This Serie A Star Could Be Europe's Most Underrated Player
Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are without doubt the two most underrated players in world football right now.
Only kidding—even if the latter doesn't get the respect he deserves.
Across the Premier League, La Liga, Serie A, Bundesliga and Ligue 1, i.e. the best leagues in Europe, there are some top quality players, and many highly-rated stars.
But for every Eden Hazard, Mario Goetze, Stevan Jovetic, Thiago Alcantara and Gareth Bale, there's plenty more who fall under the radar and don't get the recognition their talent deserves.
So here's a list to try and rectify that situation, giving you a breakdown of the 20 most underrated footballers in the aforementioned leagues.
If there's one man Rayo Vallecano should thank more than anyone for their strong season so far (they're 11th in La Liga), it's Javi Fuego.
The 28-year-old Spaniard—capped for his country up to U23 level—has emerged not only as one of La Liga's best holding midfielders, but as one of the best in Europe.
Every match in Spain's top-flight, Fuego wins on average 4.6 tackles per game—the ninth best across Europe's top five leagues—and makes 7.6 interceptions per match—the best in Europe.
Holding midfielders are meant to read play and break it up—Fuego executes that with near perfection.
CA Osasuna have a lot of players who could make this list—Javad Nekounam, Sergio Fernandez, Alvaro Cejudo, etc.
But the key man in engineering Los Rojillos battle for the European places in La Liga is without doubt their 25-year-old midfield maestro Raul Garcia.
From the centre of midfield in La Liga this season, Garcia has scored seven goals and made eight assists, and on average creates at least three direct goalscoring chances for teammates every two games.
The main goalscoring force for Osasuna, Raul Garcia is the one key player who has made his team tick this season—reflected in the four man of the match awards he's won.
Who has won the most man of the match awards for Fulham in the Premier League this season?
No, it's not Clint Dempsey.
That's right, it's Moussa Dembele. The 24-year-old Belgium international has been at the heart of the Cottagers' success this season, and has won four man of the match awards for his efforts—two more than Dempsey.
Whilst Dempsey has scored 12 league goals compared to Dembele's one, it's the latter who's had most impact on the side.
This season the Belgian has created on average 1.5 chances for teammates per game, drove play forward more than any other Fulham player by completing 2.1 dribbles per match, and has made a bigger defensive contribution than any of his teammates, winning 3.1 tackles per game.
And to top it all off, he has the best passing accuracy rate also, with an 87 percent pass success rate.
Maybe it's because he's getting old, or due to the fact he plays for Hungary, but the truth is Tamas Hajnal hasn't been receiving the recognition he merits.
Perhaps the Bundesliga's finest playmaker this season, the 31-year-old VfB Stuttgart attacking midfielder has created more direct goalscoring chances for teammates—68 key passes at an average of 2.6 per game—than any other player in the league.
And yet still people see Franck Ribery, Arjen Robben, Marco Reus, Shinji Kagawa, Mario Goetze, etc., as better playmakers this season.
Olivier Giroud, Younes Belhanda, Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, have all been crucial in Montpellier's success this season—with La Paillade currently top of the Ligue 1 table ahead of mega-rich Paris Saint-Germain.
However, the one forgotten man, the player who has made that winning team tick in an almost Xavi Hernandez kind of way, is 28-year-old Chilean holding midfielder Marco Estrada.
Forming a double pivot in front of the defence with Jamel Saihi, Estrada has been the key force going forward for Montpellier.
While Saihi does more of the defensive work in that partnership, Estrada's role is to start almost every attack, and has done so this season by spraying across 5.7 accurate long balls per game on average, with an overall pass success rate of 83 percent.
He also makes 1.5 key passes per game, and has got three assists this season.
Perhaps its due to his age, but Marco Estrada is quite possibly the most underrated deep-lying playmaker this season.
Probably because he's 27, plays for Valenciennes, and is bald, but for some reason Renaud Cohade hasn't been getting much recognition for his displays this season.
And that's a shame, as he boasts some great statistics.
He's scored four goals this season, made five assists, makes 1.6 key passes per game, spreads 3.8 accurate long balls each match, has an 80 percent overall pass success rate, and also wins 3.4 tackles per game while making 1.8 interceptions each match.
Which goes to show he is possibly the most underrated complete midfielder in Europe, or at least Ligue 1.
Premier League players are all overrated, according to a lot of foreign cynics.
But in one team at least, there is certainly a player who isn't getting noticed as much as he should.
James Morrison has been key in West Bromwich Albion's historic season so far, with the 25-year-old Scotland international being one of the best midfielders in the Premier League this term.
If it was for better finishing from teammates, Morrison would have more than just three assists, as he makes 2.1 key passes per game on average—which is a better total than the likes of Luis Suarez, Stephane Sessegnon, Ryan Giggs, Rafael van der Vaart, Aaron Ramsey, Frank Lampard, Yaya Toure, etc.
The attacking midfielder combines his ability going forward with a strong defensive contribution also, winning 2.3 tackles per match on average, and making the same number of interceptions.
And no midfielder in the Premier League seems to be able to match that ability in both attack and defence.
He may be Atletico Madrid's most expensive ever player, costing €40 million to move from FC Porto, but Radamel Falcao's impact this season has been underrated.
His goals in La Liga have been carrying Los Rojiblancos this season, with his 19 league goals proving he's doing a better job for the team than Sergio Aguero or Diego Forlan did.
And his six strikes in the Europa League have been key in this struggling Atletico side reaching the quarterfinals.
Unlike players such as Andy Carroll and Fernando Torres, Falcao hasn't let the weight of a big fee drag him down, nor has he let the burden of carrying Atletico pull him down either, and he deserves credit for that.
People can't pronounce or write his surname, therefore they don't discuss him as being one of the top wingers in Europe—that has to be the only explanation as to why people don't mention this Borussia Dortmund star more frequently.
But the truth is, 26-year-old Poland international Jakub Blaszczykowski (admittedly I did have to copy and paste his name) is one of the most complete wingers in Europe, and doesn't get the recognition for it.
He's scored three goals and made nine assists in 16 starts so far this season, and makes 1.9 key passes per game.
He combines that with 2.2 tackles won each match, as well as 1.3 interceptions.
Overall, they're almost stats to match Manchester United's Antonio Valencia.
The rapid rise of Borussia Monchengladbach hasn't been all down to Marco Reus this season.
21-year-old right winger Patrick Herrmann, who could be the next Andres Iniesta, has also been a key player for the team, but hasn't been in the limelight anywhere near as much as Reus.
Which isn't right, as Herrmann has scored six goals and made seven assists this season, and has beat many a fullback in the Bundesliga this season with his pace and control on the ball.
And he's also used that speed to track back incredibly well, winning 2.1 tackles per game and making 1.2 interceptions.
At such a young age Herrmann is already developing greatly, and is definitely the best unheralded 21-year-old in Europe right now.
Jeremy Menez, who received tons of plaudits in his time at AS Roma—and was subsequently linked with Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United—seems to be somewhat forgotten by the larger football world now that he's at Paris Saint-Germain.
Which is strange, because they're a mega-rich side, joint-top of Ligue 1, getting loads of attention.
But nonetheless it appears the likes of Nene and Javier Pastore are the ones grabbing the limelight, despite the fact Menez has made 11 assists this season to go with his four goals in the league.
Add in the fact he attempts, and completes, as many dribbles per game as Eden Hazard yet doesn't get tackled as often, and it's clear that Menez is quite the underrated player this season.
Especially seeing as he's done better than his teammate Pastore this season, despite costing a whopping €32 million less.
Manchester City should regret falling out of favour with Emmanuel Adebayor, because he's been brilliant for Premier League rivals Tottenham Hotspur this season.
Adebayor hasn't been mentioned in the same sentence as other forwards this season like Wayne Rooney, Sergio Aguero, Demba Ba, etc.
And to be honest, he probably should. After all, the 28-year-old Togo international has scored 11 goals and made 11 assists in the Premier League this season in 26 games—which means he's effectively making a direct contribution in the scoring of 0.85 goals per game.
That's a better ratio than all strikers in the league barring Rooney and, of course, Robin Van Persie.
Which means the ex-Arsenal man should really be considered as one of the league's top strikers.
Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich may have made a mistake sacking Andre Villas-Boas, but he (or whoever deals with reserve team contracts) made a bigger error in letting go Gokhan Tore.
The 20-year-old winger, now at Hamburg SV, has been sensational in the Bundesliga this season.
Known by people who really know their football as the player who's completed more dribbles than any other player in Europe this season (including Lionel Messi), Turkey international Tore also has an end product to go with those unstoppable runs.
The right-sided player has six assists this season, and makes on average two key passes per game.
And regarding his status as Europe's best dribbler: he could well be considered the best in the world in that area.
After all, he gets dispossessed when on the ball 1.7 times per game on average—Lionel Messi, considered the best dribbler in the world, gets dispossessed on average 2.8 times each match.
And still he's not recognised as one of the best wingers in the Bundesliga, let alone Europe. Gokhan Tore is the definition of underrated.
When talking about the deep-lying playmakers in Serie A, most people will probably say Andrea Pirlo or Daniele De Rossi.
And most people probably won't say Francesco Lodi, the 28-year-old midfield maestro of Catania.
Again, it's a shame, as Lodi has possibly been the main reason why Catania are having an historic season so far, currently seventh in Serie A ahead of giants Inter Milan (the Rossazzurri's highest finish ever in Serie A is eighth).
From starting in deep central midfield, Lodi has scored eight goals this season and made five assists.
On average makes 1.9 key passes—more than any of his teammates—and sprays 6.8 accurate long balls per game—a better total than players like Francesco Totti and Wesley Sneijder.
Perhaps it's because he plays for one of Serie A's most unheard of teams, but Francesco Lodi is a seriously underrated player.
Robert Lewandowski will no doubt be one of the most talked about, and wanted, strikers in world football after Euro 2012.
But, like a snobby indie-lover who only listens to alternative music, this is your chance to say you knew all about the Poland international's talent before he became cool.
The 23-year-old doesn't receive any attention outside of Germany and Poland, despite being the most important player for Bundesliga table-toppers Borussia Dortmund this season.
In 27 league appearances so far, he's scored 17 goals and made eight assists, and on average creates another goalscoring chance for a teammate.
If that's not enough to convince you, overall this season Lewandowski's got 22 goals and 10 assists from 39 games, meaning he effectively creates goals for his team at a rate of 0.82 goals per game.
And to merit his place ahead of Emmanuel Adebayor on this list (who has a better ratio), Lewandowski scores a goal in every 2.5 shots he has on target, which makes one of the most efficient strikers around when he does test the goalkeeper.
Bruno Soriano, linked a few months back with Manchester United, is quite possibly the best player right now in La Liga not to come from either Real Madrid or FC Barcelona.
However, despite the fact his talent is there for all to see, a lot of people don't see it that way, and his name isn't included on lists of La Liga's top talent.
The truth is, the 28-year-old is probably the best holding midfielder in La Liga barring Xabi Alonso.
After all, this is a player who makes a staggering 6.1 interceptions per game, the second best in Europe's top five leagues barring Javi Fuego.
But the reason he's miles ahead of Fuego and others on this list is that he's one of the most perfect defensive midfield players out there.
He combines his role defensively with almost perfect, forward-thinking passing, and is the complete heartbeat of the Villarreal side.
He's one of Europe's best defensive midfielders and deep-lying playmakers in one, hitting 69 passes per game on average with a success rate of 88 percent, and also sprays on average 5.5 accurate long balls each match.
Add to that the 2.8 tackles he wins per game, and you're talking about a talismanic player in the Villarreal team. Forget Borja Valero, Bruno Soriano is the key man for El Submarino Amarillo.
In an underrated Schalke 04 team this season (they're 3rd in the Bundesliga), Klaas Jan-Huntelaar has been grabbing the headlines with his 22 league goals this campaign.
Christian Fuchs has also generated some interest along with Raul Gonzalez, Julian Draxler and Lewis Holtby.
But the one key player falling under the radar for Die Königsblauen has been Jefferson Farfan, the 27-year-old winger who has been sensational for Schalke after returning from a three-month injury lay-off.
The Peru international has three goals and five assists in 13 league starts, winning three man of the match awards, but more importantly has been the driving force in helping Huntelaar and Raul grab the goals.
Farfan drives plays forward from the right wing brilliantly, completing 2.9 dribbles per game, and has one of the best end products to match, making 2.5 key passes per match.
On average, a teammate connects with his crosses 2.4 times each game, making him the most accurate crosser in the Bundesliga and third best in Europe.
Overall, Farfan is quite possibly the best playmaking winger in Germany, if not Europe right now, and should get more recognition for his talent.
Like it or not, Michael Carrick is a very underrated player.
The 30-year-old central midfielder has been far more important to Premier League leaders Manchester United than most people care to admit.
A model of consistency along with Antonio Valencia, Carrick is always one of the first names on manager Sir Alex Ferguson's teamsheet.
And it's no surprise. This season Carrick has established himself as the heartbeat of the Red Devils team, hitting more passes (69 per game) than any other player, and doing it with a better accuracy (90.2 success rate) barring Paul Scholes.
On top of that he's also United's strongest player defensively, winning 3.1 tackles and making 2.9 interceptions each match.
Throw in two goals and two assists, and you have a player that's indispensable to the team.
Then when you read stuff like this, you can see how underrated he actually is.
So underrated is Juan Arango, professional photographers at top-flight football matches rarely take a snap of him—one of the latest pictures of him available is from 2008, when he was playing for Mallorca.
Fast forward to 2012, and the 31-year-old Borussia Monchengladbach midfielder has been a very vital part of his team's rapid rise up the Bundesliga table.
The Venezuela international—who has won 103 caps for his country—has been Die Fohlen's star man alongside Marco Reus this season.
However, while Reus steals all the limelight, Arango is left sitting in the shadows.
And that's something that shouldn't be happening, especially seen as the left-winger has scored five goals and made nine assists this term, and has won three man of the match awards.
On top of that he makes 2.4 key passes per game, only beaten in that department by Jefferson Farfan and Tamas Hajnal in the Bundesliga.
But what makes Arango better than those fellow underrated stars, besides his goals and assists, is the fact he's another track-back master, winning 1.4 tackles per game and making 1.7 interceptions.
And, to prove he deserves second place on this list, Arango also wins 2.2 aerial duels per match, making him one of the best wingers aerially in Europe, and the best in the Bundesliga.
Fabrizio Miccoli has been talismanic for Palermo this season.
Easily the most underrated player in Europe's top five leagues, it's criminal that Miccoli hasn't been mentioned in the same breath as the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Antonio Di Natale, Ezeuqiel Lavezzi, Edinson Cavani, Stevan Jovetic, etc.
This term in Serie A the 32-year-old striker has scored 12 goals and made 12 assists in 23 games, scoring or creating for his team over a goal a game.
Add to that six man of the match awards and you begin to see just how valuable the former Juventus star has been to his team.
He also makes 1.9 key passes per game—more than any of his teammates—and has had direct involvement in 59 percent of his side's goals this season.
Whilst the next best Palermo goalscorer behind Miccoli is his strike partner Igor Budan with six goals, and the next best assist-maker is Josip Ilicic with five.
Which not only goes to show that Fabrizio Miccoli is carrying his team this season, but also how well he's done it.
And the fact he hasn't received much credit for it is a crime against football.