Keith Lasley isn't the sort of player who'll always stand out in a game.
While others are scoring goals, performing mazy runs or flying in with over-the-top challenges, Lasley just gets on with his job—winning possession, keeping it and linking the play together. He may not feature in the headlines quite so often as some other players around the league, but those who really know their stuff will know just how good a player Keith Lasley is, and how invaluable he is to his side.
Lasley first came to Motherwell in 1999 from youth side Gleniffer Thistle, but didn't really make his breakthrough to the first team until the 2001/2002 season where he featured 30 times. In total Lasley racked up 97 appearances in this period before being tempted into a move down south to Plymouth Argyle after his contract expired in 2004. Like so many Scottish players, however, it wasn't long before he was back north of the border.
Although Lasley had impressed in his first spell at the club—enough obviously to attract attention from clubs in England—he has developed and become better as a player since. He is arguably enjoying the best spell in his career to date at the moment under Stuart McCall. Motherwell have been among the most consistent sides in the SPL during his time there, and Lasley plays a big part in this, both in his performances as a player and in his role as a captain.
He's also a highly reliable player.
Lasley has featured in 28 of the 29 matches in which Motherwell have competed this season in the Scottish Premier League, the Europa League, the League Cup and the Scottish Cup.
So why is he so underrated?
In a sense, it's got a lot to do with the kind of player he is. For a start, Lasley isn't really a goalscorer. In 271 games played for Motherwell during both his spells he's only managed 16 goals which isn't really a great return for a midfielder, even one whose primary duties are more defensive.
Yet at the same time, the work he does in other areas of the game is essential and allows his teammates to focus on attacking. While more an all-round central midfielder than a purely defensive midfielder, Lasley is excellent at breaking up play and making crucial interceptions when his team is under pressure.
It's rarely Lasley who's the one finishing off the move, and as a result there's a tendency to overlook the work he does and how important he is to the side. Players such as Michael Higdon, Jamie Murphy, Henrik Ojamaa, Chris Humphrey and even Tom Hateley tend to get most of the attention either for their prowess as attacking players or their ability at set-pieces, but without Lasley keeping things together and providing a solid base, this wouldn't be possible.
Lasley is the sort of player whose work often goes largely unnoticed, and perhaps this is why he is so underrated. He links the play together so well, collecting the ball from the full-backs or central defenders and moving it forward through the midfield, either moving it laterally to the wide midfielders or playing it forward to the front-men.
He has a tendency to look to find a pass rather than to score, and instead of making runs into the box in order to get on the end of crosses, Lasley will tend to wait on the edge of the area. This way he provides an option for them to keep the ball moving as they try to work the ball into the box, or to collect it as it breaks free or comes loose.
In recent years a number of players have come through the ranks at Fir Park, and Lasley is invaluable in helping them develop as footballers. He provides a steadying influence on the field through his reliability and the fact that he is always willing to take the ball. It's as though he is always available for the pass. As a Motherwell youth product himself, he knows what it's like to come through trying to make your name and even more importantly, he knows what it takes. He's also been there amidst a flurry of changes that have seen various players come and go, remaining a constant and a player on whom they've always been able to rely during this period.
Another fact that's important to point out is that Lasley has never been capped by Scotland, and while this is further evidence of how often he has been overlooked as a player, in turn it only ends up with him receiving even less attention. Had he been capped even just once earlier in his career, it could have been enough for him to break into the national side, but various managers have passed over him. Now at the age of 33, it's highly unlikely he will be given a chance, as much as his performances might merit it. Sadly that's just the way it works. The younger player is always thought of as having more potential, even if the two are performing at exactly the same level, and with this in mind, national coaches very rarely hand players their first chance at international football after the age of 30.
Basically, Keith Lasley is one of those players who, if you were to remove them from the side, would be more noticeable by their absence than they normally are when they're playing.
Fans and pundits might not always recognise the important role he plays, but they would quickly come to realise it were he to be missing for any period of time and if Motherwell were forced to play without him.
There are better players in the SPL and there are players whose contribution can often go unnoticed.
But no one is as underrated as Keith Lasley.