The following is a list of ten unheralded players in the EPL. All of these individuals contributed immensely to their respective squads but their performances (usually low key but effective) never earned them the same accolades as some of their more illustrious peers.
1. Martin Keown – Easily one of the best man-markers of his generation. Keown regularly shackled physical opponents such as Didier Drogba and Mark Viduka. His position sense was textbook in its application and he was the mainstay of a stingy Gunner’s defence for over a decade.
2. Dietmar Hamman – He did his job and he did it very well. The Liverpool teams that had Didi in their spine were resolute in performance as his calming influence and control of play in his half of the field could steady any torrent. His actions in Istanbul on that night in 2005 is the stuff upon which legends are built.
3. Ole Gunnar Solsjaer – Solsjaer (please don’t bring up that mind numbing Sunshine song) was in all likelihood the best super-sub in the history of the EPL. His scored 91 times in an eleven year stint with United where he was largely positioned behind the pecking order of Cole, Yorke and Van Nistlerooy. However many of the goals that he scored were key game breakers delivered with clutch precision. The extra-time strike in the 1999 Champion’s League Final being the most memorable (or most forgetful if you are a Bayern Munich fan).
4. David Batty – They will not make David Batty highlight videos but when it comes to work rate, endurance over ninety minutes and a tireless effort over the full game David Batty was right up there with the best. He was an important player for EPL minnows Blackburn (even if they were minnows with money) as they stormed to the apex of the table to essentially become the last provincial team to win English footer’s most coveted piece of silverware.
5. Claude Makelele – Not only was CM the linchpin of a great Real Madrid squad (renowned for its turn-of-the-millennium Euro success) he continued, without missing a beat, playing the same role at Chelsea. Together with Michael Essien the two established a partnership that would ensure midfield domination by the Blues against almost any opposition, thus allowing the likes of Frank Lampard to continue marketing himself as midfielder while establishing a goal scoring profile more akin to a striker. Makelele was the master of the tackle and distribution double act and performed his craft with a standard per excellence.
6. Danny Murphy – The Murph was your antidote to flashy play but when it came to dropping a free kick ball into the box for forwards to lunge in on he had an intrinsic knack matched by few. Couple that with three consecutive Old Trafford fixtures games where his goals were the deciding factor in Liverpool victories and Murph certainly earns his place on this list.
7. Gary Pallister – He was the first defender to switch teams as a result of a really big transfer (at least for the time) but Pallister paid his bosses back with his vital performance in the back four. His partnership with Steve Bruce was crucial to United’s inaugral EPL triumph in 1993 and the double winning feat that followed the year after. The Devil's genesis as a team emerging from the wilderness of League success owes much to players like Pallister. Nevertheless he appears to have dropped back, behind the likes of Nemanja Vidic, Jaap Staam and Rio Ferdinand when discussing United’s central defence legends and he is rarely mentioned in the same breath as those later stars by the club faithful. THis is somewhat of a shame.
8. Ray Parlour – In an Arsenal midfield and strike force loaded with a plethora of talented continental players (Anelka, Bergkamp, Petit, Viera, Overmars ), Ray Parlour was the standout Englishman, He chimed in regularity from the wide position and gave the Gunners balance in an attack that was by all measures extremely lethal.
9. Markus Babbel – At the height of his play Babbel was the best RB in the Premier League (yes..he was better than Gary Neville). He could tackle move forward, pass and cut through from the periphery. A great asset to both Liverpool (especially in the 2001 Treble winning season) and Germany Babbel’s career was prematurely ended as a result of a debilitating immune system illness. Had he not been so inflicted I believe that his presence on the pitch would have helped Liverpool avoid the drop off in performance that defined the end of the Houllier era.
10. Shay Given – Playing in goal behind the porous defence that is the Newcastle back four is no easy task. Not only does it invoke images of running across a shooting range when the Marines are engaged in target practice it has to be from a keeper’s perspective an exercise in frustration. Yet Irish national keeper Given played this role for twelve years (354 games) rescuing the Magpies with quiet dignity from many a perilous outcome.