Portugal has long been known as a footballing nation that likes to play with flair. They produce exciting midfielders and forwards, and English fans have been lucky enough to see many of them play in the Premier League.
There are some solid defenders in the mix too, as we look at some of the best Portuguese players in EPL history.
Who was the first Portuguese player to play in the Premier League?
Daniel da Cruz Carvalho, otherwise known as Dani made history by becoming the first Portuguese player in the Premier League. West Ham United took the player on loan from Sporting Lisbon in 1996, but he made just nine appearances for the club before joining Ajax in the same year.
15 Best Portuguese Players in Premier League History
The overall list is in no particular order, but few would argue with Cristiano Ronaldo’s inclusion at the top. He’s one of the greatest players to have ever played the game, so we had to include him first.
Ronaldo joined United in 2003 when he was a promising teenager. While at Old Trafford, he developed his skills to become one of the best in the world. He was revered by fans and will always be remembered as a legend at the club, even if his second spell in England wasn’t a happy one.
Cristiano Ronaldo won nine major honours with Manchester United including three Premier League titles and a Champions League. In total, he scored 145 goals for the club.
There are many who feel that Ricardo Carvalho was one of the most underrated players in the Premier League. He joined Chelsea, along with his former Porto boss Jose Mourinho, in 2004, and would enjoy instant success at the West London club.
Carvalho and his new Chelsea side won the Premier League in that 2004/05 season, and he went on to claim two more EPL winner’s medals. The defender stayed at Stamford Bridge until 2010, winning ten major trophies in total, and he was one of the most reliable centre backs Chelsea had in the Premier League era.
Statistically, Bernardo Silva is the most successful Portuguese player to ever play in the Premier League. By the end of the 2022/23 season, the midfielder had claimed his fifth EPL title, and his Manchester City team went on to win their first UCL trophy at the end of that campaign.
Silva has played an important role in every City success since he joined the club from Monaco in 2017. He lays on assists, scores important goals and has a high work rate, meaning that he is a threat to opposing teams for the whole 90 minutes. Manchester City are unlikely to want to sell Silva anytime soon, so there is a good chance that he will add to his long list of Major trophies in England.
Nani followed a similar path to his compatriot Cristiano Ronaldo, joining Manchester United from Sporting Lisbon. He would stay at Old Trafford from 2007 to 2015 and, while he wasn’t the most consistent Portuguese player in the EPL, Nani was a firm favourite with some United fans.
A fast and tricky winger, Nani, known for his technical ability, could score spectacular Premier League goals, and he contributed 40 strikes for United in those eight seasons. He also helped the club to lift some major trophies, including four Premier League titles and a Champions League win in 2008.
English fans may not have always seen the best from Nani but, when he was on form, he was brilliant.
Defender Paulo Ferreira is another Premier League player to have been part of the Portuguese revolution at Chelsea. He moved to Stamford Bridge from Porto in 2004, to join up with former teammate Ricardo Carvalho and former manager Jose Mourinho.
Ferreira quickly adapted to the pace of English football, becoming a vital part of the Chelsea defence. He featured in 42 games across all competitions in that 2004/05 season, helping the Blues to win their first ever Premier League title.
Paulo Ferreira clearly took to English football, as he spent the remainder of his Premier League career here. He retired in 2013 after making 217 appearances for Chelsea, winning 12 major trophies including the Champions League and three EPL titles.
There is a chance that Manchester United’s Bruno Fernandes may go down in Premier League history as the best Portuguese player never to win the Premier League. The midfielder played for three clubs in Italy before returning home to Sporting Lisbon in 2017.
Amid much interest from several English clubs, Manchester United secured the player’s services in 2020. A master set piece taker, Fernandes made a fast impact in the EPL, scoring 18 goals in 37 League matches in his first full season at Old Trafford.
While his goals to games ratio has slipped since that point, Fernandes remains a vital player in the United line up. He’s already won the EFL Cup in England but, as of 2023, that first Premier League title still eludes him.
Luis Boa Morte
Some would argue that Luis Boa Morte wasn’t representative of the best that Portugal had to offer, but he was the first player from the country to win the Premier League, so he merits a place on the list.
The winger joined Arsenal from Sporting Lisbon in 1997, and he would claim that EPL winner’s medal at the end of his very first season in England. Boa Morte struggled to command a regular place in the Gunners’ starting line up and, after a brief spell with Southampton, his best years in the Premier League came with Fulham and West Ham United. He became a regular in both sides and added consistency to his threatening attacking play.
Portuguese international centre half Jose Fonte didn’t play for the biggest English sides, but he still made a significant impact in his 11 years in the Premier League. He first joined Crystal Palace from Benifca in 2007, but his best years were with Southampton.
Fonte would spend eight seasons at the club, five of which were in the Premier League after the Saints were promoted in 2011/12. For most of that time, Southampton were struggling in the lower half of the table, but Jose Fonte’s calm defensive work helped to maintain their Premier League status.
The player joined West Ham United in 2016 and is now back in Portugal with Braga. He won the Football League Trophy with Southampton in 2010, and Jose Fonte was an important figure in the Saints’ recent Premier League era.
When manager Nuno Espirito Santo joined Wolverhampton Wanderers, a number of top Portuguese players crossed to Molineux with him. Among the best of them was defensive midfielder Ruben Neves who signed from Porto in 2017.
Neves became a vital player in a Wolves side that defied predictions to stay in the Premier League, beating some of the top teams along the way. He would eventually be made club captain, and stayed with the Midlands club until 2023.
A reliable figure in the heart of midfield, Ruben Neves made 219 appearances for Wolves, initially helping the club to win the Championship title in 2018.
Attacking midfielder Diogo Jota is another Portuguese player to have lined up at Wolves under manager Nuno Espirito Santo. He was on loan from Atletico Madrid in 2017, as he helped the team win promotion to the Premier League at the end of the season.
Jota would stay at Molineux until 2020, and would form part of an attacking threat that saw Wolves remain in the top flight and become a serious EPL force. He now plays for Liverpool where he has won the trophies that his talent fully deserves. Diogo Jota won the FA Cup and the EFL Cup with the Reds in 2022, and there should be more medals to follow.
Several English clubs had been monitoring the progress of Joao Moutinho and he was linked with Tottenham Hotspur for a number of seasons. The midfielder eventually arrived in England in 2018, to become another player forming a significant Portuguese contingent at Wolves.
Moutinho slotted into the Wolves midfield, adding steel in front of the defensive back line. He didn’t score many goals, but was important in linking defence to attack. He would remain at the club until 2023, when he returned to Portugal to see out his playing days with Braga.
Another Portuguese player to have won the Premier League title, defender Joao Cancelo joined Manchester City from Juventus in 2019. His transfer fee, at the time, was a world and league record for a full back, but Cancelo slowly started to justify the figures in his first English season.
In his opening campaign of 2019/20, he was played out of position and struggled to find his place in the side. All of that changed in 2020/21 when the manager looked to accommodate the player in his regular defensive role.
Cancelo played more of a part as City began to dominate all competitions and, so far, he has won five major trophies including the UEFA Champions League and three Premier League medals.
In more recent seasons, Joao Cancelo has struggled to command a regular place in the Manchester City side and he’s been sent out on loan to Bayern Munich and Barcelona. Whether he can still make an impact in the City squad remains to be seen, but he will always go down as one of Portugal’s best.
Manchester City have all the buying power they need and, in 2020, they paid big money to land a player who many see as the best centre back in world football. Ruben Dias signed from Benfica for a fee in the region of £60 million, and he slotted straight into the heart of the City defence.
He won Player of the Month awards in his early weeks at The Etihad, and helped to maintain a tight defence that continued to dominate English football. Ruben Dias is still with Manchester City as of the 2023/24 season, so he has time to add to his current list of seven major trophies, including three Premier League titles.
In addition, Ruben Dias was honored with the EPL Player of the Year award for the 2020-2021 season, further solidifying his impact and influence on the team.
While he only appeared very briefly in the Premier League, Rui Patricio made a significant impact, and most regard him as the best Portuguese goalkeeper to appear in the division. He is another player to have featured for Wolverhampton Wanderers, crossing from Sporting Lisbon to join the English club in 2018.
Patricio played at Wolves for three seasons, and only missed two league games in that time. That’s a statistic that underlines his importance to a team that many thought would be battling relegation. Instead, Wolves survived comfortably and were more than a match for the EPL’s biggest sides.
The club kept things tight at the back, and behind it all was a world class Portuguese keeper.
Arsenal have always looked to stock their squad with high quality foreign imports and the Gunners swooped to sign Cedric Soares from Southampton in 2020. The defender had made his name with the Saints, and was an important member of a squad that kept the club in the Premier League for five seasons from 2015.
At the start of the 2023/24 season, Arsenal loaned Soares out to fellow Premier League club Fulham. His future may be unclear, but Cedric Soares has more to offer the top flight of English football.
There will always be some debate over who should be included on this list. Other top Portuguese players such as Helder Postiga have featured in the Premier League, but English crowds didn’t get to see the best of them.
The players who are here generally adapted to EPL and maintained their form levels in the Premier League. They performed well on the international stage too, with many of these stars being involved in the Portugal squad that won the European Championships in 2016.
Who will go on to win more major English honours, and which new Portuguese players will emerge to have a future impact on the EPL?