13 of the most-liked players in PL history: Zola, Alonso, Crouch…

Quick Reads

Former Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United and Newcastle United heroes feature among our list of players you just can’t help but love.

On this day in 1996, Chelsea signed Gianfranco Zola in a £4.5million deal from Parma.

The little Italian stole plenty of hearts in England, not just those of Blues supporters, managing that rare achievement of not even being hated by your club’s rival supporters.

There are very few players who have managed it in the Premier League era, but here are some we reckon are universally loved.

We do, of course, stand to be corrected – if you can find a reason not to like one of this lot, let us know on Twitter @planetfutebol.

Juninho

Juninho joining Middlesbrough once was weird. Juninho joining Middlesbrough for a second time was quite endearing. Juninho joining Middlesbrough for a third time was heroic.

He may have won a World Cup with Brazil, but helping Boro to their one and only honour, the 2004 League Cup, was just as significant.

READ: A tribute to the fantastic but flawed Middlesbrough side of 96-97

Xabi Alonso

It’s actually quite staggering that it has become so difficult to find a bad word said against Alonso. The Spaniard has it all: the classy playing style, the trophies, the good looks, the beard just the right shade of ginger. It’s enough to make you sick.

He even came close to f*cking up the miracle of Istanbul when his penalty was saved by Dida. But he didn’t. Because he’s Xabi Alonso. And he’s brilliant.

Peter Crouch

It makes us feel incredibly old to think it’s now over a decade ago that Crouch became a national hero by doing the robot after scoring for England.

One of the most unlikely-looking footballers in history, the striker has never taken himself to seriously in an era when the game has often lacked a sense of humour.

He’s also been a consistently excellent striker, which too often goes overlooked.

Juan Mata

Mata was already considered one of the loveliest footballers around, but the Spaniard has gone above and beyond in his Common Goal initiative, which sees players donate 1% of their salaries to charity.

He also seems to have managed to win over Jose Mourinho, which is a considerable achievement.

Jay-Jay Okocha

Okocha and Sam Allardyce could hardly have been more different in their approach to football, but if the duo’s combination at Bolton was wrong then we don’t want to be right.

READ: A tribute to the amazing Jay-Jay Okocha and that great Bolton team

Gianfranco Zola

Chelsea are traditionally a notoriously difficult institution to feel much warmth towards, but the arrival of Zola 21 years ago went a long way towards changing that.

Even as reporters camped outside his house following his sacking from West Ham, the Italian declined to answer any questions but did make them cups of tea and coffee. An absolute gent.

Edwin van der Sar

Goalkeepers are strange creatures. Solitary and all alone in a team sport but lacking the single-minded glory of a goalscorer.

A career lasting over 20 years saw Van der Sar become one of the most decorated goalkeepers of all time, and he also just seems like a really nice bloke.

Nolberto Solano

Ask any football fan to name a Peruvian footballer and Solano will be the first name to spring to their mind.

The former Newcastle and Aston Villa winger was always good value in the Premier League, but we’re taken by one story in particular.

As a keen trumpet player, Solano made a habit of ringing Sir Bobby Robson and tooting his horn down the line at his bemused manager, who remained unaware of the culprit for some time before eventually being informed of the musical talent within his squad.

“I’m not sure he was too amused.” Solano told FourFourTwo.

Gary Speed

Tragically it took Speed’s suicide in 2011 to make it abundantly clear just how loved the Welshman was in the footballing world.

It speaks volumes that despite playing for clubs with big traditionally rivalries – Leeds, Everton, Newcastle and Sheffield United – nobody had a bad word to say about the midfielder, who remains sorely missed.

READ: Strachan, McAllister, Batty, Speed: A tribute to the title-winning Leeds United side of 1992

Matt Le Tissier

One-club men are becoming an increasingly rare breed in football, but Le Tissier’s charm as a thrillingly gifted footballers is only added to by his unerring loyalty to Southampton.

The man himself nailed it pretty well: “I wanted to entertain people, and sticking one in the top corner from 25 yards was a pretty good way of doing that.”

READ: 12 of the best quotes on Matt Le Tissier: ‘The Maradona of Southampton’

Tino Asprilla

Peter Beardsley probably best summed Asprilla up when he said: “He was mad – but nice mad. He was different with the ball – a skill that no one else has.”

The attacker is often blamed as the reason Newcastle failed to win the title 1996, but the Colombian was utterly befitting in Kevin Keegan’s ‘Entertainers’.

His Twitter account has also been a highlight of recent years. Who needs 280 characters when you can post a video of you dressed as a dinosaur while riding a horse playing football.

Paul Gascoigne

A player who stole the hearts of a nation both for his talents and his floors.

For all of Gazza’s exhilarating skill on the pitch and his cheeky charm off it, his vulnerability and struggles with addiction mean you just want to help him look after himself.

READ: Remembering Gazza’s inclusion in the Sainsbury’s WC98 Medal Collectiontino 

Lucas Radebe

The man Nelson Mandela called his “hero”.

The man who recovered from being shot in his native South Africa.

The man who rejected Sir Alex Ferguson and Manchester United to stay at Leeds because he would wear “only the white rose, not the red rose”.

The man who played 73 minutes in goal at Old Trafford, conceding just once and making impressive stops to deny Andy Cole, Ryan Giggs and Brian McClair, a month after having to do the same at Middlesbrough and keeping a clean sheet.

The man who, after Leeds were recently beaten at Cardiff, tweeted a video of himself singing and dancing to Marching On Together for no apparent reason.

The Chief, ladies and gentleman.

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