On the first day of the Premier League in 1992, you could count the amount of non-British players playing on almost two hands. By 2005, the league had become a favourable destination of many players around the world to enhance their careers.
On Boxing Day 1999, Gianluca Vialli’s Chelsea became the first team in Premier League history to not field a British player in their starting XI for their away victory at Southampton. Vialli realised only when he handed the teamsheet in that this would create some headlines but he wasn’t unduly concerned.
Six years later, Arsene Wenger went a step further for the home match with Crystal Palace. With injuries and illness to Sol Campbell and Ashley Cole, he named the first-ever squad of 16 players without a single British representative to be involved. For the record, the team was:
Jens Lehmann (Germany), Lauren (Cameroon), Pascal Cygan (France), Kolo Toure (Cote d’Ivoire), Gael Clichy (France), Patrick Vieira (France), Edu (Brazil), Robert Pires (France), Jose Antonio Reyes (Spain), Dennis Bergkamp (Netherlands), Thierry Henry (France)
SUBS: Manuel Almunia (Spain), Philippe Senderos (Switzerland), Cesc Fabregas (Spain), Mathieu Flamini (France), Robin van Persie (Netherlands)
It was a watershed moment for the Premier League and how diverse it had truly become. Arsenal went on to win the contest 5-1 on their way to a runners-up position in the table but it was the line-up, rather than the scoreline that created the most attention in the next day’s newspaper headlines.