Greatest Premier League strikers of the 90s
Ever since the Premier League was formed in 1992, it has produced a bevy of lethal forwards. Every decade of the league, in fact, has seen glorious goal-scorers take to the pitch.
For this list, I have considered strikers whose prime years were between 1992 to 2000, with the 2000-01 season as a hard cap. Many of the players in this list had careers which extended to beyond the hard cap, but their prime years were surely between 1990-2001. So don’t expect Thierry Henry in the list, because his prime years definitely came after the millennium.
Statistics and longevity were extremely important in determining the rankings, but also equally important were influence and legacy on the team and trophy hauls. The influence and legacy bit is crucial, as goal combined with major achievements contributed to a higher ranking.
The 90s might be synonymous with beer-drinking Englishmen kicking the ball around, but the decade also gave some incredibly gifted forwards. There were quite a few players to choose from, and we apologize if your favorite did not make it to the list. Before we begin with our 10th greatest Premier League forward of the 90s, here are some honorable mentions:
With the honorable mentions done, here are my top 10 Premier League strikers of the 1990s.
10. Gianfranco Zola
Gianfranco Zola PL stats
Frank Lampard or John Terry can stake claim to being Chelsea’s greatest player, but before the Abramovich era, Zola was regarded as the Blues’ greatest.
The Italian wizard came to Chelsea in a £4.5 million deal in 1996 from Parma. He was joined by his compatriot Gianluca Vialli during Ruud Gullit’s rebuild of the West London side. Zola’s impact was felt in his first season itself, as Chelsea took home the 1996-97 FA Cup title. His first season saw him score 12 goals from a total of 30 appearances for the Stamford Bridge side.
Zola exhibited great quality and talent in his seven seasons at Chelsea. His best years were arguably from 1998 to 2000, where he led Chelsea to Champions League qualification in the 1998-99 season and then led them to the quarter-finals of the 1999-2000 Champions League. His highest goal-scoring return, interestingly, came in his final season with the club in 2002-03, with 16 goals from 46 games.
Zola was one of the first technically gifted forwards to grace the Premier League, and he made his influence felt with not just goals, but creative ability as well. In many ways, he was a precursor to the likes of Dennis Bergkamp, Sergio Aguero and other forwards who dropped deep and facilitated attacking moves. Mazy dribbles, quick feints and breathtaking runs were part of his repertoire. His major role in making Chelsea a domestic force and quality Cup team place him in my list of the greatest Premier League forwards of the 90s. In many ways, he was a precursor to the likes of Dennis Bergkamp, Sergio Aguero and other forwards who dropped deep and facilitated attacking moves.
9. Mark Hughes
Mark Hughes PL stats
He’s now more famous as a journeyman Premier League manager, but the Welshman was a classy striker as a player. His amazing talent had many takers all around Europe with Hughes representing Bayern Munich and FC Barcelona on the continent as well.
Hughes started his professional career with Manchester United with whom he became a star in the mid-80s. He joined FC Barcelona in 1986 but had a disappointing season there. A loan spell at Bayern Munich in the 1987-88 season reignited his form, and Hughes rejoined Manchester United the following season.
Under Sir Alex Ferguson’s management, the Welshman won two Premier League titles in 1992-93 and 1993-94, and two FA Cups (1990, 1994). He formed an impressive strike partnership with Eric Cantona as the Red Devils became an uncontested giant in England, until the arrival of Arsene Wenger.
Following United finishing second to Blackburn in the 1994-95 season, Hughes jumped ship to Chelsea. He became a key figure for the Stamford Bridge side’s resurgence, combining well with Gianfranco Zola up front. Hughes was part of the Chelsea squad that had a victorious 1996-97 FA Cup campaign.
8. Robbie Fowler
Robbie Fowler PL stats
From 1993 to 2001, ‘God’ ran on the Anfield pitch, terrorizing defenses with his incredible goal-scoring ability.
Robbie Fowler grew up as an Everton fan, of all clubs, but became a Premier League legend at the red half of Merseyside. The markings of a great finisher were there to see right at the beginning of his senior career. Fowler scored on his debut in a 3-1 League Cup tie against Fulham. In the second leg of that tie, Fowler burst to life, scoring all five goals. His first 13 games for Liverpool saw him score 12 goals.
1994 onwards, Fowler forged his reputation as a clinical finisher and becoming Liverpool’s starting striker. He entered history books with a four-minute hat-trick against Arsenal, the fastest in Premier League history until Sadio Mane scored a two-minute 56 seconds hat-trick for Southampton in 2015, against Aston Villa. The Englishman regularly found the net, scoring a century of goals in 164 matches. The quickest of any Liverpool player in history.
Though derided as one of the ‘Spice Boys’ of Liverpool, Fowler bagged the PFA Young Player of The Year award in 1995 and 1996. He was also a key cog of the Cup Treble winning side of 2000-01.
An anterior cruciate ligament injury in 1997-98 greatly diminished Fowler’s speed, and also brought to Merseyside prominence, a certain Michael Owen. With Owen and Emile Heskey forming a prolific partnership, Fowler left for Leeds United in 2001. The animosity with then Liverpool manager Gerard Houllier contributed to Fowler’s departure as well.
In spite of a difficult tenure at Leeds, Fowler still scored goals. A deepening financial crisis for the club, however, led to Fowler joining Manchester City where he had a lukewarm time. He had a fairytale return to Liverpool in 2006, but it was clear that his best days were behind him.
While Fowler’s later career wasn’t that impressive, his earlier time at Liverpool was marked by his ability to find the net. In his prime, there was no better goal-scorer than Robbie Fowler. A lack of major titles, however, affect his ranking.
7. Teddy Sheringham
Teddy Sheringham PL stats
Harry Kane recently became Tottenham’s highest scorer in Premier League history, when he scored against Everton on 13th January. The man he surpassed was Teddy Sheringham, who was renowned for his finishing touch and longevity.
Sheringham shot to prominence while at Millwall, being part of their fabled team that nearly became First Division champions. He joined Tottenham at the age of 26 in 1992, moving from Nottingham Forest.
In five seasons at the North London club, Sheringham made scoring goals a habit. The Englishman scored 75 goals from 166 Premier League appearances in his first season at the club. Sheringham also won the inaugural Premier League Golden Boot award with a tally of 21 goals in the 1992-93 season.
His most successful period in terms of trophy haul, however, came at Manchester United. Even though he had personal issues with striker Andy Cole throughout his time at the club, Sheringham still proved to be an important player for the Red Devils. His first few years were difficult with the club, but he became better with age. His career-defining season came in the 2000-01, where he was top-scorer for Manchester United, and won the PFA Players’ Player of the Year award. All of this, at the age of 35.
Sheringham then joined Tottenham for another spell, scoring 22 goals in 70 appearances. Further Premier League stints came at Portsmouth and West Ham, where he became the oldest goal-scorer in Premier League history (at the age of 40)
Sheringham’s greatness lay in his longevity and adaptability into a second striker. With diminishing speed and physicality, the Englishman expanded on his passing ability to become a brilliant support striker, elongating his career. His poaching skills are still the stuff of legend though, with the equalizer against Bayern Munich in the 2000 Champions League Final being a hallmark moment for the Englishman.
6. Ian Wright
Ian Wright PL stats
Cliff Bastin, an Arsenal legend, played for the club from 1929 to 1947 and became their record goal-scorer with 178 goals. Ian Wright took just seven years to break that record. If nothing, it speaks volumes of the ferocious goal-getter that Wright was.
Wright was a late-bloomer in the truest sense, signing for Arsenal at the age of 26. Before joining the Gunners, he made his name with Crystal Palace in the First Division. Wright is the third-highest goal-scorer for the Eagles and was voted their ‘Player of The Century.
Wright was a vital component of Arsenal’s success in the 90s, being the club’s top-scorer for six seasons in a row. In the 1996-97 season, Wright finished runner up in the Golden Boot race, scoring 23 goals. He, however, set a club record by scoring against 17 of the 19 league opponents in that season.
Wright lifted a total of five trophies with Arsenal. Two FA Cups, one Premier League title, one League Cup and one UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup. His record of 185 goals for the club was only surpassed in 2005, by another Gunner legend, Thierry Henry.
At the age of 35, Wright played for his final Premier League club, West Ham United for 15 months. The Englishman then moved on to Nottingham Forest and Celtic before ending his career at Burnley. For a player who burst on to the scene late in his career, Wright sure accomplished a lot and will remain an Arsenal legend.
5. Michael Owen
Michael Owen PL stats
He is now famous for his comical ineptitude as a TV Pundit, but at one point of time, Michael Owen was the hottest attacking property in the football world. Amazing movement, a quick turn of pace and deadly finishing. Owen had it all and had the world at his feet at the age of 22 when he won the Ballon D’Or. His story, however, is also one of great promise that was shattered due to multiple injuries.
Owen made his debut for Liverpool as a 17 year old, and his first goal came against Wimbledon on 6th May, 1997. The game is remembered for Liverpool’s great choke, as their failure to win handed Manchester United the Premier League title. However, it was also the beginning of a new era for the Reds with Owen as the centerpiece.
Owen replaced the great Robbie Fowler as starting forward in the 1997-98 season. He delivered on the hype around him, scoring 18 goals from 36 appearances, and winning the Premier League Golden Boot. His goals powered Liverpool in the title race, but a bad form for the club in February led to a third-place finish. Still, Owen finished second to Dennis Bergkamp in the PFA Players’ Player of The Year Award.
The English striker regained the Golden Boot the following season, in spite of incurring a hamstring injury. The hamstring issues would go on to be a regular feature of his career later on, as his quick bursts of speed laid pressure on his hamstrings. Owen also increased his goal-scoring rate to 0.60 goals per match, from 0.50 goals per match in the previous season.
The hamstring problems laid Owen out for almost the whole of the 1999-2000 season. He made a triumphant comeback in the 2000-01 season, leading the Reds to a Cup Treble and winning the Ballon D’Or. Owen scored 24 goals from 46 matches in all competitions in the 2000-01 season.
He became one of Florentino Perez’s Galacticos at Real Madrid in 2004, but persistent injury troubles and loss of pace meant he was a shadow of his former self. He returned to the Premier League in 2005 with Newcastle but was unable to reach his former heights. A move to Manchester United, however, saw him win his first Premier League title. And he also scored the winning goal in one of the best Manchester Derbies.
4. Andy Cole
Andy Cole PL stats
One of the most consistent scorers in Premier League history, Andy Cole, is our fourth-greatest Premier League forward of the 90s.
A career that spanned nearly 20 years, there sure were a lot of goals scored from the Englishman’s feet. His scoring prowess was seen at multiple clubs, from the grounds of St. James’ Park and Ewood Park to the Theatre of Dreams.
Cole’s career began at Arsenal, but a lack of playing opportunities meant he spent his time as a loanee at Fulham and Bristol City. His Premier League breakthrough came at Newcastle United, where he scored 43 league goals from 58 appearances. His 34 goals in the 1993-94 season paved the way for a Premier League Golden Boot.
His scoring antics got the attention of Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United and Cole signed for them in a shock deal in the January transfer window of the 1994-95 season. His £7 million deal made him the most expensive British player of the time.
Cole hit the ground running for the Red Devils, scoring 12 goals in 18 Premier League appearances. He became a mainstay in Ferguson’s side for the years to come, forming a prolific partnership with Dwight Yorke 1998 onwards. In fact, Cole’s best tenure at Man Utd came after Eric Cantona’s retirement in 1997. One of his most important goals came in the 1998-99 season, when his audacious strike against Tottenham meant Manchester United winning the Premier League title by just one point.
In 1999, Cole also became one of the few Englishmen to win nearly every honor on the club level. He scored 24 goals (5 in Champions League) as United went on to win a historic Treble.
Ruud Van Nistelrooy’s arrival meant limited chances for Cole at Old Trafford. He joined Blackburn Rovers in the January transfer window in 2002 and made an immediate impact. He scored the winning goal in the 2002 League Cup final for Rovers. Cole also played a major role in Blackburn’s UEFA Cup qualification in the 2002-03 season, scoring seven goals in the league.
The Englishman’s final Premier League appearance came for Sunderland in the 2007-08 season. He scored 187 goals in 414 Premier League games. Considering his long career, his goal-scoring rate of 0.45 goals per game is downright incredible. As of today, Cole is the third-highest goal scorer in Premier League history.
3. Dennis Bergkamp
Dennis Bergkamp PL stats
When the Premier League began, Arsenal was a club known for it’s quintessential British style of play. They had a solid back-line led by Tony Adams, and scoring goals was a hard task against George Graham’s men. But the Gunners were also quite boring to watch, as their attacking play had almost no creativity.
Enter Dennis Bergkamp, and Arsenal were never the same.
The Non-Flying Dutchman moved from Internazionale to the Highbury outfit in 1995 and changed the landscape of the club. Arsenal seemed to be a club that was content with modest League finishes and Cup wins. Bergkamp’s signing pushed them to elite company.
Bergkamp was not the most prolific goal-scorer. What he was, was a magician. He along with Arsene Wenger, transformed Arsenal from a rag-tag bunch of football players, into one of the most aesthetically pleasing footballing sides in the world. With Bergkamp as the main man, Arsenal went on to challenge Manchester United’s hegemony, and the pinnacle came in 1997-98.
Bergkamp’s quality and form powered Arsenal to a League and Cup double in the 1997-98 season. His 16 goals and 11 assists from 28 appearances brought the Gunners their first League title, and finally a worthy adversary to Ferguson’s Manchester United side was born. Bergkamp himself was named the PFA Players’ Player of The Year for his contribution.
The arrival of Thierry Henry meant the beginning of one of the Premier League’s most fabled strike partnerships. Bergkamp’s creativity and Henry’s finishing touch delivered Arsenal two more titles, with the one in 2003-04 being extremely special as the Gunners went undefeated en route to the trophy.
Bergkamp was arguably the first foreign superstar to dominate the Premier League and bring about the continental style. Most strikers were traditional target men but Bergkamp’s success saw the rise of hybrid forwards, who could both score and assist. His touch, arguably the finest in the game, could unlock the tightest of defenses and his vision was unparalleled. It was due to Bergkamp (and Wenger) that the Premier League evolved from gung-ho football to the exciting spectacle it is today.
2. Alan Shearer
Alan Shearer PL stats
Other forwards on this list have won more titles, but none of them have scored as many goals as Alan Shearer did. The Englishman still is the best pure striker to have plied his trade in the English top flight. His record of 260 Premier League goals remains untouched till now.
Starting his career at Southampton, Shearer made his Premier League debut with Blackburn Rovers, who he joined in 1992. Shearer was a subject of transfer rumors, as Manchester United were also interested in him. The Englishman, however, chose the Ewood Park side.
Despite a mixed first season, half of which he missed to due an ACL injury, Shearer became a legend at Ewood Park. His next three seasons saw him score over 30 Premier League goals, as he won two consecutive Golden Boots in 1995 and 1996. The 1994/95 season was his personal best, as he scored 34 goals and won the PFA Players’ Player of The Year for leading Blackburn to the Premier League title.
The Englishman’s greatest legacy, however, was built at his boyhood club, Newcastle United. He joined ‘The Toon’ for a then world-record £15 million and became the club’s greatest ever player.
He made an instant impact in his first season, scoring 25 goals and winning his third consecutive Premier League Golden Boot. His finest performance came against Leicester City. Newcastle were 3-1 down in the game, but a Shearer hat-trick led them to a 4-3 win.
Unfortunately for Shearer, league success eluded him at St. James’ Park. Lack of quality support meant that Shearer generally led the club single-handedly. His best league finish was second place in the 1996-97 season.
This is what makes Shearer even more special, in my opinion. Despite a lack of a title-challenging team, the Englishman was able to will his team forward to respectable finishes. His 206 goals for the Magpies from 303 games is amazing, to say the least.
Lastly, his goal scoring exploits, scoring a goal in every other game, make him our second greatest forward of the 90s. If not for the next influential figure, Shearer would surely have topped this list.
1. Eric Cantona
Eric Cantona PL stats
Almost everyone on this list has scored more goals or assisted more than Eric Cantona. None of them, however, have had an iota of influence as much as Cantona had.
Manchester United’s greatness in the Premier League and the world are all thanks to two men. One is of course, Sir Alex Ferguson. The other has to be Eric Cantona, who brought with him an incredible drive to win. Something that defined the club during it’s time at the top.
Before Cantona’s arrival from Leeds, Manchester United had not won a league title for 26 years. Up until his arrival in November, the club were struggling in the newly formed Premier League. Goal-scoring was a big issue and the Red Devils were falling behind.
Cantona stepped up and formed a strong partnership with Mark Hughes. He scored 9 goals in the 1992-93 season and assisted 16 as Manchester United captured the inaugural Premier League title. Since Cantona’s arrival, the Red Devils only lost two matches in the entire season.
Cantona was the club’s top scorer as they won the 1993/94 Premier League title, scoring 18 goals in the League and 25 in all competitions. The season also saw him receive two straight red cards, against Swindon and Arsenal. A sign of temper issues that would define his tenure at Old Trafford.
The infamous Kung Fu kick incident happened in the following season. Cantona attacked a Crystal Palace fan at Selhurst Park in January 1995 and was subsequently banned for eight months and fined £30,000. The Frenchman also had to fulfil 120 hours of Community Service as he was booked for a criminal assault. Manchester United lost the title to Blackburn that season.
There was much speculation that Cantona would join a foreign club, but he stayed on at Old Trafford. His competitive return saw him set up a goal for Nicky Butt and then scoring a penalty himself. As Manchester United won the League title again, Cantona’s finest moment came against Sunderland. The Frenchman scored with a sublime chip with his nonchalant celebration speaking volumes. ‘King’ Eric was unaffected by the press and the players. He knew he was the best.
Cantona announced his retirement at the age of 30, winning his fourth Premier League title in 1997. Temperamental, yet magical, Cantona was a one-in-a-million talent. His talents and skills aside, the most telling aspect of his game was the will to win. Combined with the ruthlessness of Ferguson, Cantona’s winning mentality became the identity for Manchester United in the years to come. The Red Devils are the greatest and most successful club in Premier League history, and it is all due to the ruthless foundation that Ferguson and Cantona set. The Frenchman led from the front and instilled the same desire in the future generations. His influence is a building block of Manchester United’s image in the 1990s and beyond.
Cantona was not the most prolific striker the Premier League has ever seen, but he surely is one of the best, and definitely the greatest of the 90s.
All stats are as per www.premierleague.com unless otherwise mentioned.