Tottenham have been battling at the right end of the table for the last few years, yet, despite being a Premier League ever-present, they haven’t enjoyed much success in the competition.
Of course, success is relative. Qualifying for the Champions League four years in a row under Mauricio Pochettino was a huge achievement for Spurs, but narrowly missing out on the title in two of those campaigns has only added to the frustration of failing to win silverware in other competition in recent seasons.
All of that said, Tottenham supporters have had the pleasure of watching some excellent footballers since the inception of the Premier League in 1992/93.
Many of the club’s modern greats have come and gone while others remain in N17. Indeed, ranking the top 10 Spurs players of the Premier League era is a difficult task, particularly as it means leaving out a number of influential figures from Pochettino’s reign – easily the club’s best period for decades.
Looking at the list below, you might notice the absence of the brilliant Belgian duo, Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen. You might argue the likes Dele Alli and Son Heung-min should have made the top 10. All of which is to say Pochettino developed more genuine stars than he had any right to.
In any case, the list we’ve put together demonstrates the amount of quality Tottenham have possessed since the early 1990s, even if trophies have mostly proven to be elusive.
10. Ledley King
We will never truly know just how great Ledley King was. Injuries blighted the career of an academy product so good he could play – and play superbly – without training. During his fitter days he would sometimes sit in front of England’s back four, showcasing his versatility and positional awareness.
But it was with Tottenham, the club he loved, where he truly shone when fit enough to do so. Some might say Toby Alderweireld at his best was slightly superior to King, but what elevated the former captain was his ability to make whoever played next to him a better defender, something we are currently seeing the best defender in the world – Virgil van Dijk – do every week for Liverpool.
The reality is that King would likely have left Spurs if his injuries weren’t such a hindrance. He was good enough to play for any team in the country, and he would have won multiple honours with two strong knees.
9. David Ginola
For years to come, Ginola will be remembered as one of the most stylish players ever to wear a Tottenham shirt. His dribbling ability and his propensity to score outrageous individual goals endeared the supporters to him like few others.
Again, it would be easy to conform to recency bias and suggest Son Heung-min is a better, more consistent player than Ginola was. Indeed, consistency was certainly a problem for the Frenchman, who left after just three years to join Aston Villa. But it is impossible to ignore the unique quality Ginola brought to a very average Spurs side.
In 1999, Ginola was named PFA Players’ Player of the Year and FWA Footballer of the Year, such was the impression he made on his peers and outside spectators. His flair on the ball was a sight to behold, and Tottenham fans will never forget the memorable goals he scored in lily-white.
8. Rafael van der Vaart
Rafael van der Vaart was the perfect signing at the perfect time for Spurs. The Londoners had just qualified for the Champions League for the first time ever and required a talismanic figure with European experience to lead them into what would be a memorable campaign. Van der Vaart delivered and then some.
In what is becoming a common theme here, injuries mean the Dutchman lasted just two years at White Hart Lane. He was superb under Harry Redknapp, who had more patience with his repeated hamstring injuries than Andre Villas-Boas – the Portuguese sanctioned Van der Vaart’s sale in the summer of 2012.
But thankfully, the former Ajax and Real Madrid man was at the very top of his game when he arrived at White Hart Lane. He adapted to the Premier League ridiculously quickly and somehow truly understood the rivalry with Arsenal from day one, scoring in several memorable north London derbies. Van der Vaart brought a fleeting touch of class to the a club when they sorely needed it.
7. Jurgen Klinsmann
Much like Ginola, Jurgen Klinsmann captured the hearts of spectators far beyond Tottenham. Having arrived in the Premier League with a reputation for simulation among English supporters, his famous dive celebration on his debut saw fans and journalists alike change their opinion quickly.
The German was named the FWA Footballer of the Year in 1995 but left England after just one season, returning to Germany with Bayern Munich. However, perhaps his greatest contribution for Spurs came two years later when he returned on loan and saved the club from relegation with nine goals in 15 appearances.
That’s right: Klinsmann is almost solely responsible for Tottenham’s ever-present status. During his first spell, he scored 30 goals across all competitions and remains one of the most adored striker’s in the club’s history.
6. Dimitar Berbatov
It’s difficult to speak about Dimitar Berbatov without mentioning Robbie Keane. The pair formed one of the Premier League’s last great strike partnerships, a tradition that has become a bit of a thing of the past because of general tactical shifts in the game. But Berbatov and Keane were the perfect duo; little and large, style and grit.
Keane deserves an honourable mention in this list for what he achieved at Spurs, but Berbatov was the true star of that side, as proven by the fact the Bulgarian eventually proved he was worthy of a step up when the partnership was split up by offers from Manchester United and Liverpool respectively. Meanwhile, Keane didn’t make it at Liverpool.
Put simply, Berbatov could do things other players only dreamed of without looking like he was exerting any energy at all. His four goals in a crazy 6-4 win over Reading were a notable highlight. Perhaps the only thing stopping him from being higher up this list was his failure to score more than 15 goals in either of his Premier League campaigns with Tottenham.
5. Mousa Dembele
We’ve been over it, but it bears repeating that the Pochettino era was the most significant period of Spurs’ Premier League history, in that the team was playing at a much higher level than they had been in previous years. And during that time, there was one player who, when fit and in form, set Tottenham apart from many of the sides below them.
Mousa Dembele was that player. The Belgian combined a rare combination of unmatched strength and stunning guile, which resulted in one of the most visually-pleasing dribbling styles in Europe. Opponents would bounce off Dembele as he burst forward with the ball and made things happen.
Those who accused him of a lack of incisiveness, evidenced by his lack of goals, entirely missed the point and purpose of a midfielder who played his role perfectly. Injuries brought his top-level career to a premature end, but a plethora of Spurs fans will tell you Dembele was among the most talented players to ever pass through the Lane.
4. Christian Eriksen
His final, faltering few months as a Tottenham player have led some to the conclusion that Christian Eriksen will not be remembered fondly in north London. But make no mistake about it, Eriksen is a modern Spurs great, a player who elevated the team to another level as the linchpin of Pochettino’s attacking approach.
Much of the ill will towards Eriksen leading up to his drawn-out transfer to Inter Milan is down to the fact he was expected to join Real Madrid or Barcelona last summer, a move most Tottenham supporters would have given their blessing to – Eriksen was deemed good enough to play for one of the two clubs footballers rarely say no to.
That he has gone to Inter Milan has frustrated Spurs fans in that it is seen as a sideways move. But in reality – and Eriksen has said as much – it was time for a new challenge for the Dane, who consistently performed like a trophy-winning player only to leave England with zero medals. That shouldn’t be his legacy; he should be remembered for the late winners, the freakish assists and the effortless way he dictated games.
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3. Luka Modric
In all honesty, Luka Modric could have topped this list. He is the only Ballon d’Or winner featured, though of course the award came while he was at his current home, Real Madrid. And that’s why there are two players above him; Modric was iconic for Spurs, but he has been even better for Madrid.
It took a year or so for the Croatian to adapt at the Bernabeu, much like it did at White Hart Lane. But when he settled in the Premier League, Modric was an utter joy to watch. Able to resist intense pressing like no other, the seemingly diminutive midfielder would use his deceptive strength to give Tottenham a foothold in most matches.
It’s bizarre, then, that he got even better in Spain. His performances for Croatia at the 2018 World Cup earned him the Player of the Tournament award and tipped the balance when it came to the Ballon d’Or. And thus, Tottenham supporters are simply proud to say Modric once wore their colours.
2. Gareth Bale
In January 2013, Gareth Bale was seen as an influential player who would slot into any team in the Premier League. Just a few months later, he was deemed good enough to make a world-record move to Real Madrid and line up next to Cristiano Ronaldo. Indeed, those final months at Tottenham saw a superstar transform into a behemoth.
The volume of screamers Bale scored in the second half of the 2012/13 season will probably never be matched again. At one point, it felt like he was scoring a winning goal from distance every weekend. His incredible late, long-range goals against West Ham, Southampton and Sunderland were frankly absurd, mainly because most great players have one or two similar strikes in them per campaign.
And it’s not like Bale hadn’t already surpassed expectations at White Hart Lane. When he was first converted from left-back to winger, he looked unstoppable. But it was that shift into the middle of the park that separated him from the rest and, ironically, ended his Spurs career – he was suddenly just too good to stay put.
1. Harry Kane
What separates Harry Kane from the aforementioned players is consistency. Since breaking into the team properly in Pochettino’s first season at the club, 2014/15, Kane has scored 133 Premier League goals in 188 appearances. That’s staggering for a youth product written off at the age of 21 who would go on to become Tottenham’s best striker since Jimmy Greaves.
His recent injury troubles have led many to forget just how unwaveringly clinical Kane was between 2016 and 2018. In 2016/17, he scored 35 goals in 38 games across all competitions. The following season, he found the net 41 times in 48 appearances. All of that while becoming an influential leader for club and country.
From write-off to England captain, Kane has proven the merits of hard work and practice. It has been said that he would overwork himself on the training pitch, shooting into the bottom corners – his trademark finish – again and again during loan spells with Millwall and Leicester City. And though he has endured fitness issues over the last couple of years, his constant striving to improve has paid off.