Germany is a major footballing nation, and many of the top teams in Europe play in the Bundesliga. It’s an attractive place to play for the world’s best footballers and that’s why relatively few Germans travel abroad to find other clubs.
There have, however, been some notable exceptions, and here is a list of the best German players to feature in the English Premier League.
Who was the first German to play in the Premier League?
Matthias Breitkrutz was the first German player to feature in the English Premier League. The midfielder joined Aston Villa from SG Bergmann-Borsig in 1991 and was therefore already at the club when the Premier League began at the start of the 1992/93 domestic season.
Greatest German players in the EPL history
After impressing in Germany with Schalke 04 and Werder Bremen, Mesut Ozil made his name in a three-year spell with Real Madrid. The attacking midfielder became the target of other top clubs around Europe, and he joined EPL side Arsenal in 2013.
Ozil’s first few seasons at The Emirates were productive ones and he showed his attacking flair and his knack for spectacular goals. He was also part of Arsenal squads that won four FA Cup trophies between 2014 and 2020. Following Arsene Wenger’s departure from Arsenal, Mesut Ozil struggled to win over new boss Unai Emery. He left to join Fenerbahce in 2021, but he’ll always be remembered fondly by the Gunners faithful.
German international winger Leroy Sane made his Premier League debut in 2016, and he would go on to enjoy great success with Manchester City. After joining from Schalke 04, he was part of the City squads that won eight major trophies, including two EPL titles.
Sane was another German player with an eye for goal and he contributed some important strikes to his club’s League campaigns. In 2020, Leroy Sane returned to Germany with Bayern Munich, but he left a mark on English football and is one of only a handful of German players to have won the Premier League.
Having originally joined Chelsea from Bayer Leverkusen in 2020, Kai Havertz made the switch across London to join Arsenal three years later. He hasn’t always been a first choice at either of his English clubs, but the player has displayed the talent that makes him such an exciting prospect.
He’s been compared to Mesut Ozil as an attacking midfielder who supports the main strikers while scoring important goals of his own. He was part of the Chelsea squad that won the Champions League in 2021, and Kai Havertz has the potential to deliver more honours to his new club, Arsenal.
Midfielder Ilkay Gundogan was one of Manchester City’s most reliable players in recent years, and neutral fans were always surprised to find him on the fringes of the first team at times. His value to the side was underlined when he scored both goals in City’s FA Cup final win over Manchester United in 2023.
Gundogan left the club to join Barcelona at the end of that campaign, after securing 14 major trophies including five Premier League titles. That record makes him one of Germany’s most successful overseas imports.
Most English fans would agree that Jens Lehman was the best German goalkeeper to appear in the Premier League. The stopper joined Arsenal in 2003, and he was a member of the squad that won the EPL in 2003/04 without losing a game.
During his time in England, Lehmann set records for clean sheets, and he was the UEFA Goalkeeper of the Year in 2006. He was a formidable figure in the Arsenal goal and one of the best keepers that his country has ever produced.
One of the most versatile players in the Premier League, Pascal Gross has been with Brighton and Hove Albion since 2017. He can play as an attacking or defensive midfielder, but he’s also appeared as a defender and a forward during his career.
Gross has been at the heart of Brighton’s establishment as a force in Premier League football, and he helped his club into the Europa League for the very first time in 2023. He scores important goals and has been a regular first team choice for Brighton over several seasons.
Michael Ballack was arguably the biggest German star to ever feature in the English Premier League. By the time he arrived at Chelsea in 2006, the midfielder had already won four Bundesliga titles.
Some doubted whether Ballack could cope with the pace of the English game, but his awareness and speed of thought meant that he had no problems adapting. A commanding presence in the middle of the park, Michael Ballack won the Premier League with Chelsea in 2009/10, and he also claimed three FA Cup winners medals.
Striker Andre Schurrle also played for Chelsea in the Premier League, and many feel that he wasn’t given enough opportunities at Stamford Bridge. He joined the Blues from Bayer Leverkusen in 2013 and was initially used as a substitute.
When he was given a chance, Schurrle showed that he could be an effective goalscorer. He found the net on 14 occasions for Chelsea and was considered good enough to win 57 senior caps for his country. He left for Wolfsburg in 2014 but had played enough games to claim a Premier League winner’s medal at the end of the 2014/15 season.
A centre half who could also play as a full back on either side of the defence, Antonio Rudiger was a valuable player at Chelsea for five seasons between 2017 and 2022. He was a strong and commanding figure along the back line, and he also scored some useful goals for his English club.
Rudiger won a host of honours in England before leaving for Real Madrid. He may have missed out on the Premier League title, but he did win many trophies, including an FA Cup and a Champions League medal.
A tall and commanding defender, Per Mertesacker was an effective player for Arsenal between 2011 and 2018. He had joined the English side from Werder Bremen and would become a vital player at the heart of the Gunners’ back line.
His height made him dominant in the air, but Mertesacker was strong in the tackle and also comfortable when the ball was at his feet. While at Arsenal, he helped the club to three FA Cup wins between 2014 and 2017.
Robert Huth holds the distinction of being one of only a few players to have won the Premier League with two different clubs. A defender, he made his professional debut with Chelsea in 2002, and would spend his entire playing career in England.
While with Chelsea, Huth won the Premier League in two consecutive years in the mid-2000s. He subsequently played for Middlesbrough and Stoke City and was a part of the Stoke team that reached the FA Cup final in 2011. The highlight of Robert Huth’s career came when he was part of the Leicester City side that won a sensational Premier League title in 2015/16.
German striker Jurgen Klinsmann quickly became a folk hero at Tottenham Hotspur, scoring on his debut against Sheffield Wednesday and following it up with his trademark diving celebration. Spurs fans were stunned when chairman Alan Sugar signed Klinsmann on his yacht following the 1994 World Cup, and he was one of the most prolific strikers in the world at that time.
The German didn’t disappoint, scoring 29 goals in the 1994/95 season, but he didn’t hang around. Jurgen Klinsmann departed for Bayern Munich following that one campaign, but he returned in 1998 to help Spurs in a relegation battle. At the end of that 1997/98 season, the striker had scored nine goals in just 15 Premier League matches.
Left sided wing back Christian Ziege played for three English clubs, and he is another to have featured for both Bayern Munich and Tottenham Hotspur. He was effective in defence, but could also be a threat moving forward, and Ziege scored some spectacular free kick goals in his career.
The player first appeared in England with Middlesbrough, who he joined from AC Milan in 1999. After playing for just one season on Wearside, Ziege was on the move again when Liverpool came calling. Spurs were his final English club before he saw out his playing days with Borussia Monchengladbach.
At all of his three Premier League sides, Christian Ziege will be remembered as a classy and competitive player who was one of Germany’s best in terms of linking defence to attack.
Football fans will always remember Dietmar Hamann as a central figure in Liverpool’s incredible Champions League win in 2005. The German defensive midfielder played at Anfield between 1999 and 2006, and he won a total of nine major trophies during his time with the Reds.
It’s easy to forget that Hamann also played in the Premier League for Newcastle United and Manchester City. He was a respected leader on the pitch for all his clubs, but his time with Liverpool was the most productive.
Another German goalkeeper to have featured in the Premier League, Bernd Leno joined Arsenal after impressing between the posts for Bayer Leverkusen. He initially battled for the number one jersey with Petr Cech before eventually becoming the Gunners’ first choice.
Leno won the Community Shield with Arsenal in 2020 and has since moved across London to become a reliable stopper at Fulham. Bernd Leno turned 31 at the start of the 2023/24 season in England, and he should therefore be coming into his prime as a goalkeeper.
Uwe Rosler was among the last players to feature for the East German national team before unification. He played five times for the DDR in 1990 while on the books of Dynamo Dresden.
Rosler subsequently joined Manchester City in 1994, where he earned a reputation as a competitive striker who always gave 100% for the team. He played for three seasons in the Premier League, where he proved himself as a productive goal scorer in a struggling City team. Uwe Rosler left for Kaiserslautern in 1998, but he later returned for a brief spell in the Premier League with Southampton.
The Premier League hasn’t always been a first choice destination for German players, but many of the country’s best like to test themselves in this division. These are the best of the bunch, with many of the players on this list going on to win major trophies in England.
Not all Germans have succeeded in England, however, and the challenge is on for the next generation to make their mark in the EPL.