The Premier League has been graced by some fine Eastern European footballers, as fans of Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United will testify.
Dominic Szoboszlai is the latest baller from the region to arrive in England, as the Hungary international has swapped RB Leipzig for Liverpool in a £60million transfer
As Liverpool fans get very excited about Szoboszlai strutting his stuff at Anfield, we’ve identified the best Premier League player from each Eastern European country.
Note: we’ve used the broadest definition of Eastern Europe for this piece, in order to celebrate a wider number of excellent talents.
Lorik Cana was an underrated midfielder at Sunderland under Steve Bruce, proving it was possible to be a forceful midfielder without going all Cattermole, but Armando Broja is already the finest Albanian to grace the Premier League.
Quick and skilful, Broja has demonstrated enough at Chelsea and Southampton to suggest he’ll develop into a fine striker.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan is the only Armenian to play in England’s top flight. Luckily, he was a total baller…
— MUFC Scoop 🔴 (@MUFCScoop) December 27, 2016
With all due respect to Sergey Kornilenko (six appearances for Ian Holloway’s Blackpool), Alexander Hleb is the best Belarusian to play in the Premier League by a country mile.
One of Arsene Wenger’s army of technically-brilliant midfielders, Hleb fell in love with the club and greatly regretted his move to Barcelona in 2008.
Bosnia & Herzegovina
The goalscoring exploits of Edin Dzeko at Manchester City usurps the understated goalkeeping of Asmir Begovic and Mesut Ozil’s personal bodyguard Saed Kolasinac to claim the title of the Premier League’s finest Bosnian.
Bulgaria have been bobbins since France ’98 and have fallen out of the footballing consciousness entirely in recent years, which means reading a list of their Premier League exports is a proper trip down memory lane.
From the two Petrovs of Martin and Stylian, to the sturdy defending of Radostin Kishishev and Portsmouth cult hero Svetoslav Todorov, Bulgaria have contributed some proper stalwarts.
But the best Bulgarian of the Premier League era is easily Dimitar Berbatov. What an absolute dreamboat of a footballer.
Croatia have produced two brilliant generations of footballers since gaining independence in the 1990s; the ’98 World Cup semi-finalists (Igor Stimac, Slaven Bilic, Alen Boskic, Davor Suker) and the 2018/2022 over-achievers (Dejan Lovren, Mateo Kovacic).
And that’s without touching upon their gorgeous underrated side of Euro 2008 that contained Niko Kranjcar, Vedran Corluka and the finest Croatian player of all, Luka Modric.
While Modric didn’t become a generational talent until joining Real Madrid, his four years at Tottenham between 2008 and 2012 provided enough magic to create cherished memories at White Hart Lane.
Petr Cech claims the award with consummate ease here, but the Czechs have provided something for everybody during the Premier League era.
Let’s also celebrate the grace of Patrik Berger and Tomas Rosicky, the title-denying exploits of Ludek Miklosko, the frustrating enigmaticness of Vladimir Smicer and Milan Baros, the reliable West Ham duo of Tomas Soucek and Vladimir Coufal and the genuine unhingedness of Tomas Repka.
Ragnar Klavan is a cult hero at Liverpool, but Mart Poom was a classy goalkeeper for Derby County, Sunderland and Arsenal and is one of the finest Estonian footballers of all-time.
Giorgi Kinkladze scoops the prize for English football’s best Georgian, although plenty will hope to see Khvicha Kvaratskhelia in the Premier League in the next few years.
Genius from Georgi Kinkladze at Maine Road 27 years ago today.
Taught Messi everything he knows.
— A Funny Old Game (@sid_lambert) March 16, 2023
Szoboszlai is Hungary’s best footballer since their last World Cup appearance in 1986, but will he become as ‘Barclays’ as trackie bottom-wearing Gabor Kiraly or Fulham and West Brom legend, Zoltan Gera?
Florent Hadergjonaj… Milot Rashica… Kosovo haven’t produced many Premier League-standard talents just yet. But it’s a football-potty country and we wouldn’t bet a few appearing before the end of the decade.
Don’t mind us, we’ve spent the last 30 minutes blissfully travelling down a Marian Pahars wormhole…
23 years ago today:
The Artist Formerly Known As The Latvian Michael Owen did this to Big Jaap Stam.
Marian Pahars. You little scoundrel.
— A Funny Old Game (@sid_lambert) September 25, 2022
You choose between Tomas Danilevicius (two sub appearances for Arsenal in 2000-01) or Giedrius Arlauskis (who kept goal for Watford once in the mid-2010s).
They’re both right and wrong in their own way.
Having achieved independence from Serbia in 2006, Montenegro came close to qualifying for Euro 2012 but haven’t built on that near success in the decade since.
Both Stevan Jovetic and Stefan Savic have produced their best football elsewhere, having failed to make much impact at Manchester City. Great players on their day, though.
“I’m finding it difficult to find a girlfriend in Barnsley, or indeed settle into a decent way of life,” Gjorgji Hristov said during his time in south Yorkshire. “The local girls are far uglier than the ones back in Belgrade or Skopje, the capital of Macedonia, where I come from.
“Our women are much prettier. Besides, they don’t drink as much beer as the Barnsley girls which is something I don’t like at all.”
With this mind, we’d better nominate Ezgjan Alioski as the winner of this award for the sake of English-Macedonian relations.
Not as many candidates as you’d expect, considering Poland’s limescale presence at major tournaments despite refusing to do anything interesting at any of them.
The best Poles to have played in England have been goalkeepers; Wojciech Szczesny, Artur Boruc, Jerzy Dudek and Tomasz Kuszczak have all been fine Premier League shot-stoppers.
But, for sheer longevity, we’re awarding this one to Lukasz Fabianski, who is still diving around his penalty area at West Ham at an age where he should have his feet up and be gorging himself on cabbage rolls.
Dan Petrescu is the winner here, a throwback to the Romanian golden era in the 1990s. We miss Romania’s yellow shirts and bleach-blond hair at major tournaments.
Ask a millennial about the best Russian footballers in England and their minds will go to Andrey Arshavin and his four goals at Anfield in 2009.
Some might even wistfully recall Roman Pavlyuchenko and his pot-luck take on goalscoring at Tottenham in the early 2010s.
But the real answer is former Manchester United and Everton star Andrey Kanchelskis, a winger that’d leave defenders with twisted blood and wobbly legs with some of his trickery.
The best Serbian footballers have been tough as nails, while possessing enough technical ability to make opponents weep.
While the likes of Branislav Ivanovic, Nemanja Matic and Aleksandar Mitrovic have enriched the competition, Nemanja Vidic is streets ahead of the competition for his excellent defending and his uncanny resemblance of a solider puffing on a cigarette while watching his victim dig their own grave.
The streets will never forget Szilard Nemeth’s goalscoring prowess at Middlesbrough in the early 2000s, nor Martin Dubravka keeping Newcastle in the Premier League with his excellent shot-stopping abilities.
It’s Martin Skrtel though, isn’t it? A proper slaphead who could read the game brilliantly and endeared himself to the Kop with his whole-hearted commitment to the Liverpool cause.
Slovenia’s best talents (such as Jan Oblak, Zlatko Zahovic and Benjamin Sesko) have plied their trade away from the British Isles, meaning we have to dig a little deeper than we first thought.
Milenko Acimovic’s spell at Tottenham (17 appearances, no goals) makes Richarlison’s record seem Haaland-esque, meaning we’ve plumped for Robert Koren, the lynchpin of Tony Mowbray’s West Brom midfield.
Andriy Shevchenko and Sergei Rebrov, who left Europe’s defenders a quivering wreck with their Dynamo Kyiv exploits in the late 90s, both flopped in England. Mykhailo Mudryk is in danger of going the same way.
While Andriy Yarmolenko had his moments at West Ham, he was too injury-prone to truly deliver on his potential.
Therefore, Oleksandr Zinchenko has been the best Ukrainian of the Premier League era, performing to an excellent standard for both Manchester City and Arsenal.