Who Are the Best Wingers?
The winger position has evolved over the Premier League's 30-year history. In the 1990s, when the 4-4-2 formation was popular, players on the two "wings" of the midfield were sometimes called wide midfielders. These players (e.g., David Beckham) often did not advance as far as wingers.
Although there have always been wingers who played high up the pitch, many modern wingers operate more like forwards (e.g., Mohamed Salah). These players move infield to score goals and are commonly deployed when there is only one central striker (e.g., in a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 formation).
The skills that wingers possess depend on their role. For example, they may be adept at crossing the ball, or at cutting inside and scoring goals with their dominant foot. Due to the narrowness of the pitch and the potential to exploit space behind opposition full-backs, wingers are usually quick and tricky players.
This list of the 10 greatest wingers and wide midfielders to ever play in the Premier League includes players who translated their natural ability in these domains into great success on the pitch. Statistics and videos are used to justify their inclusion.
10. Gareth Bale
- Type: Winger
- Premier League clubs: Tottenham (2007-2013, 2020-2021)
- Appearances: 166
- Goals: 53 (0.32 per game)
- Assists: 22 (0.13 per game)
Gareth Bale started his career as a 16 year-old in the Championship for Southampton. When he signed for Tottenham a year later, he initially played as a left-back, but he was moved to the left-wing in 2010 by Harry Redknapp (his manager), where he quickly established himself as a world class winger.
Bale didn't win anything at Tottenham, but his performances earned him a transfer to Real Madrid for £85 million (a world record in 2013) where he won five Champions League titles. Bale was named the Premier League's Player of the Season in 2013 and has been in the PFA team of the year three times. He also has over 100 caps for Wales.
Bale is known for his blistering pace, athleticism, dribbling skills, and goal-scoring from long-range shots or free-kicks. His aerial ability, work rate, and defensive experience (as a left-back) mean that he is also capable of "tracking back" and covering for defenders.
9. Eden Hazard
- Type: Winger
- Premier League clubs: Chelsea (2012-2019)
- Appearances: 245
- Goals: 85 (0.35)
- Assists: 54 (0.22)
Chelsea knew what they were getting when they signed Eden Hazard. The 21 year-old had just scored 20 goals on his way to winning the French League and he was being courted by many big clubs from across Europe.
In his seven seasons at Chelsea, Hazard won two Premier League titles, an FA Cup, a League Cup, and the 2013 and 2019 Europa Leagues before joining Real Madrid in 2019. He was Player of the Season in 2015, has been in the PFA team of the year four times, and has over 100 caps for Belgium.
Primarily a winger, Hazard has also been utilized as an attacking playmaker. He is known for his acceleration, technique, dribbling, flair, and his ability to play with both feet. He is also a capable finisher, scoring more than ten goals in five of his seasons in the Premier League.
8. Sadio Mané
- Type: Winger / Forward
- Premier League clubs: Southampton (2014-2016), Liverpool (2016-2022)
- Appearances: 263
- Goals: 111 (0.42)
- Assists: 38 (0.14)
Sadio Mané grew up in a religious household in a poor village in Senegal where his family didn't like him playing football. Aged 15, he ran away from home and got into a prestigious African academy. He then played in France and Austria before joining Southampton, where he scored the fastest hat-trick in Premier League history (176 seconds).
Jürgen Klopp had considered signing Mané in 2014 for Dortmund and he eventually got his man in 2016 after becoming Liverpool manager. In six seasons at Anfield, Mané won a Premier League title (ending Liverpool's 30-year wait), an FA Cup, a League Cup, and the 2019 Champions League. He also won the 2021 African Cup of Nations and has more than 90 caps for Senegal.
Individually, Mané was named in the PFA team of the year four times and won the Golden Boot in 2019 (i.e., top goal scorer; 22 goals). He is known for his finishing and scored more than ten goals in all eight of his Premier League seasons. Mané also has exceptional dribbling, flair, acceleration, work-rate, decision-making, intelligence, and technique with both feet.
7. Son Heung-min
- Type: Winger / Forward
- Premier League clubs: Tottenham (2015–)
- Appearances: 234
- Goals: 93 (0.40)
- Assists: 47 (0.20)
Son Heung-min signed for Tottenham from Leverkusen for £22 million, which was a record fee for an Asian player. His first season with Tottenham was underwhelming with only four Premier League goals. He then found his feet and scored more than ten in each of the following seasons, culminating in a Golden Boot in 2022 (23 goals; shared with Mohamed Salah).
Son has been named in the PFA team of the year once, but he has not won any trophies with Tottenham, nor with South Korea, for whom he has played more than 100 times.
Son is known for his excellent finishing, especially from long-range, as well as his pace, work-rate, close-control, passing, link-up play (with Harry Kane), and his ability to play with both feet.
6. David Beckham
- Type: Wide midfielder (right side)
- Premier League clubs: Manchester United (1995-2003)
- Appearances: 265
- Goals: 62 (0.23)
- Assists: 80 (0.30)
David Beckham was probably the most famous footballer in the world during the late 1990s and early 2000s. He came through the Manchester United youth system and, although he made his debut in the League Cup in 1992, aged 17, he was loaned to Preston and only made his Premier League debut for United in 1995.
In eight full seasons at Old Trafford, Beckham won the Premier League in six of them. He also won two FA Cups and the 1999 Champions League before becoming a Galáctico at Real Madrid in 2003. Beckham also appeared 115 times for England and has been in the PFA team of the year four times.
Beckham had the most assists in a Premier League season three times, which could be attributed to his phenomenal crossing, vision, and long-range passing. He also holds records for most free-kicks goals in the Premier League (18) and in one season (5). He may be the greatest set piece taker of all time.
Since retiring, Beckham has contributed to charitable causes and is an investor in several football clubs (e.g., Salford City and Inter Miami).
5. David Silva
- Type: False winger (see below)
- Premier League clubs: Manchester City (2010-2020)
- Appearances: 309
- Goals: 60 (0.19)
- Assists: 93 (0.30)
David Silva was already a Valencia-legend and had just won the World Cup with Spain when he moved to Manchester City at the age of 24.
In his ten seasons with City, Silva won four Premier League titles, two FA Cups, and five League Cups before moving to Real Sociedad in 2020. Individually, he has been in the PFA team of the year three times. He also amassed 125 caps for Spain, winning the 2010 World Cup, Euro 2008, and Euro 2012.
Silva was usually deployed on the wing during his time at City. However, he often moved infield where he functioned as an attacking playmaker, providing scoring opportunities for teammates. This position can be described as a false winger.
Silva is known for his passing, vision, creativity, and link-up play. He also has excellent technique, including his "first touch," dribbling skills, and close control of the ball.
4. Robert Pires
- Type: Winger (left side)
- Premier League clubs: Arsenal (2000-2006)
- Appearances: 198
- Goals: 62 (0.31)
- Assists: 41 (0.21)
After Thierry Henry, Robert Pires was the main scorer when Arsenal went unbeaten for the entire 2003-2004 Premier League season. He was integral to the "Invincibles," scoring 14 goals in that league campaign, and the same number in the seasons before and after.
After seven years in France, Pires moved to Arsenal as a 26 year-old and spent six seasons there, winning two Premier League titles, two FA Cups, and reaching the Champions League final in 2006. He also appeared 79 times for France, winning the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000. Individually, he was named in the PFA team of the year three times.
Pires was known for his pace, acceleration, athleticism, goal-scoring, dribbling skill, technical ability, movement off-the-ball, and his ability to link-up with teammates. Since retiring in 2016, Pires has gone into coaching.
3. Ryan Giggs
- Type: Winger / Wide midfielder (left side)
- Premier League clubs: Manchester United (–2014)
- Appearances: 632
- Goals: 109 (0.17)
- Assists: 162 (0.26)
Ryan Giggs didn't need to move to further his career. He started it in the Manchester United youth system and spent his entire career there, from the inception of the Premier League in 1992 (he made his United debut a year before) until 2014. In that time, he amassed the most assists in Premier League history (162).
Giggs won 13 Premier League titles (a record) in his 22 seasons with United, which included 632 appearances (963 in all competitions). He also won four FA Cups, three League Cups, and the 1999 and 2008 Champions Leagues. Individually, he was in the PFA team of the year six times.
Giggs, who also played 64 times for Wales, was known for his dribbling skills, pace, stamina, movement off-the-ball, vision, crossing, and creativity. Since retiring, Giggs has become a football manager (e.g., of Wales) and co-owner (of Salford City).
2. Cristiano Ronaldo
- Type: Winger / Forward
- Premier League clubs: Manchester United (2003-2009, 2021–)
- Appearances: 228
- Goals: 102 (0.45)
- Assists: 37 (0.16)
Cristiano Ronaldo almost never became a Manchester United legend. His penurious family didn't want another child, and he was also diagnosed with a heart condition at 15 (prior to successful surgery). Furthermore, after making his debut for Sporting Lisbon, aged 17, he was almost signed by Arsène Wenger for Arsenal.
In his six initial seasons at Old Trafford, Ronaldo won three Premier League titles, an FA Cup, two League Cups, and the 2008 Champions League before joining Real Madrid, where he won the Champions League a further four times. He also has more than 180 caps for Portugal and won Euro 2016.
Individually, Ronaldo has won the Ballon d'Or award five times, was the Premier League's Player of the Season twice, won the Golden Boot in 2008 (31 goals), has been in the PFA team of the year five times, and has the most goals in Champions League history (140).
Ronaldo morphed into a striker over the course of his career, but he primarily played as a winger for United. Although he was not a prolific goal scorer in his first few seasons there, he ended up scoring more than 800 career goals. He is also known for his aerial ability, dribbling skills, powerful free-kicks, and technique with both feet.
1. Mohamed Salah
- Type: Winger / Forward
- Premier League clubs: Chelsea (2014), Liverpool (2017–)
- Appearances: 195
- Goals: 121 (0.62)
- Assists: 47 (0.24)
Although Ronaldo's achievements after he departed the Premier League were superior, the greatest winger in Premier League history has to be Mohamed Salah. If you add his goal and assist tallies, he contributes a goal in almost every game.
Much like Kevin De Bruyne, Mo Salah joined Chelsea, didn't receive enough playing time under José Mourinho, went out on loan, and eventually became one of the best players in the Premier League at a rival club. Indeed, at Liverpool, Salah has won the Premier League, an FA Cup, a League Cup, and the 2019 Champions League.
Individually, Salah has been in the PFA team of the year three times and was Player of the Season in 2018. He won the Golden Boot in 2018 (32 goals), 2019 (22 goals), and 2022 (23 goals), and he has more than 80 caps for Egypt.
Salah is known for his pace, dribbling, and prolific goal-scoring. He is also famous for using his exceptional balance, agility, and close control of the ball to beat several defenders on his route to goal, which puts him in a similar class to Lionel Messi and Diego Maradona.
Honorable Mentions and Future Additions
There were some necessary omissions from this list, either for not playing enough seasons in the Premier League or for not quite matching the quality of the top ten.
- Freddie Llungberg
- Arjen Robben
- Andrei Kanchelskis
- Samir Nasri
- Alexis Sánchez
- Steve McManaman
- Marc Overmars
- David Ginola
There are many current players who are making a strong case to be on this list in the future.
- Raheem Sterling
- Riyad Mahrez
- Phil Foden
- Jack Grealish
- Jarrod Bowen
- Bukayo Saka
Thank you for reading and watching this compilation of the best wingers and wide midfielders to appear in the Premier League.
What About Central Midfielders?
- The 10 Best Central Midfielders in Premier League History
Ranking the greatest central midfielders to ever play in the Premier League, with statistics and videos to showcase their abilities.
© 2022 Thomas Swan