Sunday, July 21, 2024

Fringe Premier League Hall of Fame starting XI: Who should almost make the cut when the sure-things are set

The Premier League Hall of Fame is back, the promise of heady nostalgic discourse dashed by the instantaneous realization that this endeavor hasn’t even made it to the starting line yet. Ashley Cole is the first inducted from the class of 2024, he will be joined by two more from a list of 15 who really ought to have been there from day one. Assessing the relative merits of John Terry, Yaya Toure and Cesc Fabregas? What are we doing here? Even a Hall of Fame with the most stringent of entry criteria would have those players as locks.

It is as if English football has really not grasped this most American of institutions. Well I, an English person, have checked with some of our in-house Americans who have confirmed what I have long suspected, what deep down you have always known. The purpose of a Hall of Fame is not to honor generational greatness, to establish a sporting canon for future generations. It’s to provide fodder for columnists, sports radio and podcasts. Is Carmelo Anthony Hall of Fame worthy? Ok but is he first ballot Hall of Fame worthy? That sort of stuff.

Right now, it feels like a lifetime before we’re going to get to those sorts of debates through official Premier League channels. By the time we get to confirming the Eden Hazards and N’Golo Kantes we’ll have to get around to Mohamed Salah and Harry Kane. Then before you know it it’ll be Erling Haaland and Bukayo Saka. These are not the candidacies we want to debate. No we want to get into the fringes of the Hall of Fame. The streets won’t forget Dimitri Payet, but will the league’s pantheon of stars? You might not love Emmanuel Adebayor, but dammit do you respect him?

Here then, for the purposes of discourse, we present an XI of fringe Hall of Famers. Who’s in? Who’s out? We may never decide:

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GK: Nigel Martyn

Three times in the PFA Team of the Year, twice a Golden Glove winner, before that award existed and the only goalkeeper not to start as England stunned the world on their way to winning Le Tournoi in 1997. Nigel Martyn is never going to get younger generations digging around on YouTube to find skills comps. If they do, they’ll be baffled to discover that such videos were once soundtracked by Welsh MOR merchants Feeder. However, for most of the 1990s and early 2000s, the sort who opposition fans would fear having one of those days where nothing was passing him. Is that Hall of Fame worthy? Or do I just have a rose-tinted view of my early years of football fandom.

RB: Seamus Coleman

Now we’re into the debate I really want to have. What price more than a decade of being a top 10 player in your position, a few of being one of the best and one or two where you might just have been the Premier League’s right back (the early 2010s in Seamus Coleman’s case)?  A lock for the Jamie Redknapp Wing of Top, Top, Top, Top, Top, Top Professionals, does Coleman have the length and breadth of quality for the highest tiers?

CB: Gary Cahill

This fringe XI can broadly be placed into three buckets. You have the useful starters on title winning teams, veterans that were extremely valuable across the league for a decade plus and those whose stars burned incandescently for two or three great years. You can jam Gary Cahill into at least two of those categories and if I were in a particularly pugnacious mood I could give argue the third for his 2013-2017 peak.

CB: David Luiz

You’re thinking about that Gary Neville line, aren’t you? How can anyone dubbed a “Playstation footballer” be in the Hall of Fame? Perhaps, however, the pantheon can be used to address some historical wrongs. The English sport was not really ready for a center back whose great qualities were with the ball at his feet, rather than hurtling into challenges (or at least hurtling into challenges without getting sent walking). Maybe it’s time to own that mistake and make room for David Luiz.

LB: Phil Neville

Remember what I said earlier about useful starters on title winners? That’s Phil Neville for you. Six-time champions belong in the Hall of Fame eventually, right?

RM: Gareth Bale

Gareth Bale was so great for so long — arguably the best British footballer La Liga has ever seen — that it is easy to forget how little of his regal period was spent in the Premier League. For two seasons Bale was great, for one he was the best player in the league. For another two, however, he was not part of a winning team in a top flight game. Still 2012-13 was something else, a season of such peerless brilliance, xG busting on a weekly basis, that maybe that alone merits a spot.

CM: Gareth Barry

Initially this entry had James Milner’s name attached to it but then it became apparent that the Brighton midfielder will probably beat Gareth Barry to the Premier League appearance record if he plays into next season. The man with the most games played in the competition is probably a lock to make the Hall of Fame in due course, but what about the man with the second most? Barry was very good for a long time. Was he ever truly great? And does it matter?

CM: Christian Eriksen

He will have to retire first, but Christian Eriksen’s case might be rather more persuasive than you initially assume. Six more assists to go with the 75 he already has to his name and the Dane will leapfrog David Beckham to rank in the top 10 goal providers in Premier League history. He also has 53 goals to go alongside those he laid on for others. If the Hall of Fame were expanding at a pace greater than languid, it might not be long before Eriksen made the cut. As is, he might be trapped on the fringes for a while.

LM: Jay-Jay Okocha

Jay-Jay Okocha won’t make the Hall of Fame. He hasn’t won one Premier League title, let alone the three that constitute an eligibility criteria. He was never a player of the year or in a team of the decade and his time at Bolton Wanderers left him 76 games short of the 200 minimum for one club that would allow him to tick one of the boxes required. But for a fleeting moment, Okocha made the Premier League a much more fun place to be. And that means more to me then your criteria ever could, Richard Masters.

ST: Nicolas Anelka

None of the six Premier League clubs for which Nicolas Anelka turned out would particularly view him as an all-time great. Certainly he is unlikely to hear his name chanted by jubilant crowds at the Emirates Stadium or the Toughsheet Community Stadium. But, almost all of his former sides were better when Anelka, scorer of 125 Premier League goals and two time champion of England, was in them. 

ST: Romelu Lukaku

Recency bias can be a reputation killer. Romelu Lukaku’s Premier League legacy will probably be defined by his disastrous $125 million season at Chelsea, and if not that perhaps a disappointing ending to life at Manchester United. When Lukaku was good though… that run of games when he had Nacho Monreal on toast was a wonder to behold. Then there was the run to 80 Premier League goals before he even turned 24. In only 278 games, Lukaku broke into the Premier League’s top 20 scorers of all time. That the bad came at the biggest clubs will probably count against him in historic terms, but maybe those difficulties were more down to Manchester United and Chelsea than Lukaku.

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