Raheem Sterling’s move to Chelsea will make him the seventh Premier League player to represent (at least) three of the Big Six. So let’s have a look at the previous six, and see where they’ve managed to remain fondly remembered, if at all. Inevitably, some interesting characters on this list…
Manchester City 2002-05
Still the only player to tick off four of the Big Six – although Sterling still has time – and a fittingly polarising and divisive figure to hold that particular accolade. His best season in England remains the 1998/99 campaign at Arsenal in which the teenage sensation proved just what a bargain the £500,000 Arsene Wenger had paid PSG for the 17-year-old two years earlier had been. But the manner of his departure to Real Madrid – a move the man himself has since admitted he regrets – still splits Arsenal fans to this day. He might not have made it on to this list, but you do wonder whether Anelka’s career would have looked different (and frankly better) had he stayed with Wenger and Arsenal for longer.
A short loan at Liverpool in 2002 wasn’t a total flop, although Liverpool did decide to sign El-Hadji Diouf rather than Anelka on a permanent deal that summer. Anelka instead signed for a pre-megabucks Manchester City for what now seems an impossibly quaint club-record fee of £13m. He was good for a City team that was nothing like the one we know now, one that had to survive on moments of joy amidst the despair and envious glances down the road. Anelka provided several of these, including a goal in the last ever Manchester derby at Maine Road and a last-minute winner at Anfield. Also scored in Jose Mourinho’s first defeat as Chelsea manager.
His best statistical season was his first at Chelsea in 2008/09 with 19 goals, but his most significant moment in a Chelsea shirt had already happened: the other, less-remembered missed penalty in the shoot-out against United in the 2008 Champions League final. Did a muted celebration against Arsenal because he “still loved” them, offering final conclusive proof of the mistake he made in 1999.
Still loved by: It’s complicated, but on balance it probably is City fans who still remember a simpler if less successful time for the club.
A brilliant defender but also…a bit of a character, let’s say. Superb alongside John Terry for Chelsea under Claudio Ranieri and a key member of the squad that won Chelsea’s first two Premier League titles under Jose Mourinho, although often shunted to the left out of necessity. Managed to sully his Chelsea legacy by refusing to sign a new contract in 2006 and then failing to turn up for pre-season. Eventually became a makeweight in the Ashley Cole deal amid rumours – fuelled in part by Chelsea themselves – that Gallas had threatened to score own goals if not allowed to leave the club. Gallas denied it and said Chelsea lack class, which is hard to imagine. Gallas’ two main achievements at Arsenal were having a squad number that enraged yer da and staging a one-man protest on the pitch after the Gunners lost to a last-minute penalty against Birmingham. Also a key early player in what has now become the long-running saga of the Arsenal captaincy, handed to Gallas in 2007 when it had been expected to go to Gilberto Silva. Gallas retained the captaincy despite the Birmingham incident, but then lost it after an interview where he said team morale wasn’t great and the younger players needed to show more courage.
After failing to agree a new contract and finding himself a free agent in 2010, Gallas did the only thing a committed bridge-burner like him could do – he popped along to Harry Redknapp’s Tottenham and became the first man to actually play for London’s three biggest clubs (Clive Allen had been on the books of all three but never actually played for Arsenal). His first season at Spurs was genuinely excellent, Gallas’ experience proving invaluable in the freewheeling run to the Champions League quarter-finals, but injuries rather limited him after that.
Still loved by: Playing for the three of the Big Six with the biggest and longest-standing mutual antipathy makes love a tricky thing to retain. Only at Spurs did he leave without torching the place first, but it was at Chelsea where he played his best football. Given the relative lack of dickery at White Hart Lane, it might – bizarrely – actually be Spurs who have the least problematic memories of the Frenchman. Love would be a strong word, though.
Manchester City 2009-13
This is how you do it. An Arsenal Invincible who is still highly regarded by the Gunners, perhaps in part because he had a pretty significant falling out with the man above. Mainly, though, it’s probably because of the whole Invincible thing. Moved to become an early part of the Manchester City revolution in 2009 and played his part in their first Premier League title win in 2011/12. His biggest contribution to City, though, is perhaps in helping bring his brother Yaya to the club in 2010. Handy, that. His Liverpool spell was less successful, but still lacking the acrimony that studs most of these players’ jumps from big club to big club. Left Liverpool for Celtic, where he earned the distinction of a second Invincible season in 2016/17.
Still loved by: Rare in that there is no real bad feelings anywhere he’s played, but Arsenal probably still take top spot here. The Invincibles are all loved.
Manchester City 2006-09
One of the great ‘what might have been’ stories of recent Premier League history. When Liverpool could get him on the pitch he was quite something, most memorably in the 2013/14 title bid when he and Luis Suarez terrorised Premier League defences and scored 52 goals between them to take Liverpool to the very brink of the title before something happened against Chelsea. Nobody can now remember exactly what. Sturridge’s injury woes meant he never hit those heights again, managing just another 17 goals in five subsequent seasons at Anfield. Had a funny goal celebration, and was once described by football’s arch-pseud Brendan Rodgers as “what I call a nine-and-a-half” when describing his role in the side, a role other, less brilliant minds might have reductively described as ‘striker’. It was two up front, Brendan. Anyway, can’t really hold that against Sturridge, can we? Shares a career-path quirk with Anelka in that, as well as playing for a good handful of the very biggest clubs in the country, the rest of his time in the Premier League was spent in spells at Bolton and West Brom.
Still loved by: Liverpool
Manchester City 2009-12
Looking back, it’s hard to shake the idea that Adebayor spent his first five years in England scoring lots of goals against Spurs while also inexplicably laying the groundwork to make a move to White Hart Lane possible. He even scored twice against Spurs while he was at loan from Real Madrid from Man City, while he has more NLD goals against Spurs than Thierry Henry or Ian Wright. And yet, he also had a fight with team-mate Nicklas Bendtner in the closing stages of a 5-1 League Cup defeat at the Lane, allegedly tried to punch Frank Lampard in the face during a League Cup final (both denied it) and was later accused by Robin van Persie of kicking him in the face. If all that wasn’t enough – and it wasn’t, Spurs fans still hated him – he then memorably produced the greatest Premier League goal celebration of all time by running the length of the field to celebrate in front of Arsenal fans after scoring against them for City.
Spurs welcomed him with open arms after that, even going so far as to change the words of the horribly racist song they used to sing about him. Added a couple more North London Derby goals against Arsenal, and for a time held the record for most goals in the fixture until the man who replaced him in the No. 10 shirt at Spurs came along. Having spent so long winning Spurs fans round, Adebayor then saluted Tim Sherwood.
Still loved by: Nobody. A conspicuous and determined bridge-burner.
A curious addition to the list in some ways, and it’s hard to work out the nicest way to say this, because he’s a vaguely underwhelming player to have played for three of England’s very biggest clubs. He wasn’t rubbish or anything, and at Liverpool in particular he certainly had his moments, but he was never particularly great. Starting and ending his career in England with West Ham feels far more fitting. Undoubtedly most fondly remembered at Anfield, where he often saved his best performances for the Champions League. Barely remembered at all at Chelsea, where he made just 14 Premier League appearances in three seasons, two of which involved at least some time spent on loan elsewhere in London. The first of those was at Arsenal, a move apparently made in order to get on this list rather than for any apparent football reason.
Still loved by: Liverpool.