Simply The Best

Our top 20 Premiership players of 1997
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The Independent Online
1 Dennis Bergkamp

(Arsenal)

So smooth silk is like sandpaper in comparison, he is the most watchable striker in England. The winner because, on his day, he conjures more goals from nowhere than anyone else.

2 Gianfranco Zola

(Chelsea)

Hardest player in the Premiership to mark, he drifts between midfield and the front, causing problems wherever he is. Chelsea would be watchable any way but Zola has turned them into title contenders.

3 Peter Schmeichel

(Manchester United)

Big and commanding, Schmeichel's presence is immense. The foghorn voice used to organise United's defence but since he has become captain he influences tactics, too. Saves against Newcastle took the breath away.

4 Paul Scholes

(Manchester United)

Alex Ferguson saw it first when he nominated him two years ago as Cantona's successor. Defensive midfield, in the hole, out and out striker, he can play anywhere. Knack of scoring in big matches.

5 John Hartson

(West Ham United)

Most improved player in the Premiership. pounds 3.3m seemed a colossal amount to pay for an Arsenal reject but he kept West Ham out of the relegation mire last season and has scored 17 goals this.

6 David Beckham

(Manchester United)

Can infuriate, but no one is more likely to produce a match-winning pass for club or country. Has turned what seemed to be a waste on the flanks into becoming the best crosser in the Premiership.

7 Nigel Martyn

(Leeds United)

How Glenn Hoddle could prefer Ian Walker to Martyn is mystery. A good shot stopper, his command of crosses makes him stand out. Will push David Seaman hard for the World Cup place.

8 Roy Keane

(Manchester United)

United's raging bull would be the perfect midfield player if only he could keep his temper in check. On his better days you have to count the team to make sure he is not playing twice. .TEXT: 9 Patrick Vieira

(Arsenal)

France's Roy Keane, he has been the best of Arsene Wenger's imports. Much was made of Bergkamp's suspension but it is Vieira's absence that hamstrung Arsenal recently. Will be a force in the World Cup.

10 Ryan Giggs

(Manchester United)

Fit at last to give vent to his skills, Giggs is keeping the promises of his youth. Glorious in full flight, if his distribution matched his dribbling he would be No 1 instead of No 10.

11 Sol Campbell

(Tottenham)

Very strong and if there was a doubt it was that his bulk might sap his speed. Gladly, that has not happened and, allied to an eagerness to learn, he is Spurs' best insurance against relegation.

12 Alan Shearer

(Newcastle Utd)

The striker's striker, it is the measure of his stature that he made it to the top 20 while playing only 17 matches for Newcastle in 1997. Every night England prays he will be fit for the World Cup.

13 Matt Elliott

(Leicester)

Robust, Elliott is a throwback to the days when centre-halves used to frighten strikers. His size belies his skill, and it would not be a surprise if he becomes a Scotland giant.

14 Dennis Wise

(Chelsea)

According to Alex Ferguson, Wise could start an argument in an empty house but there is little dispute about his ability. A clever player, his contribution to Chelsea's rise has often been overlooked.

15 Nicky Butt

(Manchester United)

Roy Keane is missing but has anyone noticed? Butt has always been a good tackler and the extra responsibility has allowed other qualities to blossom. Could supplant David Batty as England's ball winner.

16 Kevin Gallacher

(Blackburn Rovers)

Scotland bemoaned the lack of a goal scorer and all the time he has been on a treatment bench in Blackburn. Had nearly as many broken legs as goals for three seasons but has had a magnificent 1997.

17 Chris Sutton

(Blackburn Rovers)

Overshadowed by Shearer, Sutton needed Roy Hodgson to measure up to his erstwhile partner's shoes. Now resembles the player he was at Norwich, a strong mobile forward with a knack for scoring. 13 goals so far this season.

18 Ian Wright

(Arsenal)

An anti-climactic end but that cannot mask an otherwise splendid 1997. Broke Cliff Bastin's Arsenal scoring record and at last looked like the England striker Highbury believed him to be.

19 Steve McManaman

(Liverpool)

The enigma. At his best only Ryan Giggs can match his dribbling; at his worst he could find a cul-de-sac on a motorway. Has greatness within him but can he find it?

20 Franck Leboeuf

(Chelsea)

A rare regular in Ruud Gullit's ever-changing team. Already an elegant passer and astute reader of the game he added the toughness required of Premiership defenders after a going over from Wimbledon late in 1996. Contributed useful goals from 30 yards and 12.

LAST YEAR'S TOP 20

1. Alan Shearer

2. Eric Cantona

3. Steve McManaman

4. Robbie Fowler

5. David Beckham

6. Peter Schmeichel

7. David Seaman

8. David Batty

9. Peter Beardsley

10. Roy Keane

11. Ian Wright

12. Les Ferdinand

13. Tony Adams

14. Teddy Sheringham

15. Robbie Earle

16. Paul Merson

17. Slaven Bilic

18. Ruud Gullit

19. Denis Irwin

20. Dwight Yorke

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