At a time when European soccer's future is in the crosshairs, the Premier League has paid homage to two of the best in its past.
Alan Shearer and Thierry Henry were the first two players inducted into the Premier League's Hall of Fame, with the strikers being honored on Monday. Shearer, the league's all-time leading scorer with 260 goals, and Henry, Arsenal's all-time leading scorer with 175 goals in Premier League play, are worthy recipients given what they accomplished in their time in England. Their inductions are a long time coming; the Premier League initially planned to unveil its first honorees in March 2020, only to postpone the festivities due to the coronavirus pandemic.
In order to be eligible now, players must have retired by August 1, 2020, while only the Premier League portions of their careers are taken under consideration. The baseline consideration is 250 Premier League appearances unless players have done one of the following: Made a minimum of 200 Premier League appearances for one club; Been selected to any of the Premier League Team of the Decade or 20-Year Anniversary teams; Won a Premier League Golden Boot or Golden Glove; Been voted as Premier League Player of the Season; Won three Premier League titles; Scored 100 Premier League goals or recorded 100 Premier League clean sheets (for goalkeepers).
Amid a wide array of players who have qualified under that criteria and starred in the English top flight since 1992, the two scoring legends were the first to be acknowledged in the Class of 2021, but they won't be the last. A 23-player shortlist was unveiled during the Premier League's induction show on Monday, with six more players to be inducted this year.
“Alan Shearer and Thierry Henry are two world-class players who lit up the Premier League throughout their time in the competition," Premier League CEO Richard Masters said in a statement. "Both players were capable of scoring every kind of goal, including some of the best we have ever seen. Shearer’s record 260 Premier League goals puts him at the top of a long list of exceptional goalscorers. The fact that record remains unchallenged today, 15 years since his retirement, goes to show what an achievement it was.
“Henry broke individual and team records during eight seasons with Arsenal when he became a footballing icon. He was a talisman in the 'Invincibles' team and his four Premier League Golden Boots during a five-year period reflect the impact he had.”
A testament to Shearer's greatness is that his record goal tally is under no immediate threat. The next closest active player is Sergio Agüero at 181, and with his Man City exit confirmed for this summer, he could be departing the Premier League altogether. Tottenham's Harry Kane is next on the all-time active list at 164, and if he maintains his scoring pace of the last seven years (and remains in the Premier League), then he would pass Shearer in the next four to five seasons.
“When you look at some of the unbelievable players to have graced the Premier League–week in, week out, year in, year out–I feel very honored to join the Hall of Fame," said Shearer, who starred at Southampton, Blackburn and Newcastle in his career. "I have to thank all of my teammates, as well as the managers and coaches that I’ve worked with.
“All I ever wanted to be was a professional footballer. It was my dream to do that, my dream to win trophies and my dream to score at St James’ Park, to wear the No. 9 black-and-white shirt and it was fantastic. I enjoyed every minute of it.”
Henry has been critical of Arsenal for its role in trying to join a breakaway Super League, but his ascent as a Gunner is where he made his career, and he has a statue outside of the Emirates to reflect as much.
“To be inducted alongside Alan Shearer as the two first inductees into the Premier League Hall of Fame is more than special," said Henry, who wound up starring for Barcelona and the New York Red Bulls before returning to Arsenal for one memorable loan spell in 2012. “When I was young, I was just trying to make sure I could get a pair of boots and now we’re talking about the Hall of Fame. During my career I wanted to play hard and make sure I was fighting for the cause, because that’s all the fans want to see.
"If you asked me at the start of my career about entering the Hall of Fame, I wouldn’t have believed you. It’s an amazing honor.”
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