They’re the players often forgotten by neutrals, but loved by supporters.
Whether it’s for their talents on the pitch, or their exploits off it, the cult hero is the player revered by fans even years after their departure.
Alan Shearer spent almost the entirety of his career smashing in top-flight goals and was the first entrant into the newly formed Premier League Hall of Fame.
So the former Newcastle United, Blackburn and Southampton striker is well placed to list the biggest cult heroes in the history of the competition.
The BBC pundit was given a shortlist of ten players and asked to put them in order alongside Micah Richards as part of the Match of the Day Top 10 podcast.
Here, the legendary striker explains his decisions…
10. Faustino Asprilla
The Colombian arrived at Newcastle in 1996 with the Magpies closing in on the title. It didn’t happen for Shearer & Co. that season and he would fail to win a trophy during his time at the club.
Shearer said: “ He was a nice lunatic – he was brilliant and brilliant for the dressing room because he was a character, he loved a laugh and a joke. He could do no wrong in the dressing room because he didn't speak a lot of English.”
9. David Ginola
Shearer played alongside the maverick Frenchman at Newcastle, before joining Tottenham in 1997, where he went on to become an icon at White Hart Lane.
Shearer said: “ He was frustrating at times, but unbelievable ability – he could twist and turn but when I made my run I wanted to know the ball was coming in and sometimes it wasn't.
“He'd been at Newcastle for five or six games and no balls were coming into the box for me so we had it out at half-time in the dressing room one game and after that it got better.”
8. Chris Waddle
A hero at all of the clubs he played for, Chris Waddle shone for Newcastle, Tottenham and Marseille before playing in the Premier League with Sheffield Wednesday.
The tricky winger was famous for his amazing dribbling skills…and of course THAT penalty miss against West Germany in 1990.
Shearer said: “ Wherever he has played everyone talks very highly of him.”
7. Mario Balotelli
Arguably the first name that comes to mind when the term ‘cult hero’ is mentioned, Mario Balotelli squeezed a lot into his three years at Manchester City.
Few will forget the ‘Why Always Me?’, shirt and the fireworks stories have gone down in folklore.
Micah Richards actually placed him first in his list and said: “He's brilliant, I'm always reluctant to tell stories about him because he's still playing. But the firework story – he set off the firework and burnt down his own house – but that wasn't the only time he had done it.
“He came to do it at my house and chased me around my house with fireworks which were lit. I couldn't believe it – it sounds ridiculous.
“He was crazy in a good way – he was only 18 when he came to Man City, he was just messing around. He was brilliant to have around the squad – a cult hero not just for the nonsense he did off the field but on it as well.”
6. Jay-Jay Okocha
The Nigerian was part of an influx of legendary players that rocked up to Bolton, during Sam Allardyce’s tenure at the club.
Signing from PSG in 2002, he scored seven goals in his first season and would eventually lead the Trotters to the League Cup final in 2004.
So good they named him twice.
Shearer said: “ He made the difficult things look easy – I must've tried that flicking over heads a million times and it's never come off once. Gifted, natural ability, superb player.”
5. Paulo di Canio
The Italian arrived in the Premier League in 1997, initially signing for Sheffield Wednesday, where his most infamous moment occurred when he pushed referee Paul Durkin to the ground and was handed a lengthy ban.
In 1999 he joined West Ham where he scored 51 goals in all competitions, including arguably the greatest goal in the history of the competition, against Wimbledon.
Shearer said: “ I think he would have been very interesting in the dressing room, but Ian Wright always says he was a great professional.
“Apparently he was teacher's pet with Harry Redknapp at West Ham. Harry signed so many players like that who were not easy to manage, Harry found a knack of doing it. But a very, very good player.”
4. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
Signed as a relative unknown from Molde in 1996, ‘The Baby-faced Assassin’ went down in history at Manchester United, scoring more than a 100 goals in a decade with the club.
Of course, his most memorable moment came at the Nou Camp in 1999 when he scored the last-gasp winner against Bayern Munich in the Champions League final to win an unprecedented treble.
A winner of six Premier League titles at Old Trafford, Solskjaer is now in the dugout for United, hoping to end the club’s Premier League title drought.
Shearer said: “ What you do at that particular football club and how important it is determines who you are and that goal he scored for Man United in the 1999 Champions League final and the part he played in that – the fans still sing his name now because of what he did as a player.
“When you look at the number of players that club have had, for them to still sing his name because of what he did as a player… But as a manager, that trophy will have to come pretty soon for him though.”
3. Paul Gascoigne
Gazza spent most of his time in England, before the formation of the Premier League. But a list of cult heroes without his name, isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.
An England, Newcastle and Tottenham legend, Gascoigne is one of the great cult heroes of English sport.
Shearer said: “ Wherever he has played, everyone has fond memories of him and stories about him. He would've been a nightmare to have every week at your club.
“It was all right for me because I only saw him playing for England, I couldn't put up with him every week – and my room was two doors down from Gazza and I used to ask to move because I could hear him up in the night!”
2. Matt Le Tissier
Arguably the greatest player in Southampton’s history, Le Tissier spent his entire professional career with the Saints, scoring more than 200 goals.
Despite spending the majority of his time battling at the bottom of the division, in 2020, Eurosport named him as the greatest Premier League Player of All Time.
Shearer played with Le Tissier at the Dell and said: “He was so laid back and the ability that he had, left foot right foot, touch, technique, control, everything. He loved playing under Alan Ball because he built the team around him.
“I was lucky enough to play with him at Southampton. He was laid back and he had so much natural ability. He was so loyal to Southampton, it was his football club and that's why he's loved by the fans.”
1. Eric Cantona
Considering it’s now 24 years since Cantona left Old Trafford, the fact United fans still sing about him, says it all.
Signed from Leeds United for £1.2m, the Frenchman went on to become one of the greatest players in Manchester United’s recent history.
Cantona played a key role in ending United’s long-wait for a title, winning four before his retirement in 1997.
It wasn’t just his actions on the pitch that made him so memorable, with his flying kick to a Crystal Palace fan one of the most stunning moments in the history of the Premier League.
Shearer said: “ If you've got the balls to go and jump feet first into the crowd when someone's abusing you, you've got to be slightly bonkers.
“But in terms of the fans loving him and what he did for the club, he helped to change Man United and everyone looked up to him, he was their leader.”
Alan Shearer’s top 10 cult heroes: 1.Eric Cantona, 2. Matt Le Tissier, 3. Paul Gascoigne, 4. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, 5. Paulo di Canio, 6. Jay-Jay Okocha, 7. Mario Balotelli, 8. Chris Waddle, 9. David Ginola, 10. Faustino Asprilla.
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