While the English Premier League is often regarded as the most competitive in the world and, as a result, the best football league in the world, it doesn’t mean the very best footballers have to go there.
Despite the desire from English fans to see some of the game’s greatest players come to prove themselves in the Premier League, the truth is that the league is not legacy defining. That being said, there are plenty of names where the thought of a stint in England does make your ears burn up.
Discounting the obvious greats from before the Premier League era of 1992 onwards – no Pele, Maradona, Eusebio etc – here are 30 of football’s greatest to have never done it in England.
A player that perhaps won’t be truly appreciated until he’s gone, the Brazilian midfielder has been crucial to Real Madrid’s 2010s dominance.
Casemiro is an baller at the base of a midfield three. Not only does he screen with complete precision, but he has enough technical ability to sit between Luka Modric and Toni Kroos with ease. Four Champions Leagues isn’t bad going; the Premier League would love him.
Creatively relentless and blessed with the pace and power to go with it, Figo could’ve been the perfect fit to rip the Premier League apart around his peak.
Five years at Barcelona saw him blossom into the world’s best, and while his controversial move to Real Madrid in 2001 did no harm, it would’ve been nice to see him head to England instead.
Fair play to Raul for devoting the vast majority of his career to his boyhood club. 323 goals, six La Liga titles and three Champions Leagues suggests it was a fair decision.
But still, to have such an unbelievable goal getter in the English top flight would’ve been something. Van Nistelrooy, Henry and himself all bossing the Premier League in the early 2000s.
Forming the base of arguably football’s most talented and dominant midfield trio ever, Sergio Busquets never fancied the move to England.
Rumour has it he heard Michael Carrick was making him look average without breaking much of a sweat.
There isn’t a single club in the world that wouldn’t snap up Joshua Kimmich at the first chance if Bayern were to ever even suggest he was available in the slightest.
He can press, tackle, run and ping a ball from any angle you could possibly imagine. The German would be the prized asset at any top Premier League side, but is likely to play his football with Bayern for the foreseeable.
The world was particularly close to seeing Toni Kroos pass the Premier League to shreds when it was believed he had all but agreed to join Manchester United in 2014.
But following David Moyes’ dismissal and Louis van Gaal’s appointment, the deal died off and Real Madrid snapped him up instead. Who knows, perhaps his love of Robbie Williams will bring him to England before retirement.
Another one where you have to admire the loyalty, but Puyol was built for the Barclays, in truth.
No nonsense at the back, taking ankles and saving shots off the goal line for fun. His crunching tackles and leadership would’ve seen him earn even higher levels of legend status in the Premier League.
Should Manchester City have had their way in 2009, Kaka would’ve headed to the Premier League mid-season to treat fans and haunt Manchester United and Liverpool more frequently.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be and he joined Real Madrid that summer.
The Premier League needs some super Italian streaks of loyalty, and there is nobody more suited to provide that than Totti.
A romantic Roma departure to become a Barclays cult hero would’ve given football the new lease of life it needed. And put the Premier League on watch for its lack of suave-ness.
Perhaps one of the sport’s most underrated players, Marcelo was the attacking left back every club wants at the top level for a decade.
Bombing down the left for Los Blancos, the Brazilian in his peak had it locked at the back, but was also fine for a goal contribution or supporting the attack. In a physical and counter attacking English game, Marcelo could’ve been a perfect fit.
There’s still plenty of time for Mbappe to head to the Premier League considering his age, but it hasn’t happened yet, so he’s here.
The Frenchman is simply electric. Watching him test defences with his speed, agility and flair would be a treat. Time for someone to dig into their pocket.
A man who has forged a legacy as one of the game’s greatest and wisest goalkeepers, Gianluigi Buffon spent the bulk of his career in his native Italy.
The lure is understandable and for someone so good, a high fee was inevitable. Would’ve been interesting to watch him try and negotiate a Morten Gamst Pedersen free-kick, though.
Brazil’s record appearance holder, Cafu combined textbook flair and on the ball excellence with a cutthroat approach to defending at full back.
His peak years were spent in Italy with Serie A booming, but Cafu could’ve been a force should a Premier League side have come in and lured him over. Even in his senior years with Milan, there was an asset to be had.
For a man with so much longevity in his career, it’s a pity Andrea Pirlo never ventured into a top five league outside of Italy.
Bossing it at each of Inter, AC Milan and Juventus, his sublime passing and deep-lying playmaking was never witnessed in England. Perhaps he’d have struggled with the pace of the game, but it’s still a sight fans would’ve adored.
Despite the seemingly never ending speculation, Muller has never found himself actually committing to leaving Bayern Munich.
The German’s movement, creativity and finishing has seen him develop into one of the world’s most intelligent forwards. He was pursued by Manchester United in 2014, but opted to stay in Germany.
Once Zanetti found Inter, he had found his home for the rest of his career.
The Premier League simply couldn’t compete with Serie A in the 90s, but by the 2000s, it would’ve been nice for someone to tempt the Argentine to England and see how he’d fare in stopping the likes of Henry and Van Nistelrooy.
Captaining West Germany to World Cup triumph in 1990, Matthaus was a different class and royalty in the Bundesliga.
The inaugural FIFA World Player of the Year played at five World Cups, but spent the best part of the 90s at Bayern Munich in a second spell. Perhaps if he had managed to get a move to Manchester United, he would’ve been picking up a Champions League winner’s medal in 1999.
Dominating the late 2000s and early 2010s with his reintroduction and popularisation of the sweeper-keeper role, Neuer has always been a loose cannon.
His towering physical presence and modernised style would’ve shocked England, but merely pushed the game on from an earlier point.
Like Totti in Rome, Maldini’s loyalty to Milan could not be bought for all the money in the world.
Someone in England should’ve tried, though. The guy was a monster over his 25 season playing career and would’ve been a hit in England for his Rolls Royce defending. Well, Ferrari is probably more fitting.
It took Ribery a while to find his feet in football’s main event, but his 2007 move to Bayern Munich was where it all went up.
The electric Frenchman stayed in Bavaria until 2019, sweeping up trophies like it was nothing and skinning defenders on the wing with zero remorse. Sheffield United apparently made him an offer in 2019, but he headed to Fiorentina instead. His loss.
For a man that carved out such an exceptional legacy in Spain with Real Madrid, it would’ve been fascinating to see how Casillas would’ve fared in England.
What he lacked in height and command he made up for with freakish reflexes and a seriously deep reading of the game. Seeing how far those attributes and limitations would’ve taken him in the Premier League would’ve made for an interesting ride.
Probably for the best that the Premier League never saw Iniesta take to the field.
His passing and final third vision would’ve been enough to decimate just about every side in the league, now matter how low the block might sink.
Would have paid ungodly amounts of money to see Xavi and Iniesta head to the Barclays in their prime. Even past their prime, they’d still have ripped it up.
England has never seen such consistent levels of midfield dominance like that. And if a Liverpool/Arsenal/Chelsea had snapped either of the two up, United might have had more of a kryptonite in the 2000s.
Goals, assists, flair, vision and physicality, Rivaldo had just about everything you want in a star forward. Better yet, he wasn’t even limited to the second striker role.
He won the Ballon d’Or in 1999 with Barcelona. But at the same time, David Beckham was thriving in England for similar levels of creativity. Bringing the Brazilian to the top flight would’ve made for a battle beyond.
A serial winner and leader with elements of s**thousery flowing through his veins, there is perhaps no defender greater suited to the Premier League.
United are always the club aimlessly linked to wantaway talents and they’ve been close to Ramos in the past, but nobody has ever managed to make a deal stick. Unfortunately. A big Premier League ‘what if’.
The man that made so many fall in love with football.
Watching Ronaldinho elastico his way around the world throughout the 2000s was a dream. But in between dominating with PSG, Barcelona and Milan, a spell in the Barclays would’ve been unrelenting fun. Your dad would’ve hated every second.
We’d like to call a potential move to the Premier League for Lewandowski fun, but in truth, it would only be fun for fans of his employers.
The Poland international scores goals at a sickening rate for Bayern. Bringing him to the Premier League would be a cheat code for whoever could pull it off. And with the way he is continually linked, a move cannot be ruled out.
Sauce on spill. Before sweeping up the Champions League as Real Madrid manager, Zizou was balling out for club and country throughout the 90s and 2000s.
The Premier League almost witnessed him first hand in 1995. Blackburn had just won the title and were considering a young Zidane following a fine season at Bordeaux, but opted against the move and instead signed Adam Reed and Matty Holmes. That’s all you need to know.
It’s mental to think that knee injuries cost Ronaldo two of the best years of his career, and yet he is still heralded as one of the greatest ever.
Pace, power, and a shot range that could break the speed of light from any angle on a good day, Il Fenomeno never made it to the English top flight. God only knows how the Premier League would’ve fared if he had come over.
Yes. Yes he could do it on a wet Monday night in Stoke. He could do it with one boot and a hangover, and you wouldn’t be able to tell.
Messi has absolutely no need to come to the Premier League and prove anything; his six Ballons d’Or reaffirm that. But we wouldn’t be against Manchester City making a sly move when he’s done with Paris Saint-Germain.