The Only 11 Foreign Players To Start The Opening Premier League Weekend

The debate of whether there are too many foreign imports in English football is as regular as clockwork these days. It was recently revealed that 69.2 percent of all footballers in the Premier League were born somewhere other than the UK and Ireland. Indeed just last weekend, 133 non-British or Irish players were named in the starting line-ups for Prem teams. However, when the new-look top flight began in August 1992, despite there being 22 clubs, only 11 foreigners in total (just 4.5% of players) started in that first weekend of matches. So in alphabetical order, here’s a look at those original foreign players who were in involved at the start of a new era for the English game.

Eric Cantona (Leeds United)

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Match: Leeds United 2-1 Wimbledon – 15th August, 1992.

Due to his success at Manchester United, the impact that Eric Cantona had during his short spell at Leeds is often overlooked. Joining the Yorkshire club in February 1992, the Frenchman was instrumental in their title triumph of 1991/92 campaign, making 15 appearances (mainly as a sub) and scoring 3 goals. Although his goal tally was small, it was the assists for leading goalscorer Lee Chapman that in the end helped Leeds United bring the league championship back to Elland Road for the first time since 1974. The week before the new Premier League season kicked off, Leeds beat Liverpool 4-3 in the Charity Shield at Wembley Stadium, with Cantona scoring a hat-trick. Now a regular starter, the forward then scored the first ever Premier League hat-trick three weeks later, in a 5-0 drubbing of Tottenham Hotspur. It wasn’t long though, before he fell out of favour with manager Howard Wilkinson, following clashes both on and off the pitch. Just as Cantona was hugely unsettled at Elland Road, a chance phone call from Leeds to Manchester United changed his career. Wilkinson was enquiring about the possibility of signing Man Utd full-back Denis Irwin, but within 24 hours a deal had been done for Cantona to go the other way, for a ridiculously low price of £1.2 million. The Red Devils won the first Premier League title that season, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Craig Forrest (Ipswich Town)

Craig Forrest

Match: Ipswich Town 1-1 Aston Villa – 15th August, 1992.

Canadian goalkeeper, Craig Forrest, was Ipswich Town’s number one for the majority of the 90s, helping them to promotion by winning the old Second Division title in 1992, just in time for the newly established Premier League. It was a far cry from his childhood near Vancouver, where Forrest tried football for the first time purely by accident aged 12, filling in between the sticks for a lacrosse teammate who wasn’t available for the football side one day. Just four years later Forrest moved to England to become a professional! Ipswich struggled to stay in the Premier League between 1992-94, however, Forrest was in fine form and had bids rejected from other top tier sides. Unfortunately the Tractor Boys couldn’t hold off relegation in the 1994/95 season, finishing bottom of the league. That campaign, Ipswich and Craig Forrest also suffered a record-breaking 9-0 defeat to Man Utd at Old Trafford; to this day still the biggest margin of victory in Premier League history. Forrest remained loyal to the club despite relegation and stayed there for another two seasons, until the emergence of Richard Wright forced a move to West Ham United, via a short loan spell at Chelsea. Now back in his homeland, Forrest works in the media for Sportsnet, analysing the Canadian sides in the MLS and also continues to spread awareness for testicular cancer; a disease that he beat over 15 years ago.

Gunnar Halle (Oldham Athletic)

Gunnar Halle

Match: Chelsea 1-1 Oldham Athletic – 15th August, 1992.

By far Oldham Athletic’s most capped international footballer, Gunnar Halle spent five seasons at Boundary Park between 1991-1996. Oldham survived relegation from the Premier League on the last day of the 1992/93 season under Joe Royle, but were not so lucky the following year, as the Latics three-year stint in the top flight came to an end. Halle stayed at Oldham for a further 2 years after dropping to the First Division, but with his vast international experience, it seemed only a matter of time before the right-back moved back to the top tier and Leeds United signed him for £500,000 in the winter of 1996. Three successful years at Elland Road ended in 1999 with the signing of Danny Mills, so Halle moved to Bradford City, where he played in both their Premier League campaigns until 2001. The Norwegian full-back played a key role in Norway’s surprise qualification for the 1994 World Cup in the United States, at the expense of Graham Taylor’s England side. Halle also played in the 1998 World Cup in France during his international career, making 64 appearances for his country in total, scoring 5 goals – including an astonishing hat-trick against San Marino in 1992.

John Jensen (Arsenal)

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Match: Arsenal 2-4 Norwich City – 15th August, 1992.

Signed off the back of Denmark’s incredible 1992 European Championship win (where he scored in the final), John Jensen made his debut for Arsenal on the first day of the new Premier League season. The midfielder won the FA Cup that year, but was unfortunately hampered by injury throughout his Arsenal career, missing the League Cup triumph of 1993 and the European Cup Winners Cup victory in 1994. It was later found out that his transfer to Arsenal was involved in the infamous ‘bung’ scandal, which cost manager George Graham his job. Despite this, Jensen became a cult figure at Highbury, with his moustache and tight perm, and the fact that it took him two and a half years to score his first and only goal for Arsenal. On his 98th appearance, Jensen broke his duck with a fantastic curling shot from outside the area against QPR on New Years’ Eve 1994. The occasion was so celebrated that t-shirts are still worn now by Arsenal fans, bearing the words ‘I saw John Jensen score’.

Andrei Kanchelskis (Manchester United)

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Match: Sheffield United 2-1 Manchester United – 15th August, 1992.

A fast and direct right winger from the former Soviet Union, Andrei Kanchelskis was a popular figure at Old Trafford, who became an important part of Manchester United’s initial domestic success under Alex Ferguson. Signed in 1991, Kanchelskis was thrown into the United side after an illness to Lee Sharpe and both wingers continued to be rotated during the Red Devils first Premier League title win in 1992/93. It was following season when Kanchelskis made the right wing spot his own and in a midfield with Ince, Keane and Giggs, United won their first ever league and FA Cup double in 1994. Unfortunately, they failed to complete a historic domestic treble, as they went down 3-1 to Aston Villa in the League Cup final – Kanchelskis becoming the first player ever to be sent off in that particular Wembley showpiece. Despite finishing as leading scorer during the 1994/95 campaign, Kanchelskis fell out with Alex Ferguson, as Man Utd lost both the league and FA Cup final in a matter of days. A £5 million move in the summer to Everton (who actually beat United in that cup final) followed and the Russian finished as top scorer for his new club, helping them to the impressive position of 6th place. It wasn’t long however, before another big money move materialized, this time to Italian club Fiorentina. To have finished top scorer for two successful English sides from the right wing, is a fantastic achievement. Indeed his goal to games ratio at Old Trafford was nearly one in every three; a strike rate that many forwards would be pleased with. Andrei Kanchelskis also played in two European Championships for CIS/Russia and is the only player in history to have scored in the Manchester, Merseyside and Glasgow derbies.

Anders Limpar (Arsenal)

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Match: Arsenal 2-4 Norwich City – 15th August, 1992.

One of the more successful foreign imports of the early 90s, Anders Limpar is another name on this list who had impressive spells at two English clubs. Signed in the summer of 1990 following his appearance for Sweden at the World Cup, Limpar made an immediate impact at Arsenal, scoring 11 goals in the league, contributing to his side’s First Division title win in 1991. By the time the Premier League began in 1992, the midfielder had established himself in the starting eleven, but injury prevented Limpar from taking part in either of Arsenal‘s League Cup and FA Cup trophy wins of 1993. By March of the following season he was sold to Everton, where again he made an instant impression. Manager Joe Royle, had taken over a struggling side and turned them into cup winners by the end of the campaign, where Limpar finally got his hands on the FA Cup that he cruelly missed out on two years earlier, as Everton beat Manchester United 1-0 in the 1995 final. As well as Italia ’90, the midfielder also appeared at Euro ’92 and World Cup 1994 for Sweden – the latter being where the Swedes finished in 3rd place. After his retirement, Limpar opened up a sports bar in Stockholm called ‘The Limp Bar’, which has unfortunately closed down since, but remains an outstanding name for a pub.

Roland Nilsson (Sheffield Wednesday)

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Match: Everton 1-1 Sheffield Wednesday – 15th August, 1992.

Fondly remembered by fans as one of their greatest defenders, Roland Nilsson was part of the most successful Sheffield Wednesday side of modern times. Signed by Ron Atkinson in 1989, Nilsson was relegated in his first season, but stayed to help the club bounce back up at the first attempt. It was that campaign where his team shocked Manchester United 1-0 in the 1991 League Cup final, to give Wednesday their only major trophy of the last 80 years. A third place finish in the last ever League Championship season ensured European qualification, then the South Yorkshire side lost in both the finals of the League Cup and FA Cup to Arsenal in 1992/93 campaign. These were exciting times for Sheffield Wednesday fans, so it’s no surprise when Roland Nilsson topped a poll in 2007 to find their greatest ever right-back. Due to homesickness, Nilsson moved back to his native Sweden in 1994, but came back to England in 1997 when his former manager Atkinson signed him for Coventry City, where he stayed for two seasons. Like his fellow countryman Anders Limpar, Nilsson also played in Euro ’92, and the World Cups of 1990 and 1994, along with a brief appearance at Euro 2000. This brings us on to an interesting fact about the Swedish international. On May 15th, 1993, having played 120 minutes for Sheffield Wednesday in their FA Cup final stalemate against Arsenal, the right-back flew to Stockholm, where on May 19 he played the full 90 minutes for Sweden in their 1-0 World Cup qualifying win over Austria. A day later he was back at Wembley for the Cup final replay where he played another 120 mins. That’s 330 minutes of football in 5 days! So when you hear the modern day footballers moan that they’re tired or burnt out, think of Roland Nilsson.

Peter Schmeichel (Manchester United)

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Match: Sheffield United 2-1 Manchester United – 15th August, 1992.

As mentioned in a previous post, Peter Schmeichel is quite simply the best goalkeeper the Premier League has ever seen. It’s no coincidence that from his signing in 1991 to his departure in 1999, Manchester United won 11 major trophies; including five Premier League titles and the Champions League. When the Premier League first started in 1992, Schmeichel had just come from winning the European Championships with Denmark, making him a worldwide star overnight. From then on Schmeichel had a presence about him between the sticks that put off many strikers in the Prem. He is also one of three players on this list who played for Manchester United that season, which gave them problems when it came to playing in Europe in the early 90s, as you could only play three foreigners in your starting line-up. With Ireland obviously being non-British nation, this meant that Denis Irwin and eventually Roy Keane were also classed as foreign players in European competition. A famous night away at Barcelona in 1994, saw Alex Ferguson drop Schmeichel for back-up keeper, Gary Walsh, so he could fit his outfield foreign players in. They lost 4-0 and Fergie never made that mistake again.

Hans Segers (Wimbledon)

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Match: Leeds United 2-1 Wimbledon – 15th August, 1992.

Moving to Nottingham Forest from the Netherlands in the mid-80s, Hans Segers had a tough time under the leadership of Brian Clough. Unable to hold down a first team place, he moved to Wimbledon in 1988 as replacement for their FA Cup hero, Dave Beasant, where he found his home for the next eight years. He was actually used on posters and adverts on the lead up to the Premier League’s first matches on Sky. At the time he was on many rival clubs’ radar, so it is no surprise that Wimbledon never finished lower than 14th in any of the eight seasons that Segers was in goal, peaking in 6th place in 1994. Unfortunately, it was in that same year where he was charged with match fixing, with Bruce Grobbelaar and John Fashanu. Three years later he was eventually cleared in Crown Court, but Segers career never fully recovered, with only back-up spells at Wolves and Tottenham added to his CV following his exit at Wimbledon. Despite playing the vast majority of his career in England’s top tier, Segers never played the for the Dutch national team, although, he did recently coach at a national level, for Australia during the recent Asia Cup.

Jan Stejskal (Queens Park Rangers)

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Match: Manchester City 1-1 Queens Park Rangers – 17th August, 1992.

In 1990, QPR signed Jan Stejskal after an impressive showing the summer’s World Cup, where the keeper helped Czechoslovakia to the quarter-finals. Despite his struggles with the English language, Stejskal was QPR’s number one for his entire four year spell at Loftus Road. Indeed he was an important part of Rangers’ highest ever finish of 5th place in the inaugural Premier League season. His 6ft 6in frame made him a towering figure in the box and QPR fans will remember a last-second penalty save at St James’ Park that gave his side a famous 2-1 victory over the high-flying Newcastle United in 1993. Good with his hands, Stejskal was also a qualified mechanic, a trade he learned while serving on national duty in his homeland. One thing is for sure, Jan Stejskal will go down as one of finest goalkeepers and best foreign players QPR have ever had.

Michel Vonk (Manchester City)

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Match: Manchester City 1-1 Queens Park Rangers – 17th August, 1992.

Dutchman Michel Vonk, quickly became a fans favourite at Manchester City, for his no-nonsense defending and his ability to get his head on anything that came into his penalty area. He was transferred to Maine Road from SVV Dordrecht in 1992 and had three successful years at City, forming a formidable partnership at the centre of defence with captain Keith Curle. Never far away from controversy though, Vonk clashed with his managers, notably Brian Horton, who he publicly criticised in a national newspaper, costing himself two weeks wages in the process. New manager Alan Ball subsequently sold him to Oldham in 1995 and Vonk never played in the top flight again, despite being close to promotion with Sheffield United. Long before the current success of Manchester City came about, the early 90s were a simple time for their fans, who had got used to being happy with a decent league position and a good display against their red neighbours. And Michel Vonk was very much a part of that period.

A small mention must go to Ronny Rosenthal of Liverpool and Robert Warzycha of Everton, who came on as substitutes for their respective teams on that opening day of the 1992/93 Premier League season. There were other foreigners of course in those top tier squads who were either injured or absent from that weekend for one reason or another. Players like Liverpool’s Bruce Grobbelaar, Sheffield Wednesday midfielder John Harkes, Aston Villa keeper Mark Bosnich and Tottenham’s Erik Thorstvedt, spring to mind. But this was an era when you would get excited about a foreign player coming into English football, not like these days where it’s par for the course. The most obvious thing about foreign imports back then, was that they were very good footballers! Every players that is featured on this list made an impact at their new club. These signings coincided with a great spells for their team, some winning numerous trophies.

Now you can’t say that foreign players have been bad English football, far from it. The level of professionalism they have brought with them from the continent and beyond has made the Premier League the best in the world. You have thank the likes of Arsene Wenger, Ruud Gullit and Gianluca Vialli in the late 90s for that. But early on there probably should have been a limit on how many foreigners each club could have in their squads. The Premier League have tried to curb it a little recently with the ‘Homegrown Player Rule’, but that still classes foreign players who have been at an English club for three years before the age of 21, as homegrown. When the percentage of British and Irish players in the PL has gone down to 30%, you know that those up and coming youngsters are going to find it harder than ever to play football in the top flight.

Ronny Rosenthal and Robert Warzycha both came on as substitutes on the very first Premier League weekend.

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2 thoughts on “The Only 11 Foreign Players To Start The Opening Premier League Weekend

  1. I think this is my favourite one so far. I don’t know how you even thought of it as a topic but I love it.

    That stat about schmeichal away at Barcelona is absolutely crazy, can you imagine that today. I also find it crazy that fergie would risk him, surely he should’ve been the first name on the team sheet for man utd?

    I also like your conclusion at the end, it’s nice to pin you flag to the mast sometimes with where you stand on certain issues. I totally agree, foreigners have been a blessing for the English game but I do fear the quality has been diluted somewhat as clubs are quick to go and spend £10 million on some wonder kids from Mars rather than take a punt on a top championship player or their youth. Surely the championship quality would be as good maybe even better than some of the league’s were they pull these foreigners from eg. salif diao, Eric djemba djemba just to name a couple.

    Good stuff 👍🏻

    Liked by 1 person

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