Who tops the all-time Premier League table if you use players instead of clubs? – The Athletic

By Nick MillerMar 20, 2024

Do you know how many players have made 50 or more Premier League appearances? Go on, have a guess.

Very close!

It’s actually 1,884.

Unlucky.

There are many ways of ranking these players: goals, appearances, titles, all sorts of complicated advanced metrics, plain old subjective preference. Another is how many points each of them has won with their team(s).

The Athletic’s biggest brains have — with a little help from Opta — compiled a comprehensive list of how many points per game every player to make 50 or more Premier League appearances has won in his time, so we thought we’d take a look through it and share some of the more interesting nuggets.

Clearly, this is not a perfect method of judging players, but then nothing really is. Plus, we’re not really judging players here, just dipping into our big stats bucket and hopefully producing some interesting nuggets for us all to merrily chomp on.

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Let’s start with the basics: which player has won the most points per game? Who is, pound for pound, the most valuable player (judged on this by-no-means-comprehensive metric) to ever appear in the Premier League?

As you might imagine, the top of the list is dominated by Manchester City players and more specifically City players from the Pep Guardiola era: eight of the top 10, in fact, have made all/the majority of their appearances in the competition for City. Aymeric Laporte is second with a points per game (PPG) of 2.52, then come Leroy Sane (third), Phil Foden (fourth), Ruben Dias (fifth), Bernardo Silva (sixth), Oleksandr Zinchenko (now of Arsenal, seventh), Ilkay Gundogan (eighth) and Ederson (10th).

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But sensationally, City DON’T have the number one: the top dog is in fact… Arjen Robben, who made 67 appearances for Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea, losing just four times to give him a PPG of 2.58. If Robben was a team, at that rate he would have won 98 points over a single 38-game Premier League season — enough for the title in all but two of its 31 completed campaigns (and he would take it to goal difference in another).

And since we’ve given you the top, we must unfortunately now go to the bottom: the player with the worst PPG after at least 50 appearances is, with apologies to him and his family… former Cardiff City, Aston Villa and Middlesbrough forward Rudy Gestede, who has just 0.39 PPG to show for his 51 appearances. If he was a team, Gestede would be worth 14.9 points across 38 games, not enough to survive in any season, but better than Derby County managed in 2007-08, at least.

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Now, the ones in the middle: of our 1,884, who is the most average player the Premier League has ever seen?

Well, there are a few ways of measuring that: the mean average PPG is 1.35 and a look down the list reveals 23 players achieved that feat of the middling, including but not limited to Lucas Neill, Yohan Cabaye, Ronnie Rosenthal, Ian Woan, Peter Crouch and the only one of them with a Champions League winner’s medal… Djibril Cisse. His stints at Sunderland and Queens Park Rangers probably brought his numbers down a bit after the Liverpool years.

The median average — the player literally in the middle of the list — is former Southampton, Villa and Wolverhampton Wanderers maverick Hassan Kachloul, with a PPG of 1.28. You remember him, surely? No? Maybe ask your parents.

Hassan Kachloul in January 2000 (Mike Hewitt /Allsport)

And finally, to make use of the one thing I really remember from maths at school, the mode average — the most frequent number in the list — is 1.21, achieved by a whopping 39 players, including multiple Champions League winner Michel Salgado, notorious bruiser Julian Dicks, free-kick appreciators’ favourite James Ward-Prowse and social media’s Neville Southall.

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Now let’s have a look at some records.

The man with the most Premier League appearances, Gareth Barry (653), collected points at an appropriately neat 1.50 per game. The man with the most league titles, games won and points won is Ryan Giggs (13, 407 and 1,359 respectively), and his PPG is 2.15. The Premier League’s record goalscorer, The Athletic’s own Alan Shearer, has a PPG of 1.63.

His feats for Blackburn Rovers and Newcastle United mean Shearer is also one of 34 players to have scored 100 or more Premier League goals: would you like to know which of those 34 has the highest and lowest PPG? If you’d given me £1million, I would have bet it on it being Sergio Aguero, but actually, his 2.19 is a little way behind Didier Drogba’s 2.24. And the lowest? Well, that’s Matt Le Tissier, on 1.13. Some sort of deep-state conspiracy, no doubt.

(John D McHugh/AFP via Getty Images)

A record that you might not know (and that the man himself might not want to know) is the player with the most ever defeats, at a round 200: that’s Mark Schwarzer, formerly of Middlesbrough, Fulham, Chelsea and Leicester City, whose PPG is 1.27. And since we’ve done most wins and losses, we might as well do draws… which is Barry, perhaps predictably, way out in front on 193.

The man with the highest PPG without a Premier League title to his name is William Saliba, 11th overall on 2.34, although that of course could change pretty soon. Conversely, the player with the lowest PPG but who does have a title on his CV is Costel Pantilimon: his seven appearances in goal for Manchester City earned him a medal 10 years ago, but after topping up his appearances total at Sunderland and Watford, he bowed out with a PPG of 1.09. Also a historical nod here to Graeme Sharp, who has a Premier League PPG of 0.98 from his 55 Premier League games for Oldham Athletic but who won the title twice in its old Division One days with Everton in the 1980s.

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Because this is the Premier League, we have to think about the money.

The most expensive Premier League player of all time is Enzo Fernandez, who is yet to qualify for our experiment here because he hasn’t yet made 50 appearances in the competition (eight more to go). So next on the list, with 164 appearances and 1.65 PPG to his name… is Jack Grealish, of Villa and now serial champions City.

In fact, if we want to go down the top 10 most expensive incoming transfers and work out the best-performing player, by PPG, the top man is Mr Chaos himself, Liverpool’s Darwin Nunez, with 2.11 PPG from 53 appearances.

A couple of other top PPG-ers per club…

Want to have a guess who Liverpool’s is, at ninth overall? Nope, not him. Nor him. Not even him. It’s Naby Keita on 2.38 from 84 appearances, his numbers presumably pumped up by being a rotation option (read: generally playing in the easier games) during their most dominant spell.

Keita – Liverpool’s best player in the Premier League era? (Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

Tottenham’s top man is technically William Gallas with 1.97, but that is slightly rum given the former Chelsea and Arsenal defender only made 61 of his 321 appearances for Spurs; it’s a similar story with the next two on their list, Carlo Cudicini and Eidur Gudjohnsen. So their ‘true’ best performer (ie, the one who made all his appearances for Tottenham) is much more satisfying: it’s Hugo Lloris, with 1.89. Harry Kane, since you ask, sits on 1.84… for now.

How do these individual performances compare to team points per game?

The all-time Premier League PPG leaders are Manchester United, who are just — just — still clinging onto the coveted ‘The only team to average more than two points per game in Premier League history’ title, with an all-time PPG of 2.04. Three of our 1,884 players currently have that exact record, too, and in an example of the most narratively satisfying outcome it’s possible to have from a daft little exercise like this, one of them is Roy Keane.

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Then there’s the worst.

Which, perhaps surprisingly, is not Swindon Town from 1993-94 or Derby or even Sheffield United this season, but actually Huddersfield Town, whose 76 Premier League games over two seasons gained them 53 points — or 0.69 per match, for our purposes. The only player to have that mark, alas, never played for them: it’s Watford and Fulham hero Hamer Bouazza. Although Steve Mounie, who made all of his 59 Premier League appearances for Huddersfield, is not far above him on 0.71, so there’s that to cling to.

What about if you want a player to just avoid relegation and no more than that?

Well, first we need to work out the average points per game a club requires to stay up, which we’ve taken by looking at the points total of the teams finishing third-bottom each season and adding one, rather than the total of the fourth-bottom team, and comes out at 0.97.

There are 10 players on that number, only two of whom have never been relegated from the Premier League: one-time Everton golden boy Danny Cadamarteri and former Crystal Palace and Newcastle forward Dwight Gayle. That’s right: Gayle, who seems to exist firmly in the ‘Too good for the Championship, not good enough for the Premier League’ limbo, has never actually been part of a relegated team.

Finally, let’s try to cause some familial rifts: of the siblings and fathers/sons to have played in the Premier League, who comes out on top?

Ian Wright’s 1.56 tops Shaun Wright-Phillips’ 1.46; perhaps unsurprisingly, the battle of the Schmeichels is a resounding victory for dad Peter (1.95) over Kasper (1.52); likewise, Erling vs Alfie isn’t especially close, the junior Haaland taking that battle by a whopping 2.29 to 1.34.

(Michael Regan/Getty Images)

On to the brothers.

Gary Neville, by shrewdly staying at Manchester United for his entire career, bests Phil, who had 11 seasons at United then eight with Everton, 2.14 to 1.90; Rio is, of course, the top Ferdinand, his mark of 1.95 comfortably ahead of Anton’s 1.21 (with their second-cousin Les on 1.45); there’s an element of bald men fighting over a comb to the Ayews’ battle, but Jordan takes it, his 1.06 marginally better than Andre’s clean 1.0; you’re presumably dying to know which Caldwell sibling has the higher score — well, it’s Steven, roaring ahead of Gary 1.07 to 1.05.

So there you have it. Was this a worthwhile use of our time? Did you learn something? Did you have fun?

The answer to all of those questions is probably a resounding ‘Yeah, sort of!’, but hopefully you don’t entirely regret reading.

(Top photos: Getty Images)

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Nick Miller is a football writer for the Athletic and the Totally Football Show. He previously worked as a freelancer for the Guardian, ESPN and Eurosport, plus anyone else who would have him.

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