Arsenal’s Gilberto Silva, Manchester City’s Fernandinho, and Manchester United’s Michael Carrick. They’re not the headline-stealing forwards that top the scoring or assist charts, they aren’t match winners, but their understated brilliance deserves to be celebrated. Here’s our list of the greatest ever Premier League unsung heroes.
Fernandinho – Manchester City (2013 – present)
City fans adore the Brazilian midfield spoiler. For seasons he was doing the running for two central midfielders, when Yaya Toure would bomb forward and refuse to track back. Now, he’s finally being recognised as one of the best defensive-minded midfielders in the Premier League. Not only does he regularly win City the ball back with his ever-presence and fondness of a hard tackle, he’s pretty handy with it, offloading to Kevin de Bruyne or David Silva to start City’s irresistible attacks.
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Gilberto Silva – Arsenal (2002 – 2008)
Another defensive midfielder from Brazil. Gilberto Silva was an essential cog in Arsene Wenger’s greatest ever Arsenal team. He provided some extra steel alongside Patrick Vieira, and shielded one of the best defences we’ve seen in English club football. He was an ‘Invincible’ in 2003-04, and even chimed in with 23 goals in 208 appearances. Not too shabby at all.
Michael Carrick – Manchester United (2006 – present)
Carrick retires at the end of the season, and he deserves an uncharacteristically glitzy send-off at Old Trafford come May. Signing for the club 12 years ago, the former England midfielder bolstered Sir Alex Ferguson’s midfield, winning everything from the Premier League (five times) to the Champions League. He also stayed at the club throughout the tricky transitional period, playing under David Moyes and Louis van Gaal before some stability arrived in the form of Jose Mourinho. A legend of the Premier League, adored by United fans.
Sami Hyypia – Liverpool (1999 – 2009)
Jamie Carragher once described Hyypia as the best defender he’d played alongside, and it’s hard to argue with him. The Fin was a rock at the back during his time at Anfield, and the partnership with Carragher helped Liverpool reach their zenith this century, when Rafa Benitez’s side won the Champions League in 2005.
Tim Sherwood – Blackburn (1992 – 1999)
One of Kenny Dalglish’s first signings at the club, Sherwood struggled to make the first team in his first few months at Ewood Park. Eventually he would become the club’s captain and would help them to the Premier League title in 1995. Apparently, Dalglish wanted to sign Zinedine Zidane from Bordeaux, but Rovers owner Jack Walker said: “Why do you want to sign Zidane when we have Tim Sherwood?” That season, the plaudits went to Chris Sutton, Colin Hendry and – rightly – Alan Shearer. But Sherwood deserves his 15 minutes too.
James Milner (various clubs)
He’ll always give you at least a seven out of 10. Milner began his Premier League career with Leeds United back in 2002. He’s subsequently played for Newcastle United, Aston Villa, Manchester City and currently turns out for Liverpool. The fact that he’s willing to play at left-back under Jurgen Klopp just to get game time sums the guy up: he loves football and he’ll give it his all. At City, he won two Premier League titles, a League Cup and an FA Cup. He’s also eighth in the all-time Premier League assists chart, just three behind David Beckham.
Gareth Barry (various clubs)
There should be a picture of old, faithful Gareth Barry next to ‘unsung hero’ in the dictionary. He’s eeked out an amazingly successful career from doing the jobs that other players aren’t that willing to do. He started playing in the Premier League back in 1998 with Aston Villa, and has since turned out for Man City, Everton and currently West Brom. Despite never being able to run faster than approximately 1mph, Barry has won an FA Cup and a Premier League as well as 53 England caps. He also holds the record for most Premier League appearances.
Richard Dunne (Manchester City 2000 – 2009)
OK, hear me out. Dunne may have enjoyed sticking the ball in the back of his own net and making at least one calamitous mistake every game, but City fans loved him and his signing hailed the beginning of an era of stability for the former Republic of Ireland centre-back. He helped the side win promotion in 2002, and was a stalwart at the back until he left. A record he’ll be proud of is that he won the City Player of the Year four years running; a record he won’t be is that he’s scored the most Premier League own goals of any individual player. Swings and roundabouts.
Antonio Valencia (Manchester United (2009 – present)
It was initially hoped that the Ecuador star would replace Cristiano Ronaldo, but that wouldn’t be his path to becoming an Old Trafford favourite. Valencia was an entirely different player to Ronaldo – one-footed and rigidly pragmatic – but his contributions have been spectacular. He began by putting beautiful balls in the box from the right wing for Wayne Rooney to head home. Gradually, he moved back into a more defensive role, and had become one of the league’s best right-backs. He’s won two titles and an FA Cup, and has been voted United’s Players’ Player of the Year twice.
Claude Makelele (Chelsea 2003 – 2008)
Everyone knows what ‘the Claude Makelele role’ is. It’s basically that person’s job in midfield to occupy an area in front of your own defence and utterly ruin any side’s chances of attacking your goal. Makalele was instrumental in Jose Mourinho’s successful Premier League campaigns, providing the platform for Frank Lampard, Joe Cole, Arjen Robben and Didier Drogba to run riot up front. Chelsea appear to have finally found a replacement in the form of N’Golo Kante.
N’Golo Kante (Leicester and Chelsea)
Speak of the devil… Kante has to be on this list. The diminutive France midfielder has been a revelation since he turned up in the Midlands in 2015. Playing alongside Danny Drinkwater, Kante’s endeavour in midfield helped Leicester’s Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy tear defences apart on their way to an unprecedented Premier League win in 2016. He then went to Chelsea and repeated his success. This is beginning to look like his first season in English football when he hasn’t won the Premier League. A great player.