West Ham’s highest Premier League finish may only be 5th – achieved during the 1998/99 season – but the club have had some cracking players over the years.
Often these fantastic talents have gone on to pastures new for greater success, winning countless amounts of trophies at the highest level, as well as regularly featuring on the international stage.
But what if you had to cobble together the best 25 players to have played for the Hammers and assemble them into one ultimate Premier League squad? Well we do have to, so here’s 90min’s musings.
Rob Green – Experienced the low of Premier League relegation, before bouncing back as a Championship playoff winner. Usually very dependable in goal and single handedly won dozens of points for the club. Made 177 top flight appearances.
Ludek Miklosko – A real fan favourite, Miklosko moved to east London in 1990 and immediately became first choice. Over 300 league appearances – both Premier League and old Division One – later and he was an icon of the club, famously denying Manchester United the title in May 1995.
Shaka Hislop – Another giant of a man, the man we came to know as Shaka is actually called Neil – and for that reason alone, he warrants a place in our 25-man squad. The Trinidad and Tobago international also wore the baggiest tops available to man, looking the absolute business in net. A good, reliable keeper, Hislop also played in the 2006 FA Cup final.
Steve Potts – There was once a time in football when it was fashionable to spend your career at one club, particularly if you were good enough. Potts certainly was good enough in his prime, spending 17 years on the West Ham books. Made 399 league appearances for the club, 204 of those in the Premier League.
Tomas Repka – There were a few options jotted down on my notepad for another right back. Tim Breacker, Sebastien Schemmel (former Hammer of the Year) and Ian Pearce were three of those options but in the end, opting for an absolute nutcase seemed the best thing to do. And in Tomas Repka, we have the definition of an absolute nutcase. What better man to have around the squad, eh?
James Collins – Few defenders will ever play the game of football with the heart, determination and gusto that Collins showed during his West Ham career. No, he wasn’t the most mobile at times, but what the ‘Ginger Pele’ lacked in finesse, he made up for with consistently spirited performances.
Matthew Upson – Such was the impressive nature of Upson’s performances for West Ham, the former Arsenal academy graduate soon became a regular England starter, featuring at the 2010 World Cup. Composed in the tackle, he was also a good leader – though the club were relegated in his final season at the Boleyn. Hmm.
Winston Reid – Injury problems almost certainly robbed us of seeing the best of Winston Reid, but the Kiwi was still able to show plenty of ability in West Ham’s backline. Ousting James Tomkins was a close call, but he was among the very best defenders outside of the ‘top six’ for a good year.
Rio Ferdinand – The first of many England regulars to graduate from West Ham’s 1990s academy, Ferdinand was one of the best ball-playing defenders of his generation. Spent the majority of his career at the very top, but played 127 Premier League games for the Hammers before moving on – and was absolutely class.
Julian Dicks – It would come as no surprise to any West Ham fan to see Dicks as one of the first names on the teamsheet, let alone in the 25-man squad. A crunching, old school defender who loved to get stuck in, he was also great going forward – possessing a cannon of a long-range shot and a devilish whipped cross. But it’s Dicks’ penalties that many will remember, as he almost ripped the net off the goal every time he took one.
Aaron Cresswell – What Dicks sometimes lacked was finesse and a cool head, especially when the heat was on. Having Cresswell helps to find that perfect balance, and he’s also a dab hand to have available at all other set pieces.
Mark Noble – Captain, leader and club legend who needs no real introduction. Has kept things ticking over in east London for almost two decades and will forever be associated with claret and blue.
Scott Parker – Spent four full seasons at West Ham, winning the club’s Hammer of the Year award three consecutive times. Was so good in midfield that despite the club being relegated during 2010/11, Parker was recognised as the Football Writers’ Association (FWA) Footballer of the Year – a truly magnificent feat in what was a very average side.
Cheikhou Kouyate – Acclimatising to life in the Premier League isn’t always easy but Kouyate took to the task like a duck to water in 2014. Was part of the Hammers side that lit up east London in the club’s final season at the Boleyn, putting in a number of combative, dominating performances at the heart of midfield.
Michael Carrick – It was clear that bigger and better things awaited Carrick when he made his West Ham debut at the turn of the century. Technically brilliant, he made the game look effortlessly simple, gliding around midfield unnoticed, picking out passes left, right and centre. Was loyal to the club and even stayed on to play a season of Championship football, having already tucked 101 Premier League appearances under his belt.
Right & Left Midfielders
Trevor Sinclair – A real star of the late 1990s, Sinclair was the heartbeat of the Hammers team that surprisingly finished fifth in the 1998/99 season. Always a consistent performer, he loved scoring the spectacular too – and was a classy out-and-out wide midfielder.
Michail Antonio – Technically brilliant? Not on your nelly. A consistently good performer? Not always. But a relentless trier, who bullies opposition defenders and always gives 100% each and every time he plays, no matter the position? Always. And that’s why teams need players like Antonio in their squad.
Matthew Etherington – In cricket, there’s few things more appealing on the eye than a fluent cover drive from a left-handed batsman. Likewise, Phil Mickelson’s golf swing is equally as good to watch. For West Ham fans, they had the delight of watching Etherington elegantly charge up and down the left flank, game after game, week after week.
Joe Cole – Part three of West Ham’s version of Fame Academy brings us to Joe Cole, perhaps the most talented player to blossom from youth team manager Tony Carr’s tutelage. Broke into the first-team setup in his late teens and was, in truth, far too good for the Hammers. Made 157 Premier League appearances in two spells and is very fondly remembered.
Frank Lampard – Before he became a legend at Chelsea, Lampard was a standout young midfielder at West Ham – despite claims of bias and preferential treatment. That talk was soon put to bed as Lampard became an important part of the team, developing his knack of scoring important goals and arriving late in the box during these formative years.
Eyal Berkovic – If you needed a defence to be picked apart or a pass to be threaded through the eye of a needle, then Israeli midfielder Berkovic was your man. He was a wonderful playmaker who would likely have risen to the top of the English game had John Hartson not tried to kick his face off in a West Ham training session. Shame we didn’t get to see more…
Dimitri Payet – Another magician with the ball at his feet. Payet seemed capable of doing almost anything during his 18 months at the club, helping West Ham sign off at the Boleyn with a fabulous campaign. Scored a couple of breathtaking goals before leaving in acrimonious circumstances, but there’s no disputing his ability was, at times, world class.
Paolo Di Canio – When Harry Redknapp signed Di Canio in January 1999, there was a sense of incredulity around east London. But what seemed to be one of the worst pieces of transfer business imaginable soon became the best, as the Italian lit up the east end and the Premier League with moments of magnificence. Is a revered, legendary figure, even though he only made 118 appearances for West Ham in the top flight.
Jermain Defoe – Snared from Charlton’s youth setup, Defoe ironically burst onto the top flight scene with a wonderful goal at his former employers. Would never truly flourish at West Ham because of relegation, instead enjoying great success at London rivals Tottenham. But his sharpshooting ability and blistering pace is a must-have trait in any team’s strikeforce, and he led the West Ham line well despite his tender years.
John Hartson – Carlton Cole and Frederic Kanoute – and I’m sure I’d be saying Dean Ashton if his career hadn’t been cut short – can feel hard done by, but it’s hard to ignore the impact that Hartson, alongside Paul Kitson, had during the back end of the 1996/97 season. West Ham were up sh*t creek without a paddle until Harry Redknapp bought the duo in, and their signings saved the club from almost certain relegation. Hartson followed up with 15 goals the season after, before his decision to almost decapitate Berkovic saw the club cut its losses.