By Steve Mitchell (@barafundler)
Eric Cantona – Manchester United 1992-97
The undisputed “King of Old Trafford” to the modern generation, Eric Cantona was the catalyst that changed the course of history of one of the world’s biggest football clubs. Arriving from reigning champions Leeds United in November 1992, the French maestro was the missing link that turned an under achieving club back into a world superpower. His arrival ended 26 years of hurt for the Old Trafford faithful as United went on to lift the inaugural Premier League trophy, their first domestic championship since 1967. Two more league titlesfollowed, plus two FA Cup’s and a nine month ban for the infamous kung-fu kick on a Crystal Palace supporter in a league game at Selhurst Park in 1995. The Frenchman’s time in England was a truly memorable one.
Gianfranco Zola – Chelsea 1996-2003
Brought to London by Ruud Gullit in November 1996, the mercurial Italian lit up the English Premier League with some breath-taking displays. At the end of his first season he was an FA Cup winner.The following season he was instrumental in Chelsea winning the Uefa Cup Winners Cup and the Football League Cup. He was back at Wembley again in 2000 to taste more FA Cup glory. In 2003 shortly before his departure from Stamford Bridge, he was voted Chelsea’s greatest ever player by the clubs supporters. His wonderful ability on the field and his warm generosity off it meant the little Italian was respected by all lovers of the beautiful game. He was awarded an OBE in 2004 for his services to football.
Dennis Bergkamp – Arsenal 1995-2006
Outside of the Emirates Stadium there are two bronze statues in honour of two Arsenal legends; one of those legends is Dutch midfield maestro Dennis Bergkamp. He arrived in London in the summer of 1995 for a then club record fee of £7.5 million from Inter Milan and 315 appearances later; he had added three Premier League and four FA Cup winners’ medals to his collection.When Arsène Wenger arrived to take charge of Arsenal in 1996, he decided that Bergkamp should play in a more advanced role; it was a tactical masterstroke and resulted in the Dutchman being voted the Football Writers and Players Player of the season for 1997/98. He was part of the “invincibles” team of 2004 who went an entire season unbeaten.
Thierry Henry – Arsenal 1999-2007
When Frenchman Thierry Henry arrived at Arsenal in 1999 his career had stalled badly. A disastrous year in Serie A, being played out of position at Juventus, had left him deflated and demoralised. ArsèneWenger brought him to London and transformed him into one of the world’s deadliest strikers. He remains the clubs all-time top marksman with 228 goals in all competitions. He won two league titles and three FA Cups with The Gunners and picked up the Premier League Golden Boot award for top goalscorer on four occasions (three years in succession between 2003 -06).His bronze statue also resides outside the Emirates Stadium.
Peter Schmeichel – Manchester United 1991-99
Another masterstroke by Sir Alex Ferguson brought the big Danish goalkeeper to Old Trafford in the summer of 2001 for just £500,000. An imposing presence at six foot three inches, the often controversial, larger than life Schmeichel remains without question, the greatest shot stopper in the Premier League era. Always bellowing instructions to his hapless defenders, he left United in 1999 after helping the club to clinch an unprecedented treble of league championship, FA Cup and Champions League crowns. Overall he won five Premiership titles, three FA Cups, a Football League Cup and of course, the Champions League. He also represented Aston Villa and Manchester City in English football’s top-flight.