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Five of the most under appreciated Premier League forwards

Jermain Defoe announced his retirement from football last week as the forward called time on a successful Premier League career, hanging up boots that had rifled in 162 top-flight goals.

Defoe has long been regarded as a fantastic finisher, but has rarely received the plaudits of several peers who trail the former West Ham and Tottenham forward – ninth among the Premier League’s record goalscorers – in the scoring charts.


We’re not fans of the term underrated, one which the more it’s used becomes a contradiction, but it’s fair to say this list of names were – or are – harshly treated when it comes to Premier League perceptions.

Following Defoe’s decision to retire, we’ve decided to look back at five of the most under appreciated Premier League forwards of all time.

Andy Cole

We’ve discussed the continued under-appreciation of Andy Cole on several occasions, one of the Premier League’s most prolific players but one perennially overlooked when it comes to discussing the division’s goalscoring greats.

Cole’s record of 187 goals is the third-highest total in Premier League history, one which is made even more impressive when considered that the former Manchester United forward scored just once from the penalty spot.

Remove penalties from the equation and Cole’s goals-per-game ratio is better than that of Alan Shearer, whilst he registered an impressive 73 assists and is one of just three players – alongside Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Harry Kane – to have topped the goals and assists charts in the same season.

Glenn Hoddle’s infamous appraisal that Cole needed five chances to score, alongside a lack of recognition with England, have contributed to his comparatively modest legacy.

Winner of five league titles and the Champions League – and one half of Europe’s best strike partnership during United’s 1998/99 treble-winning season – it’s fair to say that Cole is perhaps due more plaudits than he often receives.

90s Hitmen: Andy Cole, an elite marksman criminally under appreciated

Emile Heskey

Emile Heskey was another former England forward who became somewhat of a figure of fun, his modest goal record having painted an unfair picture of a player who was rather better than most remember.

Heskey came through the ranks at Leicester and reached three cup finals in four seasons with his hometown side, twice lifting the League Cup at Wembley before an £11m move to Liverpool.

His first full season was Heskey at his best as he scored 22 goals in all competitions for the Reds, winning a UEFA Cup, FA Cup and League Cup treble and forming a fine understanding with Michael Owen.

Heskey suffered from playing at a time when forwards were judged almost entirely on goals and it’s fair to say his talents would be better appreciated in the modern era.

A selfless facilitator who made others around him better, his 53 assists in the Premier League is just two less than Paul Scholes managed. There’s reason he found favour under so many managers and with so many teammates, with his 62 caps for England just one less than Alan Shearer.

Ruud van Nistelrooy

Make no mistake, Ruud van Nistelrooy was among the most feared forwards in Europe during his best seasons at Manchester United.

Van Nistelrooy scored 150 goals in just 219 appearances across five seasons at Old Trafford, winning the Premier League’s Golden Boot in 2002/03 and finishing as the Champions League’s leading scorer on three occasions.

However, Van Nistelrooy is often overlooked when it comes to discussing the Premier League’s very best, with his record of 95 league goals (in a hugely impressive 150 games) seeing him fall short of the division’s fabled ‘100 club’ and the countless montages that exclusivity subsequently brings.

Thierry Henry’s excellence, beating Van Nistelrooy to the Golden Boot in four of his five seasons in the Premier League, has made it easier to forget just how exceptional the Dutchman was with the Red Devils.

Appreciating just how lethal Ruud van Nistelrooy was in his five years at Manchester United

Jermain Defoe

Jermain Defoe retired from the game as the ninth highest goalscorer in Premier League history, having amassed 162 top-flight goals during spells at West Ham, Spurs, Portsmouth, Sunderland and Bournemouth.

Despite his instinctive natural talents, Defoe never featured for a side capable of competing for major trophies and was often overlooked during his time in North London, developing a somewhat unwanted reputation as a ‘Super-sub’.

Defoe scored more Premier League goals as a substitute than any other player (24), and is also the leading scorer off the bench for the England national team (7).

Given chances – both in terms of selection and around the box – and Defoe often delivered, including becoming one of just five players to score five goals in a Premier League fixture after a stunning performance against Wigan in November 2009.

Noughties Nines: A striker’s striker, Jermain Defoe

Olivier Giroud

Olivier Giroud has so often been called underrated that it has become almost untrue, but there’s no doubt the Frenchman was under appreciated for much of his Premier League career.

Combining size with subtly and an impressive goalscoring record, he failed to command a regular starting role with either Arsenal or Chelsea despite contributing to the club’s silverware successes.

Giroud scored 90 goals in just 152 starts in the Premier League and has excelled on the international stage with France, his hold-up play and goalscoring helping Les Bleus to World Cup success in 2018.

The 35-year-old is now just five goals away from surpassing Thierry Henry’s all-time record for France after scoring his 47th international goal in the win over the Ivory Coast this month.

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