RANKED: Ten best Premier League players in A-League history

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With Perth Glory’s high-profile signing of Daniel Sturridge, let’s have a look at the ten players that got fans excited when their name was announced.

We’ve ranked the best ten.

Highly commended: Thomas Sørensen

While not making our top ten list, the Danish goalkeeper is worth a mention due to just how well-known he was at the time of his signing.

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Due to his position, there was a lack of hype surrounding his announcement with many Melbourne City fans questioning the club’s decision to ‘waste’ a visa spot on a goalkeeper.

The then 39-year-old soon squashed those doubts with a number of slick performances between the sticks, culminating the A-League Goalkeeper of the Year award.

 

Number 10: William Gallas

Signing with Perth Glory one year after the incredible trio of Alessandro Del Piero, Shinji Ono, and Emile Heskey joined the A-League, the central defender was seen by some as another great to join the league.

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Unfortunately, Gallas was well past his best by the time he put on a Perth jersey with injuries taking his toll. The former French international and Arsenal captain only played 15 matches and retired at season’s end.

 

Number 9: Damien Duff

Like Gallas, Duff was well past his best when he signed for Melbourne City in the 2014/15 season with his trademark pace starting to slow down. Combined with City’s signing of David Villa at the same time, the hype train was not so big for the Irish international.

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Still, he was an exciting name for Premier League fans who had been watching the winger devastate opposition fullbacks for years while wearing the colours of Blackburn Rovers and Chelsea.

His highlight at City was assisting the opening goal of the year for Villa, scoring only one goal before returning to his homeland at the end of the season.

 

Number 8: Luis Garcia

This is as big as it gets for the Central Coast Mariners. Beloved by Liverpool fans, there was genuine excitement when the Mariners announced the attacker on a short-term contract in 2016.

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Devoid of any joy for a few seasons, this signing gave the loyal Coasties something to cheer about and attach pride too, though opposition fans couldn’t help but point out that Garcia was coming out of retirement, having most recently appeared in a ‘legends’ game months prior.

Still, it was a joy to see fans in the Gosford stands once again (even if many of them were wearing Liverpool shirts), and from all accounts Garcia was a great fit in the squad, and even helped engage the club’s backroom staff.

 

Number 7: Robbie Fowler

Entering the league in new territory, North Queensland Fury needed a big name to solidify their position in professional sport – and they got one of the biggest names in football when they signed former England international, Fowler.

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By the time he joined the A-League, the striker had become a genuine journeyman but there was no doubting the pedigree and talent of the former Liverpool front man who had consistently scored goals his entire career.

Appearing in multiple major tournaments for England and scoring crucial goals for Liverpool, Fowler was well-known and well-loved by fans in Australia, and crowds came to watch him whenever he played at away grounds.

Back in Townsville though, even with acceptable results on the field, the club never really spread its roots and Fowler jumped ship after a single season – crossing the country to join Perth Glory. The aging Fowler never really set the A-League on fire, but he always contributed and no-one would say his time down under was not worthwhile.

After retirement, he returned to Australia to coach Brisbane Roar, making the finals in his first season and leaving mid-way through his second year due to the Covid pandemic. Just like his contribution on the field, his team never really set the league on fire but neither were they failures.

He did though create controversy after an exchange on Twitter with a football fan.

 

Number 6: Juninho

In the early years, Bling FC was a real thing and Sydney FC fans were proud of it. They had the cash and were willing to splash it. None more so than when they signed genuine Brazilian superstar, Juninho.

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The World Cup winner and Middlesbrough legend joined the club ahead of the 2007/08 season, instantly setting MySpace football pages and A-League web forums (remember those?) alive!

Despite the fanfare, and a reasonably strong squad, Sydney FC started poorly and injury was the main talking point of Juninho’s season with the Sky Blues. He is most remembered for winding back the clock and putting on an incredible performance in a 5-3 win against David Beckham’s LA Galaxy in front of 80,00 fans. But that was a rare highlight in what was a disappointing season that saw him released before he announced his retirement.

 

Number 5: Emile Heskey

One of the ‘big three’ marquee signings of the 2012/13 pre-season, Heskey joined the Newcastle Jets and made an immediate impact. While Del Piero and Ono were huge names, Heskey brought English Premier League pedigree – something that the casual football fan in Australia craves: even if for the former England striker was more well-known for the goals he missed than the goals he scored.

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Despite this, he scored five goals in his first six matches and – along with Del Piero – was the major attraction which led to a A-League regular season record of 164,367 viewers tuning into a single match when Sydney FC hosted the Jets in Round 2.

The Jets still failed to make finals and Heskey’s goals dried up in his second season down under but the big man’s contributions were significantly more positive than they were negative. He joined Bolton Wanderers in the Championship after leaving Newcastle where he played another two seasons before retirement.

 

Number 4: Daniel Sturridge

He might not be the internet meme sensation that Heskey was, but Sturridge joins the A-League with serious pedigree.

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Tipped to be a prodigy coming through the Manchester City youth ranks, Sturridge showed glimpses of his potential but joined Chelsea after frustration at his limited minutes as a teenager at City. Sturridge showed his goal-scoring prowess at Chelsea, but despite winning the Premier League and being a 90th minute substitute in an FA Cup Final victory, his career never really took off until he signed for Liverpool.

It was his time at Anfield where truly became known around the world: dazzling defences as a regular started, scoring regularly, and entertaining children and adults alike with his catch dance celebration. He even scored in a World Cup!

Injuries, suspensions, and new singings all contributed to him falling down the pecking order at Liverpool, but at his peak he was one of the most entertaining players in European football.

While it is impossible to know how Sturridge’s time in Perth will go, it is best to enjoy the moment as it is not every day an A-League club signs a player with two Champions League medals, two FA Cup Winners Medals, a Premier League Medal and multiple England caps.

 

Number 3: Tim Cahill

By the time Cahill signed with Melbourne City, he was the heart, soul, and face of the Socceroos. A household name and Australia’s all-time goal scorer, Cahill had eclipsed the likes of Mark Viduka and Harry Kewell as the most popular football player in the nation and Cahill-fever really had taken hold.

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His goal-scoring exploits, famous boxing celebration (which Archie Thompson claims was stolen from him), and media-darling personality mad his signing in 2016 the biggest one in the A-League since Kewell or Del Piero.

There was a tinge of bitterness in the fact he signed with two cashed-up Chinese Super League teams before finally coming to the A-League, but for most fans this was easy to look-over, especially when his presence led to much-needed instant success for Melbourne City.

Putting aside his vital contribution of winning over the heart of Yoshi (again, remember him?), Cahill was in red-hot form for City, scoring goals at will including in his A-League debut, and in the FFA Cup Final – helping City to their first piece of silverware in the process.

Cahill ended up leaving City in search of more game time, and opinion on his time in the league and as a legacy player is divided – but the hype upon his arrival and the impact he had on peaking the interest of football casuals around Australia was very noteworthy.

 

Number 2: Harry Kewell

It can be easy to forget just how much hype Harry Kewell’s signing brought to the A-League when he finally signed for Melbourne Victory in 2011. At the time, the flashy winger was still the Socceroo’s most well-known player and the ‘will he won’t he join the A-League’ saga that played out in the media went on for months.

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At times, Sydney FC, Brisbane Roar, and Perth Glory looked like the front-runners to sign Kewell before Victory swopped in with a contract that reportedly had merchandise and appearance clauses written into it.

While Victory finally secured Kewell’s signature, they failed to invest in the rest of the squad meaning the team’s poor performances quickly subdued the fanfare of their star player’s arrival, and somewhat tainted his time at the club.

And while most fans won’t remember his time fondly, the media sensation surrounding his signing was only ever beaten once.

 

Number 1: Dwight Yorke

The original is often the best and it proves to be so with Dwight Yorke. Signed to help boost the profile of the A-League in its inaugural season, Yorke was everything the young competition needed: flashy, exuberant, and successful.

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A Manchester United legend, Yorke had won almost everything possible to win: the League Cup, FA Cup, Premier League, and the Champions League. He has also need named Premier League Payer of the Season and Premier League Golden Boot.

It’s a cliché to say his off-field antics at Sydney FC were as well-known as his on-field ability, but there was no doubt to the impact he had on the field for the Sky Blues. He scored their first ever A-League goal, set-up the Grand Final winning goal by Steve Corica, and won the Joe Marston Medal.

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At the same time, he helped lead his native Trinidad and Tobago to their first and only World Cup Finals appearance. At the conclusion of the A-League season, Yorke showed he still had quality, joining Sunderland where he played three more seasons (two of them in the Premier League).

Yorke proved his drawing power once again when he played a one-off game for Sydney FC against Everton where his appearance overshadowed Cahill in front of a crowd of 40,466.

In 2015 he was inducted into the Sydney FC Hall of Fame, capping off his remarkable contribution to the club and the league. Yorke is perhaps the only ex-Premier League player to fully live up to the fanfare and expectations.

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James Taylor
A freelance writer for various websites and organisations, James follows many sports but is life-long fan of football in Australia.

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