TOP MAN: Eric Cantona continues to entertain long after hanging up his boots. — AFP Photo.
By Paul Kennedy
It’s a debate that will rage on and on, with answers changing as much as Meghan Markle’s post code. Who is the greatest foreign footballer to ever play in the Premier League?
This week, after scoring a hat trick for Manchester City against Aston Villa, City’s Sergio Aguero became the highest scoring import in English football, netting an impressive 177 Premier League goals since his move to Manchester back in 2011.
He is undoubtedly an amazing striker. But does that make him the best ever foreigner to play in the Premier League?
Forwards obviously get all the plaudits, Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp, Didier Drogba, Luiz Suarez. All amazing talents who plied their trade in the Premier League.
Go back a little further back in time and there was Juninho who scored a bag full of goals during his spells with Middlesbrough. Another amazing foreigner to grace the pitches of the Premiership.
Chelsea’s Gianfranco Zola was incredible, so too was Paulo Di Canio at West Ham.
Cristiano Ronaldo, world-beater as he obviously is, for me played his best football in Spain with Real Madrid and not in England.
But let’s take a second or two to look at some other players in different positions who may not get the credit they deserve when people compile their lists.
Patrick Vierra was a monster of a midfielder for Arsenal, Nemanja Vidic at Manchester United, superb, so too was Sami Hyypia at Liverpool.
And Peter Schmeichel wasn’t just the best goalkeeper to play for United, but for me, the best goalkeeper ever at his peak.
We could be here all day, all year in fact, arguing the pros and cons of those who came from overseas to play in England.
And in five years’ time, if Liverpool continue in the direction they are heading, I’m sure the likes of Sadio Mane, Mohammed Salah and Virgil van Dijk will come into the equation.
But for me, the greatest ever foreign footballer to play in the English Premier League is the one and only, Eric Cantona.
Sure, he may have been a little bit off the wall crazy, and yes, I know he will be forever remembered for that kung fu kick when he took out a fan with a move that Jean Claude van Damme would have been proud of, but in a perverted sort of way, that’s why I like him so much.
His ‘seagulls following the trawler’ press conference after the above mentioned martial arts move was nothing short of genius. Madder than a box of frogs, but brilliant all the same.
He was a one-off, a real character. There has never been anything like him before, and there will never be another Eric Cantona. I love him.
I remember being in the press box at Old Trafford when Eric made his comeback against Liverpool after his lengthy ban and yes, he scored that afternoon.
And today, Eric continues to entertain me even though he has long hung up his boots.
Last week I read a story that, to be fair, was penned a few years ago but I’d never come across before.
It was a piece Cantona had written titled: What is the meaning of Life?
Google it, it’s worth a read.
In it he talks about his grandfather and how he fought in the Spanish Civil War then crossed, on foot, the Pyrenees with his girlfriend at the time, Eric’s grandmother.
Without spoiling the ending, the piece is essentially a nod to those immigrants suffering today as they find themselves displaced due to war and conflict, shunned by the countries they are entering in an attempt to lead a better life.
So as the debate goes on as we try to work out who is the best foreign footballer to play in the Premier League, it is worth pondering that a future Bergkamp, Henry or Cantona may well be in one of those many refugee camps dotted all over the world, but because of the situation they have found themselves in, they may never get the chance to shine. — VNS