This Premier League season has been one of the most exciting, entertaining and unpredictable in years; Leicester City’s remarkable rise, Tottenham’s surprise title push, the fall of champions Chelsea, and shock results week-in-week-out.
In conjunction with Leicester’s rise has been the meteoric rise of their star man, Jamie Vardy. 21 goals in 32 games for the late-blooming 29-year-old forward leaves him placed second in the race for the Golden Boot, just a single goal behind the man in pole position - Tottenham Hotspur's Harry Kane.
Bursting onto the scene in November 2014, Kane went on to finish second to Sergio Aguero’s 26 goals, just five goals behind the Argentine superstar, despite Kane’s season effectively beginning three months late. Tottenham’s main marksman, at the age of just 22, has already surpassed last season’s tally, and currently leads the chasing pack with 22 goals.
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These two English strikers leading the scoring charts with just five games left is rather unprecedented, with Jamie Vardy seen as a player doomed for relegation with Leicester City, and Harry Kane deemed a ‘one-season wonder’ by many.
This provokes a question: How long has it been since two English players last led the competition for the Golden Boot?
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With more and more foreign players being brought into the league by the increasingly staggering amounts of money available to every Premier League club due to the new television deals, the quality of each team is on the rise - however, this leaves an abundance of young British talent with nowhere to showcase their potential, and has a direct effect on the England national team and its presence within the league.
The last time an English player won the Golden Boot was the 1999-00 season, 16 years ago, when Kevin Phillips hit 30 goals for seventh-placed Sunderland. That year, another Englishman finished second, with Newcastle United’s Alan Shearer hitting 23 goals and narrowly besting Manchester United’s 22-goal striker Dwight Yorke.
Looking back on more recent Premier League seasons, it perhaps becomes more difficult to find English players hitting more goals than their talented foreign counterparts.
Last season, Harry Kane and Queens Park Rangers’ Charlie Austin finished with 21 and 18 goals, respectively, as both gave Sergio Aguero and Diego Costa a run for their money, with the two young English strikers subsequently finishing second and fourth.
The 2013-14 season saw Liverpool’s Daniel Sturridge finish second with 21 goals, but a whole ten goals behind his Uruguayan strike partner Luis Suarez; a mean feat nonetheless, the young English striker finally showed his quality in a central role, helping Liverpool to a second placed finish - agonisingly usurped by an arguably less-deserving Manchester City side who had Ivorian Yaya Toure as their top scorer with 20 goals.
The season before that saw no Englishman come even close to the top spot, as Dutch superstar Robin van Persie swept home 26 goals to lead Manchester United to a record 20th league title. Rickie Lambert and Frank Lampard were England’s only representatives in the top ten, finishing joint seventh with 15 goals, also level with Demba Ba and Dimitar Berbatov.
Wayne Rooney’s 26 and 27 goal hauls in the respective 2009-10 and 2011-12 seasons, although impressive, were not enough to win the Englishman the ultimate honour, with Chelsea’s Didier Drogba and Arsenal’s Robin van Persie overcoming his challenge with 29 and 30 goals, respectively.
The 2009-10 season also saw the now forgotten English striker Darren Bent come close, scoring 24 goals as he finished third to Rooney and Drogba; this season was one of the strongest in terms of English scorers for many years, with Frank Lampard claiming fifth with 22 goals and Jermain Defoe claiming joint sixth with Spanish striker Fernando Torres on 18 goals.
The strength of foreign talent saw no Englishman break the top two for four straight years, as Thierry Henry (27) and Ruud van Nistelrooy (21) claimed first and second in 2005-06, before Didier Drogba (20) and Benni McCarthy (18) topped the charts for the 2006-07 season. Cristiano Ronaldo hit 31 goals in the 2007-08 season as a rampant Manchester United were crowned champions of England and Europe, with Torres of Liverpool and Arsenal’s Emmanuel Adebayor being the Portuguese superstar’s closest challengers on 24 goals each.
This season witnessed a top ten of all non-English scorers, as not one home-grown player broke into the chasing pack - the only time in the Premier League’s 23-year history that this situation has occurred. The 2008-09 season saw Frenchman Nicolas Anelka claim the Golden Boot with 19 goals, as Ronaldo came a close second on 18.
The most staggering statistic of all, however, is the one that shows just how much the Premier League’s identity has changed since its inaugural 1992-93 season: Between then and the 1997-98 season, the top three spots in the race for the Golden Boot were held exclusively by Englishmen every year, with only 19 non-English players breaking into the top ten over the course of five seasons (including Welsh internationals Mark Hughes and Dean Saunders, and Scottish forward Kevin Gallacher). Compared to the array of foreign talent on display in every top ten from then on, these early Premier League scoring charts look very strange to a modern football fan.
Most fans hope the Premier League will remain the most exciting league for many years to come, and that the quality of players will continue to improve.
This article was not intended as a criticism of the amount of foreign talent entering the league, it is simply a commentary of how the Premier League has rapidly morphed from a production line for British players to a global league admired by all and experienced by many.