Saturday, October 25, 2008
EPL 2008/'09- The Most Underrated Players in the English Premier League
Everybody knows the stars of the English Premier League: Ronaldo, Gerrard, Terry, Lampard, Fabregas...The list just drips with class. But behind every star player is a player who puts the team first, every time. A player who is priceless to the manager and does just enough to avoid media praise and just enough to be one of the first names on the team sheet every time.
But who are these masked men? Who are the true heroes of our Premiership age? Let's take a look at some of the current crop.
It's hard to find such a player at Arsenal. Wenger has brought a superb squad of players together. All are technically gifted and are usually superb footballers. But the player I'd choose as Arsenal's most underrated is Gael Clichy.
The French international has cemented himself as probably the best left back in the league over the last few seasons. And it showed how much faith Wenger had in the youngster when he let Ashley Cole move to Chelsea.
Clichy is superb going forward and is an excellent defender. He is always one of the first names on the team sheet and is a great team player, doing the stuff his contemporaries—van Persie, Adebayor, and Fabregas—often feel is beneath them
Martin Laursen is one of the best centre halves in the Premiership. And since he signed for Villa in 2004, he has been the model of consistency. He was made Captain this summer by Martin O'Neill after Gareth Barry's protracted on/off move to Liverpool.
He is blessed with organisational skills and has been instrumental in Villa's rise under O'Neill. A superb marker and leader on the pitch, Laursen is invaluable to Villa and is often overshadowed in the news by players such as Barry and Agbonlahor. He's a rock at the heart of Villa.
Since Tugay signed for Blackburn from Rangers in 2001, he has been synonymous with all that has been good at the club. In recent seasons, as age has caught up on the Turkish international, his influence on the pitch has seen a reduction, as his body starts to feel its age. A supreme passer of the ball and a throwback to days of old when a midfielder was expected to tackle, pass, and be able to score.
And although Tugay's forays onto the pitch have been limited of late, he is still an important member of the setup at Ewood. Off the field, he is the elder statesman of the club, the place to go to for advice. On the field, he is an example to all. He is in superb condition for a player of his age and is willing to play anywhere for the team.
Kevin Davies is the dirtiest player in the league. It's official. He has given away more fouls than anyone else in the league. And this is just a sample of Davies never-say-die approach to the game.
A big, hulking centre-forward who fights to the last, Davies is the first name on Gary Megson's team sheet every week. But to describe Davies as a battering ram is to do him a disservice. In an age where we celebrate players like Ronaldo, Davies is a throw back to the '70s and '80s, where effort often overcame skill.
Since making Bolton his home in 2003, Davies has played 180 times and scored 40 goals. Not a great return, but he is invaluable to the Bolton team effort.
Chelsea have an incredible squad—one of the best in world football. They have superb players in every position and boast the biggest collection of top-class players in any team. Finding an underrated player in the Chelsea squad is hard, but not as hard as you think.
Jon Obi Mikel is that player. Since signing from Norwegian side Lyn in 2006, the 21-year-old has always been part of Chelsea's plan of world domination. Chelsea signed him from under United's noses, as they searched for Roy Keane's heir. And they came close to signing him, too.
Obi Mikel eventually chose Chelsea and over the last three seasons has shown an incredible level of maturity, as he waited his chance to become a Chelsea regular. Now, at the tender age of 21, the world looks like his oyster.
Blessed with speed, strength, stamina, superb technical ability, a fantastic range of passing, and a maturity beyond his years, Mikel looks like he could be one of the best midfielders ever to play in England.
Unlike most modern midfielders, Obi Mikel has the ability to dictate the ebb and flow of matches from central midfield and is one of the most underrated players in Britain, if not the Chelsea team. Most Chelsea players actually rate him as the best player at the club, and with recommendations like that, he can't be that bad.
Last season, Everton's unsung hero was the much maligned Lee Carsley. And after letting the Irishman move to Birmingham in the close season, Everton have struggled to replace him as their form dipped. But as one man leaves another comes in. Enter Phil Jagielka.
Jagielka is one of the most flexible players plying his trade in England today. He's comfortable across midfield, in the back four, and has even played in goal when called upon.
Every manger needs a player like Jagielka. A player who puts the team first every time. He is comfortable anywhere in midfield, scores the odd goal, and isn't afraid to battle when the need calls for it. Since he signed for Moyes in 2007, he has been ever present in a variety of positions, never giving less than 100 percent.
Since Simon Davies made his debut with Peterborough in 1997, he has been an ever-present element in all the clubs he has played for. He has a fantastic engine and that is matched with a great desire to work hard. He moved to Fulham in 2007 and has been one of the first names on the team sheet ever since.
Selfless in his quest to make the team better, Davies is a great team player. His performances have often been over shadowed by goal-scoring players, even though he has been instrumental in Fulham remaining a top-flight team.
The whole Hull City team could feature in this article, as they were tipped by many to be relegation contenders for this season. Instead, they have defied all logic, and, as of tonight, they top the table.
Most will now be familiar with the goal-scoring exploits of Giovanni and of Boaz Myhill, being one of the best keepers so far this year. Marney has impressed in midfield and Marlon King is a handful as ever.
But Hull's unsung hero this season is 24-year-old defender Michael Turner. The young centre half has impressed where ever he has played. Picking up awards as player of the year at all of his clubs so far.
Since joining the Tigers in 2006, Turner has been ever present, as Hull steadily rose through the divisions, playing 96 games and scoring an impressive 10 goals. A future England player in the making, many sides will be watching him closely this season.
Another tough team to find an unsung hero. Liverpool are blessed with class in all departments. Last season, the unsung hero would have gone to Steve Finnan, but with his departure to Espanyol, we will look elsewhere.
Xabi Alonso would seem the obvious choice. He is one of the best passers of a ball in Europe, and is the one Liverpool midfielder who can dictate a game. He can get forward, is a beautiful striker of the ball, and is tactically astute. After a shaky start to his season, he has been one of Liverpool's better performers of late. No mean feat considering they're up at the top of the table.
Richard Dunne is a colossus of a centre half. And at the age of 29, he has finally come good on years of promise. He is the rock at the heart of both City's and Ireland's defences and rarely puts in a poor performance. He's a man's man, and is one of those players who just gets on with it no matter what's thrown in front of him.
While players like Micah Richards, Robinho, Elano, and Stephen Ireland have all hogged the limelight of late, they are all aware of Dunne's importance and of the solid foundation he provides.
United are also blessed with a great squad. And you wouldn't expect any less of the current league and European Cup holders. They have an abundance of top class talent available to them and almost all are internationals.
Any player that leaves seems to be a star player to their new team even though they may have been squad players at United.
But United's most underrated player is Gary Neville. United fans may love him and ABU's (Anyone But United) may not rate him, but the fact remains that Neville has been a part of every squad since 1992 (546 games).
He is the most capped right-back in England history (85 Caps) and is the current club captain at United. He has won every trophy in the game and holds numerous records for both club and country.
When he retires, Neville is destined to go down as the best ever right-back to have played in England. Not bad for a player a lot don't rate.
Middlesbrough boast the youngest squad in the Premiership. Their youth academy is second only to Man City for producing young English talent. And while only a few names stand out at the Riverside, the fact remains that when Tuncay doesn't play, neither do 'Boro.
The Turkish international has been one of 'Boro's best performers over the last two seasons and is usually deployed as a striker, or just behind the front two. He works incredibly hard, has great technique, and unfortunately for Gareth Southgate, it only seems a matter of time before he moves on.
Newcastle are both blessed and cursed at the same time. They pay huge wages and usually have great players like Given and Owen on their books, but they always seem destined to underperform.
They normally have overpaid, overrated players on their books, so finding an underrated player could prove problematic. But this season, their best player out field has been Geremi. He has put in good solid performances when the rest of the team have gone missing.
After playing for Real Madrid and Chelsea, the Cameroonian could be forgiven for taking it easy like the rest of his teammates, but Geremi continues to be the one midfielder who seems to care about the "sleeping giant" of a club.
Lassana Diarra is one of the most underrated midfielders in the league and has established himself as one of Harry Redknapp's best buys. But he isn't my choice, as he's highly rated within the game. My choice for Portmouth's most underrated player is Nico Kranjcar.
He has been injured for most of this season, and without him, Portsmouth lack the guile he provided last season. A superb performer for Croatia in international competition, Kranjcar had established himself as one of the best up and comers in Europe before injury cut short his season. Both Harry Redknapp and Slaven Bilic will be looking for Nico to return from injury quickly, as he's badly missed.
Stoke have put in a number of good performances since their return to the Premier League. And many have shone, but Thomas Sorenson has been in great form since his summer move from Aston Villa.
The netminder was seen by many as a stopgap signing, but he has returned to the big leagues with relish. And after being frozen out of first-team football for so long at Aston Villla, he would have been forgiven for losing his appetite for competition. But credit where it's due, Sorenson took on a huge challenge both personally and professionally in going to Stoke when the easy life in Denmark beckoned.
Steed Malbranque would have won this award had he stayed with Spurs, and it is fitting that he should also be Sunderland's most underrated player. A player with a great first touch, vision, and work rate—Malbranque has been Sunderland's best performer this season.
Keane pulled off a great coup in signing the underrated Frenchman, as he is a solid performer with years of Premiership experience behind him. And as Sunderland rise up the table, and Spurs go into free fal,l it's easy to see why when you sell a player of Malbranque's ability.
Now this is a tough one. Like Newcastle, Spurs are a big club who are run badly. They specialise in signing players that think they've made it and then stop trying. Finding an overrated player is easy, finding an underrated one is another thing entirely.
And it seems apt that the player I've chosen to be Spurs most underrated player has not played so far this season. Tom Huddlestone is a classy centre half with a phenomenal range of passing. What he lacks in stamina, he makes up in his reading of the game and his technical ability. A future in midfield seems likely, whether it's with Spurs or not is another question.
West Bromich Albion
The newly promoted side have made some good signings, as they look to consolidate in their first season back in the big leagues. But it's one of last year's signings that really stand out in the underrated stakes.
James Morrison was signed from Middlesbrough in 2007 and has quickly established himself as a regular in Tony Mowbray's side.
He is an incredibly quick player and is one of the few players who retains that speed when he has the ball. Equally capable out wide or through the centre, Morrison has quickly established himself as a player with a great future.
And although he had played for England at every level, he jumped at the chance to represent Scotland when they made their interest known. A shrewd move by both.
West Ham Utd
Since moving to West Ham from Spurs, Matthew Etherington has established himself as one of the best left-sided players in England. Part of the same side at Peterborough as Simon Davies, both were signed by Spurs in 2000. And while Davies went on to become a regular, Etherington was never really rated at White Hart Lane.
He won player of the year in his first season as a Hammer and was influential in them gaining promotion in 2004. Since then, he has been a fixture in the West Ham side under numerous managers. He has great pace and is a reminder of a bygone age when wingers ruled the world.
While Steve Bruce's signings: Zaki, Valencia, and Palacios get all the attention and are linked to a bigger club every week, Maynor Figuroa goes about his business efficiently.
The Honduran international has been a fixture in the side this season. A brilliant left back who can also play in midfield, Figuroa has great pace, a powerful shot, and a superb work ethic.
He's on loan until January, where Wigan will have to decide whether to sign him permanently or lose him. Wise money would be on Bruce trying to keep him, but Wigan's wages are perilously high, and he could move on to another side in the Premiership after his impressive displays.
Well, that's my take on some of the Premier League's underrated players. Do you agree?