Nigel Winterburn played with some amazing players during his 13-year spell at Arsenal – so much so that choosing the five best of them proved a real struggle.
Having started his career at Birmingham City, Winterburn joined Wimbledon in 1983 and was part of the side that helped the unfashionable south Londoners rise from the third-tier of English football to sixth in the First Division.
But Winterburn would become synonymous with Arsenal; he moved to Highbury in 1987 and became part of their infamously tight defence that helped the Gunners win three league titles.
The left-back, who won two caps for England, also won two FA Cups, one League Cup and the European Cup Winner’s Cup before ending his career with three years at West Ham.
We asked Winterburn, courtesy of AceOdds.com, to name the best five team-mates he played alongside and why. The results were revealing.
“I’ll mix it up a bit because everybody likes strikers,” Winterburn said. “So let’s start with up there.
“[Dennis] Bergkamp is obviously the first one. Ability on the ball, the way that he conducts himself, weight of pass, goals that he scores. The guy is just all-round quality, all-round class.
“Got everything that you’d want for someone. Even today to play modern football, he would just fit straight into these teams just because of his sheer quality and presence.
“I’d put [Thierry] Henry in there as well because I only played with Henry for a year but when I went after I retired and went back to watch him play at Arsenal, obviously I was still watching when I was playing.
“But when you then go back and watch somebody, that guy’s got pace, power, the ability to travel with a ball and come in.
“Played centre forward, but didn’t play centre forward if that makes sense, because he came in slightly off the left-hand side, off the right-centre half of the opposing teams.
“They didn’t know whether to go tight and mark him, they didn’t know whether to go off. If you gave that guy space and let him run at you, he would just drift past you and he was the scorer of some sensational goals.”
After naming two elite strikers, Winterburn turned his attention to two successful Arsenal captains.
“Without a shadow of a doubt, [Patrick] Vieira,” he said.
“I remember Vieira coming to Arsenal, when I was already there, as a young man big, strong, athletic, but could command a game.
“Would go toe to toe with anybody, but his running ability and his power was second to none, so just from sheer midfield ability he was absolutely sensational.
“Tony Adams, Arsenal captain, great leader. Top centre half. A lot more skilful than a lot of people gave him credit for.
“A good reader of the game. Was there, particularly under George Graham, to keep that team driving forward and disciplined. Had a few issues, but still came through the other side and showed what a great all-round player, if not defender, he was.
“And then somebody gets that amount of caps for England deserves the recognition that they got.”
His final choice was more surprising – although not to Arsenal fans that fondly recall the double-winning side of 1997-98.
“Then I’ll also put in there Marc Overmars,” the former defender said. “I only had a short period with Mark but I remember him coming to the club and him playing left wing. I played behind him and I had such a great connection after we played the first game together.
“We really didn’t need to communicate with each other. We just needed to look. I just needed to know his body position and where he was on the pitch and I knew where he wanted the ball to be.
“He just made the game so easy for you to play and from his electric start from standstill over 3-5 yards nobody could really match that.
“So that would be my list. I tried to mix it up a bit because, obviously, everybody likes the goal scorers.
“If I’m honest with you I could pick a lot more as well because I played with a lot of real quality players.
We asked him if any particular names came to mind, players that were unsung heroes and perhaps a lot better than people give him credit for.
“I don’t know whether given credit for is the right phrase because a lot of the guys I played with were so successful in the teams that we played in and are always given credit by their own supporters,” he replied.
“I mean Lee Dixon was ultra-consistent, one on ones, he was sensational. You knew you were in for a battle if you played against Lee.
“Emmanuel Petit again in centre of midfield with Vieira was was left-footed, athletic, such a great long-range passer of the ball as well but very skillful. Had a lot more skill than I think people realised.
“So there’s just another there’s another two, we could probably go on all day really but I think sometimes I don’t know whether underrated is the right word but sometimes because a player is so consistent they sometimes don’t get the accolades that maybe they deserve.”
By Michael Lee