It is one of those questions that tends to take place in a pub, watching a game in which one of the ‘less-fashionable’ players has just scored a worldy. “I’ve always rated him. No honestly I have. Come on then, who do you think is the most underrated player in the Premier League.”
Now, I am not saying that these players have to be unheard of, and indeed a few do play for the big teams. In fact, being underrated is difficult to quantify. Let’s just say these players tend to fly under the radar, not to fans of the clubs for which they play but followers of the game as a whole.
Don’t worry though, I am prepared to receive disbelief, incredulity and downright insults for my choices. It’s par for the course.
10. Stiliyan Petrov
There is an air of mystery surrounding Villa Park at the present time, with the manager’s position seemingly shrouded in confusion. Even David Moyes is favourite with one bookmaker.
Whoever does get the role will be thankful for Petrov’s contribution. After a slow start to his Villa career following a £7million move from Celtic, the Bulgarian has found his feet over the last two years. Named supporters’ and players’ player of the year in 2008/9, he captained the side following the departure of Barry and Laursen. Milner, Agbonlahor, Downing and Young may have stood out for Villa recently, but it is Petrov’s work ethic that allows other to perform.
9. Fabrice Muamba
One of the facts that surprise me more than many others in the Premier League is that Muamba is still only 22. Jack Wilshere is now 18, and has played a handful of league matches. When Fabrice was the same age, he moved to Birmingham City on loan from Arsenal. There he played 34 league games in one season, won the fans’ young player of the year, and signed for £4million. The next season he missed only one Premier League game, and Bolton paid £5million for his services.
Rarely talked of in terms of the senior squad, further consistency could see the claims grow, and Muamba has 25 under 21 caps, the seventh all-time appearance maker.
8. Ricardo Fuller
Ricardo Fuller has always had talent. Ask fans of Hearts, Preston, Southampton and Stoke and they will tell you the same. Ricardo Fuller has also had injuries and tempers. Consistent knee injuries hampering his progress, while a sending off for slapping team mate Andy Griffin showed his indisciplined side.
But there has been a change in Fuller. He has scored 40 goals in 140 league games for Stoke, but has also added a consistency in holding the ball up, aerial ability and strength that mean he is a fixture in a settled Premier League side. Last season’s wonder goal against West Ham showed a true class that is often overlooked.
7. Kevin Davies
I’ll give you this one, it’s an obvious call. It’s easy to say ‘oh there’s no point saying Kevin Davies, everyone knows he’s alright’. But that’s the point, he’s not alright; he is effing quality. The fact he is the most fouled and most fouling player in the league shows that he gets involved (Davies is closing in on 100 booking in the Premier League), but there is much more than that.
In an era when England have regularly played with a big man up front (Heskey: 13 league goals in last 75 games) why does Davies not deserve a chance? He links well, he is a nuisance and he wins the ball in the air. Oh, and he scores more goals than Emile (22 league goals in last 75 league games).
6. Darren Fletcher
I’ll be honest, if only for a minute. Like many, I’ve not always rated Fletcher. There was a time when he seemed to be merely a passenger at United; third in the pecking order behind Carrick and Hargreaves to play with the deity that is Paul Scholes.
Through a combination of improvements on his part, and a loss of fitness and form on the part of others, Fletcher is the man of the moment. It is often difficult to describe what he does. Long range passing or shooting aren’t his bag, but damn is he effective. The ultimate compliment would be to say that Man Yoo look a more solid, combative and effective unit with Fletcher in the midfield. Just a shame he moans more than Paris Hilton in a video I saw a few years back.
5. Michael Essien
Another big player, another big player who is underrated. When Chelsea paid £24million for him I worried that he may struggle to adapt. How wrong can you be. He breaks up play like Makelele, tackles like Vieira and passes like Iniesta, and scores every nine games.
There are not many players that I would rather have at the City Ground, Nottingham. Chelsea have some of the greatest attacking players in world football, but Essien is the lynchpin. The fulcrum. The underrated hero.
Oh and his goal against Barcelona. Eat it.
4. Jody Craddock
I guess this is the entry that many will disagree with. Craddock has been playing Premier League football on and off for 11 years, and is 35 years old. He has always been consistent, but last year truly came into his own. He played 33 games and scored five goals, playing with a consistency that earned him Wolves’ player of the season award. He was also Wolves’ second top goalscorer.
He is not a player that has ever or will ever be talked about in international terms, but that does not mean that hard work, consistency, and concentration should not be rewarded by respect at a domestic level.
3. Aaron Hughes
Ask the large percentage of football fans who the defensive star is for Fulham and they will tell you that Brede Hangeland. Fulham fans, however, may tell you a different story. Hangeland has indeed been a rock, and has been linked with moves to Arsenal and Liverpool, but there is a slightly more unfashionable player wowing the Cottagers (not a euphemism).
Aaron Hughes was always a steady right-back for Newcastle and Aston Villa (he has only played less than 20 games a season once since 2000), but at Fulham he has become solid and dependable at any position across the back four. Captain of Northern Ireland and vice-captain of Fulham.
2. Vincent Kompany
Let’s be fair, it is easy to slip under the radar at Manchester City, especially when you only cost £6million and arrived two years ago. But Kompany has become one of the most consistent players at Eastlands, featuring regularly under Mark Hughes and Roberto Mancini.
Known to English boys as a Champo legend (see Championship Manager 01/02), Kompany won Belgian First Division player of the year at 18 and moved to Hamburg for £8million at 20. Still only 24, he has made 250 appearances, has 32 international caps and has played 15 times in the Champions League. He may not be the star name of Jerome Boateng, Kolo Toure or Joleon Lescott, but with players out injured Kompany has a few weeks to prove he is worth his place in a side gunning for the title.
Second time to be honest in one article, jeez: This one is a personal crusade. I am not especially a lover of Chelsea or defensive football, but I believe Alex to be the most underrated defender in the world, and is even so at his own club. John Terry and Ricardo Carvalho have rightly received many plaudits over the last three years, but Alex merits just as many.
He is strong and quick with an impressive sense of positioning. He scores four goals a season on average, and provides a solid foundation for the rest of the team to shine. I can sum up his presence in this list in one statistic. Of Chelsea’s last 50 domestic games he has played in exactly half. In the 25 in which he has played, Chelsea conceded 11 goals. In the 25 where he hasn’t played, they conceded 28. That is too stark a fact to argue with. Alex is class and is underrated.