To be considered a cult footballer, you have to be special. Not simply in terms of technical skills, but it’s more to do with personality, attitude and passion for the game. We were blessed with plenty of cult heroes during the 1990s, so let’s take a look at seven cult superstars who graced the Premier League.
After leaving Manchester United in 1989, McGrath settled in the midlands with Aston Villa. During his seven year stint at Villa Park, the Irish defender became a fans favourite due to his consistently superb performances. What made his tally of 478 league appearance more incredible, was that he hardly ever trained. Persistent knee injuries confined him to the swimming pool during the week, but come Saturday afternoon, he transformed into a man-mountain of a centre-back. He never has and probably never will get the credit he deserves, but the Villa and Ireland fans still sing, “Ooh, ahh, Paul McGrath!”
Many Chelsea fans will remember Zola for his smile and his stature, but they will all reminisce fondly about the sublime skill and magical moments Zola provided their team with, following his arrival from Parma in 1996. The magical little Italian was such a hit with the Stamford Bridge faithful, that when he left the club in 2003, Chelsea retired his famous number 25 shirt.
No player epitomised the Wimbledon “Crazy Gang” more than Vinnie Jones. He was loud, brash and a red card waiting to happen. Vinnie holds the record for the fastest yellow card ever received in an English football match, picking up the booking just five seconds after kick-off. I’m sure even Vinnie would admit he wasn’t the most gifted footballer, but he was a fantastic leader and a cult hero for Wimbledon and English football fans.
‘King’ Cantona was the catalyst behind Manchester United’s evolution into a footballing superpower during the early 90s. Incredibly stylish and influential on the pitch, the charismatic Frenchman was also mysterious, short tempered and highly volatile. Thanks to players like Cantona, the number seven shirt has become a hallowed squad number for teams all over the world. Many footballing legends have worn the number seven shirt over the years, but there will never be anyone quite like Eric Cantona again.
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Paulo Di Canio
There was an incredible outcry after Di Canio was suspended for pushing over a referee in 1999. Not to get his ban extended, but to get the Italian back in England as soon as possible – that’s the effect he had on the supporters of every team he represented. His touch and vision were sublime, he carried the ball past defenders with consummate ease and some of the goals he scored were simply stunning. But it was the passion that the home fans loved most about Di Canio. The drive, the effort and the sheer will to win.
Matt Le Tissier
There’s a reason Southampton fans call him “Le God”. The Guernsey-born Southampton legend scored 161 goals in his 443 appearances for the south coast club and the majority of those were absolutely spectacular. Le Tissier was majestic, a true one-club man and one of the most technically gifted players England produced during the 90s. How he only won 12 caps for his country is mystifying.
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Trouble seemed to follow Gazza throughout his glittering career, but no-one can deny the brilliance of the man on the pitch. An agile dribbler, powerfully direct, with poise, elegance and flair in abundance. He was a supremely talented footballer, fully committed to every moment and he scored some wonderful goals for club and country. An enigma of a man, but a true genius of a footballer.