James Milner isn’t the most glamorous name the Prem has ever seen. In fact, he’s a bloke who got his biggest ever laugh doing the ironing.
Yet by dint of professionalism, fitness and application, he’s just played his 500th Premier League match – joining an exclusive club of just 12 other men. Which got us thinking: which stars have we actually spent our precious hours watching in the post-1992 era? Forget Cristiano Ronaldo and Luis Suarez – who are the players that really define this league? And can they be shoehorned into some kind of XI?
You’ll be delighted to know they can. Two of this 13 are goalkeepers, so by benching one we can easily find a formation to accommodate the rest. So here it is. Love ’em or loathe ’em, this is the definitive Premier League side. But first, a word from our runner-up…
Back-up GK: Mark Schwarzer
Games: 514, PL clubs: Middlesbrough, Fulham, Chelsea, Leicester
Fantastic news. Our reserve goalie is the league’s ultimate lucky charm. Sure, the netminder who served Boro and Fulham with such distinction will be gutted not to start – but this was the man who sat on the bench as Chelsea won the title in 2014/15. Then he left for Leicester, and the Foxes did the same damn thing.
Yep, Mark Schwarzer played an altogether non-playing role in back-to-back title triumphs. With his Aussie backside on the bench, this side is basically unbeatable.
GK: David James
Games: 572, PL clubs: Liverpool, Aston Villa, West Ham, Man City, Portsmouth
Our No.1 is a player nicknamed ‘Calamity’? Warm up, Schwarzo. Just kidding. James may have been erratic at times – particularly in goal for Liverpool, though he’s hardly alone there – but the 6ft 5in England man could be a formidable, athletic stopper.
He’s also fourth on the all-time Premier League appearances list with 572. Coincidentally, this is roughly how many hairstyles he went through. Our favourite was that Clark Kent side-parting. Magnificent.
LB: Phil Neville
Games: 505, PL clubs: Man United, Everton
Ashley Cole ‘only’ played 385 Premier League games, so it’s welcome aboard to P-Nev. A versatile stalwart who could ‘do a job’ in various positions across defence and midfield, Neville broke through at Manchester United as a left-back (and understudy to Denis Irwin) and it was in this position that he played most frequently.
Unspectacular but efficient, he clocked up over 200 league appearances for both United and Everton.
CB: Rio Ferdinand
Games: 504, PL clubs: West Ham, Leeds, Man United, QPR
Ignore the bit at the start of his career where he couldn’t concentrate and the bit at the end where he looked a shadow of his former self at QPR – Ferdinand was an absolute Rolls-Royce of a centre-back at his peak.
That was mainly spent at Manchester United, where he made 300+ appearances and scooped six league titles, combining comfort on the ball with speed, size and strength. Ferdinand would make an all-time Premier League XI regardless of appearances, such was his presiding class at Old Trafford.
CB: Sol Campbell
Games: 503, PL clubs: Tottenham, Arsenal, Portsmouth, Newcastle
Pipped into 12th on the all-time appearance list by just one match, thanks to his own centre-back partner here. You have been absolutely merked, Sulzeer. Big Sol actually played the majority of his matches for Spurs, but after leaving for Arsenal in 2001 he’s undoubtedly better loved in that patch of north London.
An enigmatic chap who’s now manning the dugout at Macclesfield, but an excellent defender – with the bonus that we know he could actually play well with his centre-back partner, as the two were a solid element of England’s 2002 run to the World Cup quarter-finals.
RB: Jamie Carragher
Games: 508, PL club: Liverpool
Bested by his younger brother and his bromantic pundit partner: Gary ‘400 league games’ Neville is having a mare here. Neville Snr is pushed out of right-back spot by Carra, one of a trio of one-club men in this XI.
Carragher eventually established himself as a forever-bawling central defender at Liverpool. Yet he originally emerged as a right-back (who could also play on the left), one theory at the time being that he was too short to be a centre-back. That changed when everyone realised that: a) full-backs actually needed to have some attacking ability, and b) 6ft wasn’t actually small. Still, as solid a defender as he is a Nev needler.