This week’s KICKTV Top 5 looks at the very best assist givers dominating across Europe right now. Here, we look at the Premier League’s finest goal architects
The modern game has brought with it an obsession with statistics. Now, in order to properly assess a game, fans need to know about possession, shots on target, fouls conceded, average speed, underwear color, hair gel aerodynamic drag coefficient and, of course, assists.
It didn’t used to be like this.
When your dad watched a game, the only stat he knew or cared about was how many goals each team had scored. Even ten years ago, fans were not granted such free access to statistics and tactical information.
The assist has become a vital part of player evaluation, but the Premier League only formally started including them in their player performance index in the 2006-07 season.
Here’s the top 5 all-time assist providers in Premier League history, which includes some numbers that will give Mesut Ozil something to aim for…
5. Steven Gerrard
Premier League assists: 92
It’s fair to say that Steven Gerrard’s career hasn’t panned out how he would have hoped in recent seasons (the slip that might have cost him his only shot at a league title; the embarrassing final game for Liverpool that ended 6-1 to Stoke; a season at LA Galaxy winning absolutely nada). But he is undoubtedly a legend of the Premier League era.
In 504 Premier League appearances between 1998 and 2015, Stevie G managed 92 assists along with 120 goals. That means he contributed a goal or assist once roughly two league games. In over 500 games, that’s darn impressive.
In all competitions, the former Reds captain delivered 155 assists. The good folks at This Is Anfield have listed their 10 favorite Gerrard assists, which includes the sensational through ball against Fulham in 2014 that you see above.
4. Dennis Bergkamp
Premier League assists: 94
If you’re not old enough to have seen Dennis Bergkamp in his Premier League prime, you need to stop what you’re doing now and watch some highlight reels. Seriously, I’ll wait here for you.
The Dutchman was a magician on the ball, who, incidentally, scored one my favourite goals of all time at the 1998 World Cup:
There is a reason there’s a statue of him outside the Emirates.
One of Bergkamp’s greatest strengths was his ability to pick out a pass from anywhere on the field—a skill that helped him rack up 94 assists in 11 Premier League seasons.
Bergkamp’s finest season was 1997-98, when Arsenal’s “Invincibles” famously won the double. He provided 20 assists and scored a very tidy 22 goals, which meant he had a hand in 46% of the Gunners’ goals in that iconic season.
Only twice in 11 seasons did he fail to register double-digit assist numbers (as per The BBC).
According to The Telegraph, averaged 0.3 assists per game. That isn’t as impressive as Mesut Ozil’s average of 0.45 per game, but the non-flying Dutchman also tended to score a lot more, finishing his Arsenal career with 87 goals from 315 league games.
3. Wayne Rooney
Premier League assists: 100 (and counting)
Wayne Rooney may be known primarily as a striker and a goalscorer, but he has been used in a variety of midfield roles throughout his career. Hence, he has been able to climb up the assist charts as he has dropped further back.
However, assists are no recent phenomenon for the 30-year-0ld: the Liverpool-born forward actually started his senior career with an assist, rather than a goal. On 17th August 2002, a 16-year-old Rooney made his first full appearance in an Everton shirt and assisted Mark Pembridge in a 2-2 draw against Tottenham.
Furthermore, on his famous Manchester United debut against Fenerbahce in the Champions League, the headlines were stolen when Roo bagged a hat-trick. But he also notched an assist in that 6-2 win.
Despite Manchester United’ utter aversion to score goals this season, Rooney has found the net 7 times and provided 3 assists in the league. This brings his Premier League total to 100 assists over 14 seasons. (His official website also notes that he has managed 149 career assists, which presumably includes all competitions and friendlies.)
His most notable campaign for assists was 2013-14, when he provided 10 in the league for Manchester United and a further 8 in Europe. This made him the Red Devil’s top assist provider (and top goalscorer with 17) and the highest overall assist provider in the Champions League.
2. Frank Lampard
Premier League assists: 102
Frank Lampard sealed his place in the Premier League Hall of Fame during 400+ games across 20 seasons with West Ham and Chelsea. Widely regarded as one of the finest midfielders of his generation, Lampard concluded his time at Stamford Bridge as the club’s all-time top goalscorer (211 in all competitions). He’s also the only midfielder to have more than 150 Premier League goals to his name.
No wonder his uncle Harry Redknapp had his back from the start:
One of the best facets of Lampard’s game, however, is his ability to create goals for others. When he concluded his time with Manchester City in 2014-15, his league tally stood at a mighty 102 assists.
102 – Frank Lampard now has 102 assists in the Premier League, second only to Ryan Giggs (162). Nous.
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) October 18, 2014
His finest campaign may have been 2004-05, during which Chelsea won their first league title in 50 years and Lampsie was named player of the season. He managed 18 Premier League assists that season—a tally that has only ever been matched by Cesc Fabregas last year and only ever beaten by Thierry Henry’s record-breaking 20 assists in 2002-03.
1. Ryan Giggs
Premier League assists: 162
From next season, the Premier League lion is going to be removed from the league’s logo from “branding purposes.” If the people in power have any sense, they will replace the lion with Ryan Gigg’s face, such is his importance to the history of the league.
The current Manchester United assistant manager is the most decorated player in football history, thanks to a trophy haul that includes 13 Premier League titles, four FA Cups and two Champions Leagues.
The Welshman holds the record for the most Premier League appearances (632) and he is also the leading assist provider in the league’s history.
It’s going to take a gargantuan effort for anyone to get near his tally of 162 assists.
It’s true that Giggs’ assists were spread over a whopping 24 seasons, hence his games-per-assist ratio can be beaten by many other players. In fact, his former teammates Eric Cantona (2.79), David Beckham (3.31) and Nani (3.42) all boasted better games-per-assist stats than his 3.9 ratio.
Yet, Giggs’ longevity and consistency is absolutely part of his appeal. He has put up numbers that might not be topped for generations.
Which other assist-providing legends should be in the conversation? Let me know in the comments and on Twitter!