Winning the Premier League would be a dream for any footballer, so it’s no surprise that some players will do anything to get their hands on a medal.
Over the years, plenty of players have coasted their way to a Premier League winners’ medal on the back of dead rubbers and substitute appearances. Some have pushed their managers into it, while others have been genuinely embarrassed to pick up personal silverware.
We’ve found 11 players who cruised into the history books without really contributing anything.
Given that he won the Premier League Golden Boot (twice) and Player of the Season while at Liverpool, Michael Owen probably deserves a Premier League medal.
But did he deserve one in 2010–11, a decade after his peak, playing for Liverpool’s greatest enemies?
To be fair to him, Owen did score two goals in 11 appearances during Alex Ferguson’s penultimate title-winning season at United, one of them a game-saving equaliser against Bolton.
And he was pretty modest about the honour as well.
“There are players who would be 10 times more deserving of a Premier League medal in this team than me, so it is not as though I will be flashing it around,’’ Owen said.
“But there is no point being embarrassed about accepting something you have been part of. I didn’t get two medals for scoring two goals in the FA Cup final in 2001.”
Still, all but one of his 11 appearances came as a sub.
Former England starlet Jack Rodwell has received a lot of unfair stick: for not fulfilling his potential, for moving to Manchester City, and for simply seeing out a contract at Sunderland.
We won’t stand for that kind of slander, but Rodwell truly did the bare minimum to be considered a Premier League champion in 2013–14, making one start and four (very short) substitute appearances, taking him to the five that have been required since 2012.
Yaya Toure and Fernandinho were the main men in City’s midfield, but Rodwell might have given the forgettable Javi Garcia (29 appearances) more of a run for his money.
In the summer of 2015, it seemed very possible that Gokhan Inler, captain of Switzerland and two-time Coppa Italia winner, would have a bigger impact at Leicester City than the uncapped N’Golo Kante.
Both arrived for modest transfer fees, and both were targeting a slot in Claudio Ranieri’s central midfield.
Instead, Inler endured probably the unhappiest title win in history. He made just five appearances and, compounding the misery, was dropped from Switzerland’s Euro 2016 squad due to his lack of minutes.
National team boss Vladimir Petkovic said he was “sincerely sorry”; presumably Inler was too.
Martin Keown was 37 years old during Arsenal’s Invincibles season and accordingly played a peripheral role. His biggest impact—a good one, admittedly—was his goading of Ruud van Nistelrooy in the Battle of Old Trafford.
Keown was also part of possibly the most famous instance of a manager picking players specifically to guarantee them a medal.
In late April 2014, with Keown, Kanu, Jose Antonio Reyes and Jeremie Aliadiere all on the brink of the 10-appearance threshold, there was much discussion over whether Arsene Wenger would help those players reach the target.
In the end, the manager handed out substitute appearances like delicious bonbons, with Keown coming off the bench in each of the last four games of the season, never earlier than the 87th minute.
During the very last match, with Keown on nine appearances, Ray Parlour pranked the defender by pretending that Wenger was bringing him on instead.
To his credit, Jeremie Aliadiere picked up most of his 10 appearances in 2003–04 on merit, and his smattering of late-season cameos—unlike Keown’s—generally lasted more than three minutes.
Less to his credit was his footballing ability: the French forward failed to score in any of those 10 appearances and is quite clearly the worst player on this list.
On his day, Ruben Loftus-Cheek can be a wonderful footballer. He might even win actual Premier League titles in the future.
But his medal for Chelsea’s 2016–17 triumph is surely the jammiest of all time.
Loftus-Cheek made six sub appearances amounting to just 30 minutes—well short of medal-wangling contemporaries like Rodwell (108’) and Inler (195’).
“I didn’t have a contribution to it,” he said in 2019.
Henrik Larsson & Alan Smith
Had the likes of Martin Keown and Jeremie Aliadiere been playing under Alex Ferguson, they wouldn’t have worried so much about reaching the 10-appearance threshold, because the Scot regularly petitioned for ‘special dispensation’ when his players played too little.
In 2006–07, strikers Henrik Larsson and Alan Smith made a respective seven and nine appearances, with Larsson restricted by the length of his loan deal and Smith by injury.
Larsson earned cult status for his influential role in the dressing room, but it’s worth pointing out that he scored just one league goal that year, while Smith scored none.
It’s one rule for some…
Ronaldo,rooney,Larsson.. we really had some unbelievable player at united during the 00s pic.twitter.com/FQHR1VNpKe
— Owen Heffernan (@TheRealOwenHeff) April 7, 2021
Backup goalkeepers obviously have a hard time qualifying for a winners’ medal, but Tomasz Kuszczak’s three Premier League medals, all of which came via special dispensation, really take the byszkyt.
Thierry Henry has fewer titles to his name.
Another backup ‘keeper to receive a metal disc is Asmir Begovic, but the former Chelsea man didn’t even want the dubious honour.
“They really have to look at that rule again because I don’t think five appearances should warrant a medal,” he told Sky Sports.
Begovic actually only played twice, benefitting from the ‘Kuszczak rule’ after Chelsea asked nicely.
Honestly? We prefer Michael Owen’s attitude.
In 2020-21, Jurgen Klopp lambasted the Premier League for not recognising the contributions of fringe players who end up playing fewer than five games.
“People don’t understand how important a squad is to win a championship,” Klopp said. “Even if you play no game, you should get a medal.”
In actual fact, winning clubs receive 40 medals to basically chuck around as they please, as long as every player with five or more appearances gets one.
Elliott duly got one of the spares, although the Premier League website doesn’t list him as an official league winner like it does Begovic, Kuszczak and Larsson.