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The Three Best Dutch Players To Have Played in the Premier League

Over the years the Premier League has greeted players from all corners of the planet. It is quite probably the most global league in the world, in any sport, both in terms of the athletes plying their trade here, and also its reach and television audience. As of the 2023/24 campaign, there are 361 foreign footballers earning a (very good) living in the Premier League and they come from nations as diverse as Scotland (and Wales and both parts of Ireland), South Africa, Kosovo, Iran, Grenada, Gabon and Estonia, to name just a few.

However, the nations providing the English top flight with the most players are traditional football heavyweights like Brazil, France, Portugal, Spain, Belgium, Argentina… and the Netherlands. Right now there are some top-class Dutch players in the PL, including the likes of Nathan Ake at Man City, Liverpool trio Cody Gakpo, Ryan Gravenberch and Virgil van Dijk, as well as some lower-profile players, for example Crystal Palace’s Jairo Riedewald, or Brentford’s Mark Flekken.

The Benelux nation has been a regular source of Premier League footballers, right from the very first day, with both Man City’s Michel Vonk and Wimbledon keeper Hans Segers playing on the 15th of August 1992 when the league began. In the 30+ years since then, more than 130 Dutch footballers have played in the competition and there have been some real crackers. In this article, we will narrow that down to the three very best though!

Lists such as these will always be a tad controversial and of course there is a large degree of subjectivity in these assessments. Are we looking at footballers who won the most Premier League titles or honours in England? Should we focus on the ones that had the biggest impact on the game in this country? Or do we mean which Dutch players who played in England were the best over the course of their whole careers? Or which had the highest peak, either in the Premier League or overall, even if it lasted for just a season? Or something else? Who knows… but here are the Premier League’s top three Dutch players ever.

1) Virgil van Dijk

Virgil van Dijk Playing for Liverpool
Virgil van Dijk signed for Liverpool from Southampton in January 2018. Image: Cosmin Iftode, Bigstock Photo

We normally walk down the easy street of “No particular order” when compiling lists like these but we’re going to put VVD straight in at number one. The Liverpool centre back, who began at Dutch side Groningen, has been the best centre back in the world for most of the past five seasons. At his very peak, during the four seasons between 2018/19 and 2021/22, when the Reds accumulated over 90 points three times, there was even talk of him being the greatest defender of all time.

That might have been a bit of hyperbole, and it might have only been Kopites putting forward the notion, but there is no doubt that Van Dijk was simply phenomenal for a number of seasons. Standing at 6ft 5in, he is a Rolls Royce of a player and like the car, his hulking size still boasts amazing pace and power. Combined with his physical attributes, this made him virtually impossible to beat in a one-on-one situation, his reading of the game is also first-class.

The former Celtic and Southampton man is very comfortable and composed on the ball too, able to play long, raking passes forward with great accuracy. What’s more, he also chips in with more than his fair share of goals and provides a real aerial presence in both penalty boxes. He has managed seven international goals in 64 matches for Netherlands and, as well as all this, he is a fantastic leader, demanding full commitment from those around him.

He has proved a bargain buy, even at £75m, and has helped Liverpool to the Premier League title, the Champions League, the FA Cup, the EFL Cup and more. The Dutch in general may be associated with skill and flair, but Van Dijk shows they can produce incredible defenders too.

2) Dennis Bergkamp

Dennis Bergkamp's Boots at the Emirates Stadium
Dennis Bergkamp made over 400 appearances for Arsenal between 1995 and his retirement in 2006. Image: Lukas Koster, flickr

Talking of skill and flair moves us nicely on to Dennis Bergkamp, a player who made the game look like an art form. He did things that made you question whether he could have possibly even meant them but, invariably, he did. A magician who graced the Premier League with Arsenal, he helped the north London club win three PL titles, four FA Cups and make the final of both the Champions League and the Europa League.

He twice made the top three of the Ballon d’Or, although this was before his move to the Gunners, and also made the 1998 World Cup All-Star Team after his switch to Arsenal. He was signed by Bruce Rioch in 1995 but little over a year later was being managed by Arsene Wenger and he did enough under the latter’s management to earn a statue in his honour outside the Emirates Stadium.

In total, the Dutch master scored 120 goals in 423 games for Arsenal, and 37 in 79 for his nation. In the PL he managed 87 goals and 94 assists in 315 appearances, all impressive stats. However, it would be wrong to paint Bergkamp solely as a creative player and he also had a nasty side to him and quiet, steely leadership qualities that helped elevate those around him.

3) Ruud van Nistelrooy

Van Nistelrooy was an out-and-out goal-getter and his lethal finishing helped PSV, Man United and Real Madrid all claim major honours. He bagged 35 goals in 70 matches for Netherlands and an incredible 150 in 219 for the Red Devils. His stint at United, and in the Premier League, was relatively brief, but in his 150 league matches he fired in 95 goals (plus created 14 goals for others).

He was a natural, instinctive finisher who had the right sort of greediness that top strikers must possess. In 2002/03 he scored 25 PL goals to win the Golden Boot and was also crowned Player of the Season. He is currently sixth on the all-time list of Champions League goalscorers but of the top 20, only Erling Haaland, Alfredo Di Stefano, Lionel Messi and Robert Lewandowski have a better goals-per-game ratio, indicative of his ruthlessness in front of goal.

Honourable Mentions

In truth, whilst we have no doubts about including Van Dijk or Bergkamp, we could probably have selected any one of about five others to fill third spot. As such, we will give honourable mentions to the following sensational Dutch talents to have illuminated the Premier League.

  • Robin van Persie – RVP was another lethal, instinctive finisher and he scored 50 times (in 102 games) for his country. In the PL he bagged 144 goals and 53 assists in 280 appearances, winning the PL with Man United and the FA Cup with Arsenal.
  • Jaap Stam – Stam was a similar defender to Van Dijk in many ways, though a little less elegant and a little more, in the best possible way, thuggish. Strong, powerful and a fine leader, Stam helped Man United to the Champions League in 1999 and also won the FA Cup and three Premier Leagues.
  • Edwin van der Sar – Another Man United player, Van Der Sar somehow managed to fill the gaping hole left at United by Peter Schmeichel. Costing around £2m, he was a real bargain and he was in goal for three CL finals with United (winning one), also lifting the PL four times and the League Cup twice. 130 international caps is also testament to his longevity and sustained excellence.
  • Ruud Gullit – Gullit may not have been at his absolute peak in the Premier League, nor claimed any silverware with Chelsea. However, he may well be the best Dutch player to have ever played in the PL when we consider his whole career and his best years.
  • Arjen Robben – Robben was one of the best early examples of an inverted winger and the sight of him cutting in from the right before firing home was something to behold. His brief stint at Chelsea brought two league titles, two League Cups and the FA Cup, and moves to Real Madrid and Bayern Munich illustrate just how good he was.