player in the Premier League, Henry a sensational footballer who often made the sublime look effortlessly easy.
The Frenchman glided past opposition in second gear and toyed with the best defenders English football had to offer, that familiar acceleration, blistering pace and devastating finishing ability amongst the most iconic images of the Premier League era.
Henry won two league titles and is the only player to win the Premier League’s Golden Boot on four occasions, whilst he was twice named as the PFA Player of the Year and picked up the FWA Footballer of the Year three times.
Capable of moments no other player of his era could possibly produce, Henry is the quintessential noughties Premier League legend and quite probably the best the division has seen in any decade.
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