But even out of these hundreds of players, how do you decide? Would it be goals, creativity, agility between the sticks or loyalty and bravery when the chips were down?
This can only be subjective, since statistics cannot capture the essence of greatness.
For me, and for very many other Wigan fans I know, the Greatest Wigan Athletic Player Of All Time must be Arjan De Zeeuw. I imagine some Portsmouth and Barnsley fans may agree with me and vote him up there for their respective teams too, so this says something about the man.
On the football field he was a true captain, a gentleman, a man to respect. He could be firm though - anyone who remembers the yellow card he took for ploughing through Cristiano Ronaldo the week following the 4-0 loss in the Carling Cup Final would agree that sportsmanship was also on the agenda. Fair but firm play.
The broken noses, collar bones, cheeks, ankles and toes and his general slowing down in later years were just indications of how often he was prepared to put his body on the line for his team. He knew what needed to be done and if it was to put his head in or take the yellow card, he would do it. A true professional. He was also an exceptional defender.
When Ari left Wigan to help Portsmouth to the Premier League in 2002, it was with sadness that we saw him go, but we understood.
While at Portsmouth the famous single incident that sums the man up occurred. He refused to retaliate after El Hadji Diouf spat in his face during a match at the Reebok Stadium in November 2004. His response was to score the winning goal in Portsmouth's 1–0 victory.
When he returned to Wigan in 2005 and started the opening Premiership game against Chelsea, on an already emotionally overwrought afternoon, the ovation he received was truly moving.
While he was a player Ari was quietly studying science, in stark contrast to the received wisdom about professional footballers. Typical of the man.
For the final word, let’s go straight to the top: “He's really strong, never gives up. I could do with him at the whips' office!’ For once there was no spin in Tony Blair’s statement!
Disclaimer: The views in this article are that of the writer and may not replicate those of the Professional Footballers' Association.
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