Best XI: Football League to Premier League

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The mystery surrounding whether Wilfried Zaha will be able to transfer his skills to the Premier League with Manchester United, after ending his loan spell back at Crystal Palace, had me thinking about how difficult it is to make the step up from the Football League.

But there are a number of examples of players who have been signed, even by higher quality Premier League clubs, who have gone on to be a success in England's top flight.

So which players can make the best XI of Premier League players that were signed from the Football League?

There are just a few simple rules I set myself. Players must have transferred from a club in the Football League, having never played Premier League football at any other time in their career prior to that transfer.

That is not counting players who were promoted to the Premier League with one club, thus played in both leagues.

This rules out more so called "easy selections", such as Michael Owen's move from relegated Newcastle United to Manchester United in 2009 or Michael Carrick's £3.5m transfer from West Ham United to Tottenham Hotspur in 2004.

While there may be the likes of Ben Watson, David Nugent, Andy Reid and Keith Andrews in that prestigious group, there are far more successful candidates.

Of the players selected, they have three Premier League winners medals, 359 international appearances and have been involved in 20 Champions League campaigns between them, which pays testament to England's lower divisions.

Goalkeeper: Joe Hart

The 26-year-old stopper began his career at Shrewsbury CIty, and made his debut for the club when they were in the Conference in April 2004 at the age of 17.

He was signed by Manchester City in 2006, and became Sven-Goran Eriksson's number one choice a year later after loan spells at Tranmere Rovers and Blackpool.

Hart is one of the few players who has remained at City from the days before the takeover of Sheikh Mansour in 2008, and after seeing off competition from Shay Given, he has gone from strength to strength, confirming his spot as England's first-choice goalkeeper and being a part of City's title winning team in 2012.

Right-back: Kyle Walker

At the age of 23, the defender is still yet to reach his peak, but he has been a consistent performer for Spurs since signing from Sheffield United in 2009.

Walker actually made his Premier League debut for Aston Villa in 2011 while on loan there, but he has started 73 matches out of 76 in the last two seasons for Tottenham, with his electric pace, athleticism and reliability being his main strengths.

It may surprise some that he only has five caps for his country, but once he has developed his game into a more complete defender, he could have many years at the top level to come.

Centre-back: Michael Dawson

After being signed from Nottingham Forest in January 2005 along with team-mate Reid, the 29-year-old has been a solid presence in his eight-and-a-half years at White Hart Lane.

Injuries have stopped him from going on to be more of a regular player for England, and he did not make his debut for the Three Lions until August 2010.

The 29-year-old has made 203 appearances for Tottenham, with last season seeing him re-discover some of his best form, and he has been a key part of a transformation from being a mid-table team to a team competing for the Champions League.

Centre-back: Dean Richards

Richards became the most expensive uncapped English player when Tottenham signed him from Southampton in 2001 for £8.1m, but he made the step up from the First Divison when he signed for the Saints from Wolverhampton Wanderers in 1999.

Two selections in the Division One PFA Team of the Year were highlights of his time at Molyneux, and he established himself as one of the most promising defenders in the country.

An impressive two years at the Dell convinced Glenn Hoddle to take Richards with him to north London, but injuries prevented him from reaching his full potential, as he made just 75 appearances in four years there, but his solidity and leadership are the qualities that place him in this team.

He died in 2011 from a long-term illness at the age of 36, and a number of tributes were paid by his former team-mates and pundits.

Left-back: Gareth Bale

But Bale isn't a left-back anymore? You might ask.

He isn't, after being moved to the position of left-midfield by Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp in 2010, but it was his energetic performances at full-back for Southampton that got him the move to the Premier League in the first place.

The Welshman only made 45 appearances for the Saints, and his debut against Millwall in 2006 came at the age of 16, but an appearance related £10m offer from Spurs was enough to tempt the struggling club into selling him.

The rest, as they say, is history, with the now 23-year-old winning the PFA Players' Player of the Year award in 2011 and 2013, and it is unclear whether he will still be a Tottenham player next season, after a number of match-winning goals and displays last season has attracted the interest of Real Madrid and Manchester United.

Right midfield: Theo Walcott

Another Southampton academy product, Walcott made far less appearances for the South Coast club, as he left for Arsenal in 2006 after making just 21 appearances

in a £5m deal, which was due to rise to £12m based on appearances for club and country.

After a shock inclusion in England's 2006 World Cup squad, where he did not make an appearance, he was converted to a right-winger.

The London born player has gone on to become an integral part of Arsene Wenger's plans at the Emirates Stadium, making  263 appearances and scoring 63 goals for the Gunners in his time there.

Centre midfield: Danny Murphy

The 36-year-old turned out to be a shrewd piece of business for Liverpool when signing from Crewe Alexandra in 1997.

His seven years at Anfield produced two League Cups, an FA Cup and a UEFA cup under Gerard Houllier, and the midfielder became synonymous for his hard tackling and work rate, and he could have played at the 2002 World Cup for England had it not been for injury.

Spells with Charlton Athletic, Tottenham Hotspur and Fulham followed, and he continued to be a dependable performer, and is now playing for Blackburn Rovers in the Championship.

Centre midfield: Tim Cahill

Tim Cahill is one of the greatest internationals Australia has ever produced, but his time in the Premier League with Everton is what he is renowned for.

Cahill signed for the Toffees after playing an important role in Millwall's surprise run to the FA Cup final in 2004, and eventually converted to a supporting striker role in his eight-year spell at Goodison Park.

He helped guide the Merseyside club to the Champions League in his first season, and his consistency and passing ability won him many plaudits, as he scored 68 goals in 278 appearances for David Moyes' team before leaving for the New York Red Bulls in 2012.

Left midfield: Craig Bellamy

The former Norwich City player has played for more Premier League clubs than any other player in this team, spanning back to his move from Carrow Road to Coventry City in 2000.

His longest stint with any Premier League club was his four year stay at Newcastle United, where a formidable partnership with Alan Shearer helped guide the Magpies to the Champions League, where they reached the second group stage in the 2002/03 season.

Bellamy, 34, went on to play for Blackburn, Liverpool (twice), West Ham and Manchester City, and his Premier League record stands at 79 goals in 269 games, and it has been since moving to left midfield at Man City that he has won more plaudits.

He will return to the Premier League this season with Cardiff City, whom he helped to promotion last season, and his experience will play an important part in their battle for survival.

Forward: Robbie Keane

Not only is the 33-year-old Ireland’s record goalscorer with 59 goals, the £6m transfer fee that took him from Wolverhampton Wanderers to Coventry City in 1999, the same summer as Richards, was the record transfer fee for a British or Irish teenager.

Keane has played for six Premier League clubs in total, and a spell in Serie A with Inter Milan, which followed his one year at Highfield Road, preceded his time at Leeds, two stints with Tottenham, Liverpool and loan spells at West Ham and Aston Villa.

The Ireland captain has been a dependable striker wherever he has played, and his £19m move to Liverpool in 2008 was the only glitch in his polished Premier League career, as he returned to White Hart Lane after scoring 7 goals in 28 games for the Anfield club.

A tally of 137 goals in 367 appearances is a more than satisfactory record, and he is now playing in the MLS with La Galaxy, where he won the MLS Cup in 2012.

Forward: Eidur Gudjohnsen

Some described the Icelandic forward as a “player with wing-mirrors”, as his reading of the game and reliability as a supportive striker won him many plaudits in his six years with Chelsea after signing from Bolton Wanderers in 2000.

He was brought to England by Wanderers manager Colin Todd from KR Reykjavik in 1998, and 21 goals in the 1999-2000 season earned him a £4m move to Stamford Bridge.

Highlights of his time in West London were a formidable partnership with Dutchman Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink in the 2001-02 season, as well as his part in helping secure the Premier League title for the Blues in 2005, the first of his two league titles with the club.

A move to Barcelona followed after being transformed to a midfielder by Jose Mourinho, and he later came back to the Premier League for less successful spells with Tottenham, Stoke and Fulham, though he did play his part in helping Spurs to a Champions League place in 2010.


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