Peter Schmeichel is widely regarded as one of the top keepers that the Premier League has ever seen, as he picked up five league titles between 1992 and 1999. Despite competition from the likes of Petr Cech and Edwin van der Sar down the years, Schmeichel is a worthy candidate for the number one shirt with his incredible highlight reel, unrivalled leadership skills and his seven years of brilliance between the Old Trafford posts.
The Best Players in Premier League History Based on Shirt Numbers
Number 1 - Peter Schmeichel
Number 2 - Gary Neville
As a one-club man, Gary Neville earned legendary status at Old Trafford during his 19-year career, in which he formed an impressive partnership with David Beckham on the United right. Neville won eight Premier Leagues and two Champions Leagues in his career, establishing himself as one of the most successful players in English football history.
The Premier League has seen some great right-backs down the years, but the number two shirt picks itself.
Number 3 - Ashley Cole
In the 2000s Ashley Cole was seen as one of the world’s best left-backs due to his monumental performances for Arsenal and Chelsea, including his battles with Cristiano Ronaldo. Cole is a three-time Premier League winner and was a part of Arsenal’s Invincible squad in 2003/04, but also played a pivotal role in Chelsea’s Champions League win in 2012.
Patrice Evra and other names deserve a shoutout, but Cole is the greatest left-back in English football history and one of the best to ever do it in this position. Easy call.
Number 4 - Patrick Vieira
After joining Arsenal in 1996 at the same time as Arsene Wenger, Patrick Vieira quickly made a name for himself as one of the most talented players in the league. A dominant midfielder who was pivotal in Arsenal’s successful spell in the late 90s and early 2000s.
Standing at 6 foot 4, Vieira was an imposing and intimidating figure for many and he formed a formidable midfield partnership alongside Emmanuel Petit, captaining Arsenal to their historic Invincible season. One of the very best to ever do it in his role.
Number 5 - Rio Ferdinand
Forming half of one of the league’s greatest ever centre-back partnerships, Rio Ferdinand redefined the role during his time at Old Trafford. Known for his ball-playing ability and calmness on the ball, Ferdinand is one of the finest defenders in the league’s history and has six Premier League titles in his cabinet.
He also captained United for a short while and from 2006-2010, the Englishman was arguably the best in the business.
Number 6 - Tony Adams
Alan Shearer claims that Tony Adams is the most difficult defender he ever faced, which goes a long way in explaining the brilliance of the former Arsenal captain, given how nobody has ever scored more goals than the ex-Newcastle United man.
Adams was named Gunners skipper at just 21, eventually going on to captain league-winning teams in three different decades in a career that spanned 22 years. The commanding centre-back is one of the greatest defenders this country has seen and goes down as one of England’s best-ever players.
Number 7 - Cristiano Ronaldo
Despite hitting his unrivalled heights in Spain and Italy, Cristiano Ronaldo still broke records in the Premier League in his early 20s and he is, without doubt, the best player to ever grace English football. Yes, based on his time solely in England, other names beat him to that claim, but in general terms, he is the best to play on those shores.
The Portuguese star started his time at United as an 18-year-old raw talent, who showed lots of promise but struggled at times with his end product. It's safe to say that the five-time Ballon d'Or winner kicked on in a big way, leading United to three consecutive league titles and a Champions League in 2008, scoring in the final.
Ronaldo also equalled the record for most goals in a season at that time with 31 from a 38-game season, with only Mohamed Salah surpassing this in 2018 with 32.
Number 8 - Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard
To avoid the obvious argument that will never be solved, we're picking them both.
As the greatest goalscoring midfielder the Premier League has seen, Frank Lampard also goes down as perhaps the best player in the history of Chelsea, and maybe even the best goalscoring midfielder in the modern era. On top of his 177 Premier League goals, Lampard also has 102 assists and three league titles to his name. Chelsea's all-time top scorer spent 13 trophy-laden years at Stamford Bridge, but also spent a year at Manchester City on loan, ironically scoring against his former club.
Steven Gerrard, on the other hand, is in the eyes of many, the best Premier League midfielder ever. The Liverpool legend infamously never won the league title, but he did, however, captain his boyhood club for over a decade and sometimes single handily carry them into the top four. All that really separated him from Lampard was goals, but given Gerrard's 212 goal involvements (120G, 92A) compared to Lampard's 279 in 105 fewer games, he wasn't too far behind in this department either.
Number 9 - Alan Shearer
Statistically speaking, with 260 Premier League goals to his name, there was no way anyone could take the number nine shirt over Alan Shearer.
As well as being the record goalscorer for the competition, Shearer also has a league title in his trophy cabinet, winning the league with Blackburn Rovers in 1995 against all the odds. The Geordie is one of the most iconic names in the history of the Premier League and is fully deserving of his status as a Premier League legend and unless Harry Kane can score 100 more goals in the competition before he departs, nobody is beating Shearer as the competition's best to ever do it in front of goal.
Number 10 - Sergio Aguero
Sergio Aguero will probably go down as Manchester City’s greatest ever player when his career at the Etihad comes to an end this season.
The Argentine was responsible for one of the most iconic moments in football history when scored a 95th-minute winner on the final day of the 2011/12 season to snatch the title away from their rivals United, handing City their first title in 44 years.
Aguero also boasts the best goals to game ratio in the competition's history with a goal every 108 minutes. On top of this, the striker also has 180 goals in 270 games so far, along with four league titles and he gets the number 10 spot based on that.
An honourable mention to the great Wayne Rooney, who could have easily took this shirt number too, but Aguero's goals can't be overlooked.
Number 11 - Ryan Giggs
No player epitomises the Premier League era quite like Ryan Giggs, as the United legend played and scored in each of the first 22 Premier League seasons.
The Welshman also holds the record for most titles won (13) and the most assists (162), alongside winning the PFA Player of the Year in 2008/09. Giggs’ longevity alone makes him a Premier League legend and his outstanding ability only adds to his status.
In truth, this one picks itself, as no number 11 has ever, and may never, come close.
Number 12 - Oliver Giroud
There are a bunch of number 12s down the years who have good spells in the shirt, but given its uncharacteristic nature and lack of title to a certain position, it's not quite a number that draws in legendary figures.
Players like Sami Hyypia and even Thierry Henry wore that shirt for a brief period, whilst Bryan Robson bagged two Premier League titles donning number 12, but he was not a starting player at this point. At the same time, the great Mark Hughes wore the shirt for Blackburn, but again, this was not exactly a notable time in his career.
Morten Gamst Pedersen is another man who wore the shirt for Blackburn, and after seven years with the club in the top flight, he deserves a shoutout. However, despite such brilliant goals, the Norwegian rarely competed inside the top eight, nor did he ever achieve double digits in terms of goals or assists in one campaign.
For the reasons above, we've gone with Oliver Giroud, who wore number 12 at Arsenal for six seasons and scored 69 league goals, which has only been bettered by Ian Wright, Dennis Bergkamp, Robin van Persie and Henry for the Gunners.
Giroud's highlight reel is one for the ages with some astonishing goals down the years, including one of the competition's best-ever with that scorpion kick against Crystal Palace.
Number 13 - Michael Ballack
Number 13 is another shirt number that is often applied to backup players and/or avoided by big-name players. Danny Murphy wore the shirt for Fulham for a while, but his time at Craven Cottage was a distant one from his Liverpool days.
With this said, we've gone for Michael Ballack. The German may not have been the sensational player he was in his homeland for Chelsea, but nevertheless, Ballack helped the Blues to a Premier League title and three FA Cups, and even had a brilliant turnover of seven goals in 18 appearances in his second campaign.
Much of Ballack's time was littered with rumours he wanted to move back to Germany, but whatever he did in west London worked for the duration he was there and although he's far from a Chelsea legend, the midfielder did well.
Number 14 - Thierry Henry
Thierry Henry. No further analysis needed.
The number 14 shirt is quite literally only famous because of him (and Johan Cruyff outside of England), with most forwards opting for the number nine, seven, 10 or 11 shirt. Henry was handed number 14, however, and not just is he the best to ever wear such a number, the Frenchman is perhaps the greatest player in Premier League history.
As Arsenal's record goalscorer, Henry is third on the all-time Premier League list with 176 goals, and he boasts two league titles and a record-breaking four Golden Boots.
number 15 - Nemanja Vidic
Alongside Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic formed one of the league’s best centre-back partnerships, as they won five league titles together.
Vidic was a warrior of a defender, often putting his head where most players would put their feet. The big Serbian is mentioned in the same conversation as the likes of Tony Adams, John Terry and Vincent Kompany as one of the toughest defenders in the league’s history and is a clear winner for the league’s best number 15.
number 16 - Roy Keane
Many see Roy Keane as the best captain in Premier League history and it’s hard to disagree. No captain has ever won more Premier League titles, with only Chelsea’s John Terry matching his five, whilst Keane's attitude is simply unrivalled within the realms of captaining a side.
The Irishman gained a reputation as one of the toughest midfielders in the league and his battles with Arsenal’s Patrick Vieira are legendary, as United and the Gunners reigned supreme in the late 90s and early 2000s. His 12 years at Old Trafford make him not only a United legend, but a Premier League one too.
Number 17 - Kevin De Bruyne
With Kevin De Bruyne in his sixth season at City, we cannot overlook the sheer brilliance of this man. Eden Hazard did wear Chelsea's number 17, but as he won both his Premier League medals with the Blues wearing Juan Mata's passed-down number 10 jersey, we feel De Bruyne deserves this one.
With 105 assists in 253 games for the club, the Belgian is the fastest player in Premier League history to 50 assists (123 games), and he might just be the best passer of a ball we've seen in the competition's history.
The likes of Paul Scholes and David Silva will rival this, but in terms of pure, unfiltered creativity and assists, De Bruyne takes the title as the best creative central midfielder we've seen in the Premier League. Now, with a third title inbound, the midfielder is set to go down as one of the best of all-time in English football.
In fact, quite incredibly, De Bruyne will likely surpass David Beckham in the all-time assists table this campaign and move into ninth in that regard, and within the next season or two, he will also likely move above Gerrard and former teammate, Silva.
De Bruyne also matched Henry's record last season of most assists in one season with 20.
Number 18 - Paul Scholes
Paul Scholes is arguably the best midfielder of his generation, or at least, the majority of his colleagues seem to think so. The United legend was always a step ahead of everyone every single game, and although he didn't rack up Gerrard and Lampard-esque numbers, Scholes commanded the United midfield for almost two decades.
Within this time, the Englishman took home 11 Premier League titles (only Giggs has more) and two Champions League medals and in the process, made the number 18 shirt famous worldwide, and for this reason, he's obviously our pick.
Number 19 - Dwight Yorke
After joining United from Aston Villa, Dwight Yorke quickly formed one of the greatest strike partnerships in Premier League history alongside Andy Cole. Yorke scored 48 of his 123 league goals for United, picking up three titles and 1999 Champions League trophy.
Yorke sits at number 17 on the all-time Premier League scoring chart, which also saw him claim the 1998/99 Golden Boot for 20 league goals in 32 games.
A brilliant servant for United and Villa and with most elite strikers down the years taking the number nine shirt, Yorke gets the number 19 spot here.
Number 20 - Robin van Persie
A Premier League great who played for two of the country’s top club, Robin van Persie’s goalscoring record in England was fantastic. After eight years at Arsenal, van Persie moved to United for around £24m and was an instant hit, leading his new club to their 20th league title.
A scorer of all types of goals, his finest strikes include breathtaking volleys against Charlton, Everton and Aston Villa. He chose the number 20 shirt at United in order to bring them their 20th title, making him the finest player to wear the number 20 in the Premier League era.
By Luke Feather