Spanish players have made up some of the best in Premier League history.
They’ve not been quite as dominant as French imports but, especially this century, the Spaniards have really left an incredible mark on England’s top flight. Just this season alone, we’re blessed with Rodri running Manchester City’s midfield, while Stefan Bajcetic is emerging behind his more experienced compatriot, Thiago, at Liverpool. David Raya has also been pulling out all the stops in goal for Brentford.
But who has been the best? And who does miss out on our top 10?
10. Santi Cazorla
League Games: 129
Honours: FA Cup (2), Community Shield (2)
There are other Spaniards who had a good case to make this no. 10 spot: the incredibly consistent Mikel Arteta, the magically brief Michu, and then Pedro who was also good. But whilst they are all great players, they’re just not as special as Santi Cazorla.
Cazorla arrived at Arsenal and just took off from the start. He played every game in his debut campaign and was crucial in ensuring Arsenal stayed in the Champions League spots. He improved as time went on, being simultaneously an elegant passer and a tenacious tackler – he could also move with the ball if needed.
In the end, injuries (and the questionable standards of his teammates) stopped him from reaching his full height as a Premier League player and potentially moving up this list. But we’ll always have the moments of magic; especially the delirious free-kick that started Arsenal’s comeback in the 2014 FA Cup final, allowing them to end their trophy drought.
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9. Pepe Reina
Liverpool, 2005-2013 and Aston Villa 2020
League Games: 297
Honours: 2005 UEFA Super Cup, 2005/06 FA Cup, 2006 Community Shield, 2011/12 League Cup
Pepe Reina joined Liverpool when they were European Champions thanks to the goalkeeping heroics of Jerzy Dudek… and then made the team better. Reina won the golden gloves award in his first season and went on to keep an incredible 134 clean sheets for Liverpool, with a ratio of 0.47 per game, higher than any other goalie with 100 or more clean sheets.
The Spaniard made a Premier League comeback in January 2020, with Aston Villa on loan, managed to keep just two clean sheets in 12 appearances before returning to AC Milan.
8. Diego Costa
League Games: 89
Honours: Premier League (2), 2014/15 League Cup
Suffice to say Diego Costa was a controversial figure when playing for Chelsea. He wound up opponents and sometimes even his own teammates.
He fell out with two different managers and came close to leaving multiple times. But when he was focused? He was deadly, a bully of a striker who defenders hated facing and a huge part of Chelsea’s last two title wins, scoring 20 goals in each campaign.
Costa is, of course, back in the Premier League with Wolves but at 34, is nowhere near as effective as he once was, scoring just one goal so far this season.
7. Juan Mata
Chelsea and Manchester United, 2011-2022
League Games: 277
Honours: FA Cup (2), 2011/12 UEFA Champions League, UEFA Europa League (2), 2016 Community Shield, 2016/17 EFL Cup
Juan Mata got a new two-year deal at Manchester United in 2019 basically because he’s a really nice guy. No, seriously. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer spoke highly of his ability to mentor young players rather than play good football himself when his contract was renewed.
Still, it wasn’t always like this. Before David Moyes and Louis van Gaal got their hands on him, Juan Mata was one of the most vibrant and exciting players in the division. He lit it up for Chelsea (especially in 2012/13), less for United, but he nearly always performed when called upon. The sad thing is that he wasn’t really called upon anymore and left United fairly quietly in the summer of 2022, going on to join Galatasaray.
6. Xabi Alonso
League Games: 143
Honours: 2004/05 UEFA Champions League, 2005 UEFA Super Cup, 2005/06 FA Cup, 2006 Community Shield
It’s been a while but hopefully, people still remember Xabi Alonso, the impossibly elegant deep-lying playmaker who brought a sense of the impossible to the Premier League.
His first season ended with Liverpool lifting the Champions League and whilst they never reached that high again, the football they played with Alonso pulling the strings was breathtakingly brutal in its defensive resilience and attacking thrust.
Alonso was a master craftsman with an array of spectacular long-range passes and shots that could fill a YouTube highlight reel to bursting. A gift and a treasure to watch.
5. Fernando Torres
Liverpool and Chelsea, 2007-2014
League Games: 212
Honours: 2011/12 UEFA Champions League, 2012/13 UEFA Europa League
Fernando Torres won more as a bad player with Chelsea than he did as a great one with Liverpool, but that, and the horrible form he displayed on the way out of the Premier League, should not mask the way he came into the division swinging with the fury of a young Mike Tyson.
Torres was an almost supernatural blend of pace, power and precision finishing that, when he was fit, recalled the likes of Gabriel Batistuta. He never hit 30 goals in a single league season but when you think back, all you remember is him brutalising everything in sight (especially Manchester United) and leading the line for a truly phenomenal Liverpool side.
4. David de Gea
Manchester United, 2011-present
League Games: 409 (and counting)
Honours: Community Shield (3), 2012/13 Premier League, 2015/16 FA Cup, EFL Cup (2), 2016/17 UEFA Europa League
For a kid who came into the league thin as a pencil and got so easily buffeted about that even ex-Man Utd legends were calling him a waster on live TV (and he got dropped for Anders Lindegaard), it seems David de Gea knows how to bounce back.
The Spaniard adapted, won the league in his second season and for the five years after that was the only thing keeping Manchester United afloat as a relevant footballing institution (well, he had a little help from Zlatan Ibrahimovic at the end), winning their Player of the Year four times in five seasons between 2013 and 2018. Manchester United’s Mr. Wonderful, even though his powers have started to wane with the goalkeeper now looking set for a summer exit from the club.
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3. César Azpilicueta
League Games: 345 (and counting)
Honours: UEFA Europa League (2), Premier League (2), 2014/15 League Cup, 2017/18 FA Cup, 2020/21 Champions League, 2021 UEFA Super Cup, 2021 Club World Cup
It’s easy to forget but César Azpilicueta was once a flying wing-back in La Liga at Osasuna. Injuries at Marseille clipped his wings, and then José Mourinho had the plan of turning him into a defensive left-back.
It shouldn’t have worked, but in fact, transformed Azpilicueta into an absolute beast of a defender. So much so that he was able to take his talents back to right-back, then right centre-back, and finally back to right wing-back. Azpilicueta is a master of the art of defending (and the clipped diagonal cross), challenge him at your peril. Although limitations have sneaked into his game with age, Azpilicueta is a legend at Chelsea, taking over as captain in 2019 and leading the club to their second Champions League crown in 2021. Adding the Super Cup and Club World Cup, he has won it all.
“He embodies what Chelsea stands for, he is humble,” former Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel told reporters after Azpilicueta signed a new two-year deal last summer having been linked with a move away.
“He is a legend at the club and he can lead as example. He can keep on doing what he has done for so many years. It is very good news for us.”
2. Cesc Fabregas
Arsenal, 2003-2011 and Chelsea, 2014-2019
League Games: 350
Honours: Premier League (2), 2014/15 League Cup, 2017/18 FA Cup, 2018/19 UEFA Europa League
The only Spaniard to dominate the Premier League, leave, then come back to dominate it even more. Cesc Fabregas is an absolute phenomenon with two very distinct phases in his career. For Arsenal, he emerged as a teen sensation and played a scintillatingly direct variant of Spanish passing football. He thrilled us all even as he won nothing. Then he moved to Barcelona, a move which taught him his limits and how to win trophies (if nothing else).
Fabregas then brought that winning mentality back to the Premier League with Chelsea and instantly, with greater clarity and maturity than he showed in the red of Arsenal, helped guide them to two league titles in his first three seasons. He has had a phenomenal career as a Premier League player and it was a shame that he left quietly mid-season in 2019 with little commotion rather than at the end of a campaign to (deserved) hysterical fanfare and much fawning in the media. He was incredible.
Honourable mentions: Rodri, Mikel Arteta, Pedro, Luis Garcia, Jose Antonio Reyes, Michu
1. David Silva
Manchester City, 2010-2020
League Games: 309
Honours: FA Cup (2), Premier League (4), Community Shield (2), League Cup (5)
There are very few players who can have been said to mark an era in the Premier League, but David Silva is certainly one. From his arrival alongside Yaya Touré in the summer of 2010, Silva has consistently been one of the best midfielders in the division. A delightful blend of skill, balance, precision passes, timely goals and the odd nasty tackle that let people know he wasn’t for bullying.
Silva was always important, especially as Manchester City won their first two league titles – but the arrival of Pep Guardiola turned him into an absolute colossus. The Spaniard was placed at the heart of Guardiola’s midfield and given license to control the game from deeper positions in a way he never had before. He took to this role superbly, fought through difficult personal circumstances to continue playing at an absurdly high level, and his reward was to be the first Spaniard ever to retain the Premier League title.
In the summer of 2019 he announced the 2019/20 campaign would be his final one in England, leaving after 10 years and, while he was unable to leave with a fifth Premier League medal, “El Mago” is comfortably the best Spaniard in the competition’s history.