European Football's Most Underrated XI
Read this article if you want to know which players are included in European football’s most underrated XI this season.
Who qualifies as an underrated footballer? A player whose worth is undervalued by the general footballing world.
Feel free to comment below with your own examples of underrated European-based players.
GK: Mickaël Landreau (Bastia)
The scenario of signing a seasoned professional like Mickaël Landreau on a free transfer made him an ideal backup for some of Europe's major clubs.
Mickaël Landreau to Arsenal then? He's terminated his contract with Lille. Good goalkeeper.— Tom (@FourFourTom) December 6, 2012
France goalkeeper Mickael Landreau has revealed he turned down the chance to move to Inter Milan to join Bastia.— Get Football News (@GetFootballNews) December 31, 2012
Lille terminating Landreau's contract with "immediate effect" indicated that the relationship between both parties was irreconcilable.
Mickaël revealed how hurt he felt during the latter stages of his Lille career (from Eurosport via Reuters):
I was not considered by the club's manager as an example, or as someone good for the rest of the squad.
I took note of that, I spoke to the coach [Rudi Garcia] but he did not take sides.
The most important thing is to blossom on the pitch. I could not anymore. And a year and a half is a long way to go when you have hard days.
I have freed myself both sportingly and psychologically.
Instead of warming the benches at a big club, Landreau plunged into the deep end with newly promoted Bastia, whose goalkeeper—Macedo Novaes—was the Ligue 2 Goalkeeper of the Year.
Against stronger competition, Macedo was error-prone, devoid of confidence and didn't command his box to the standard of a Ligue 1 goalie.
Landreau isn't the only Bastia player frequently monitored by big clubs because 20-year-old Florian Thauvin and 22-year-old Wahbi Khazri—wide attacking midfielders with the capacity to play centrally—have potential to be elite footballers.
RB: Carlos Martínez (Real Sociedad)
In 24 La Liga games this season, Carlos Martínez has only conceded 15 free kicks whilst winning back the ball 153 times.
He possesses Lukasz Piszczek's clean tackling, Bacary Sagna's aerial prowess and Geoff Cameron's grittiness.
Yes, Martínez has been that good for Real Sociedad.
So, is he a world-class right-back right now? Absolutely.
Carlos Martinez is the real hero here. La Real with him - played 24, lost one. La Real without him - played nine, lost six.— Samuel Jack Marsden (@samuelmarsden) April 28, 2013
The only red flag with Carlos is his tendency to slide in and completely miss the ball (and the man) therefore dragging right-sided centre-back Mikel González out of position.
It's a trait also apparent in Fagner's game, hence why the Wolfsburg RB has been hit-and-miss throughout the season.
CB: Gareth McAuley (West Bromwich Albion)
Aside from Adrian Chiles poking fun at Peter Odemwingie during West Bromwich Albion's end-of-season award ceremony (via John Percy at The Telegraph), the main takeaway from the gala event was Gareth McAuley receiving both the Players’ Player of the Season and Supporters’ Player of the Season awards (per WBA.co.uk).
10 days before the ceremony, West Brom blogger Warren Stephens was ardent in his belief that Gareth was the club's best player (via Expressandstar.com):
My vote for Player of the Year would have to go to Gareth McAuley.
When he signed I remember message boards being awash with criticism from supporters who hadn’t heard of him or were sceptical of his pedigree being a free transfer.
Perhaps, more amusingly, many despaired that we hadn’t coughed up the money to make a big-money signing like Roger Johnson instead!
Gareth McAuley has grown and grown, perhaps the biggest compliment he can be paid is that this season he’s even out-performed Mr Reliable [Jonas Olsson].
Outside of those who follow West Brom, Gareth is an unsung Premier League hero who doesn't have "look at me" stats nor will he stand out when you're watching WBA, unless you look for him.
He is low risk, is generally always in the right position, lulls opposing forwards into making mistakes and has formed an intuitive relationship with Olsson.
Like Jonas, who earned a new contract and partly based his decision to re-sign on his strong relationship with Gareth, West Bromwich Albion upper management shouldn't even be hesitating giving McAuley the money he deserves.
Gareth McAuley deservedly winning both Player of the Season awards last night, now give him the contract he wants. #wba— Tom Harper (@tomharper94) April 29, 2013
CB: Martin Stranzl (Borussia Mönchengladbach)
If Martin Stranzl was several years younger, Bayern Munich would have bought him by now.
Instead, Die Bayern will be hoping Jan Kirchhoff—who is significantly more pacy than Martin—can emulate the Austrian's aerial presence, leadership and no-nonsense approach to defending.
With Dante, a colossus at the back, leaving for Bayern last summer, Stranzl has stepped up his game and met the exceptions of last season's Borussia Mönchengladbach.
Meanwhile, most of his teammates have underachieved this season without Marco Reus, Roman Neustädter and Dante.
Martin Stranzl was considering hanging up his boots in the summer great to see one of Europe's most underrated defenders stick around.— Cristian Nyari (@Cnyari) December 19, 2012
LB: Daley Blind (Ajax)
From pin-up boy for football nepotism to one of the Eredivisie's in-form players, it's been a rapid change in fortunes for Daley Blind.
He was an inconsistent, indecisive and out-of-his-depth defender who strugled to shake off the constant murmurs that he was only playing professional football because of his dad, Danny, an Ajax legend.
Now, Daley is a courageous left-back, who has been so good that he would have to be the best Eredivisie defender this season.
Pretty sure that Daley Blind only got a contract because of his father's work for #Ajax...— Danish Football News (@DanishFooty) September 18, 2011
Daley Blind, potentially Ajax's player of the season, agrees to sign a three-year contract extension keeping him at the club until 2016.— Mohamed Moallim (@jouracule) April 22, 2013
DM: Saphir Taïder (Bologna)
Bologna get a midfield enforcer in Saphir Taïder from Grenoble whilst Parma sign Lyon discard Ishak Belfodil, who didn't make much of an impression at Bologna.
Both French youth internationals, who've pledged their allegiance to Algeria, have been pleasant surprises this season.
Belfodil, currently on a 10-game goalless run in Serie A, is still too raw for a major club, but Taïder could make the transition into a quality midfielder.
He is ferocious in the tackle, he loves physical confrontations and he's one of the club's main ball-carriers.
Younger, cheaper, smarter, better passer and higher upside than Cagliari's Radja Nainggolan.
Milan could acquire Taider (Bologna Midfielder) for €5 million !— ACMilanMTL YouTube (@ACMilanMTL) April 26, 2013
DM: Julian Baumgartlinger (Mainz)
With Julian Baumgartlinger and Elkin Soto, Thomas Tuchel has a dynamic duo in Mainz's midfield.
Julian and Elkin aren't just ball-winners because the Colombian can open up space with his mazy runs (think a poor man's Ilkay Gündogan) whilst the Austrian keeps play ticking over with his precision passing.
Baumgartlinger, a 25-year-old No. 6 formerly with Austria Vienna, has been instrumental in Mainz having the second-best defensive record in the Bundesliga (tied with Borussia Dortmund behind Bayern Munich).
Soon-to-be Bayern footballer Jan Kirchhoff, a centre-back and one of Germany's up-and-coming prospects, also didn't look out of place when he started in midfield.
RAM: Koke (Atlético Madrid)
Neymar, Mario Götze, Jack Wilshere, Stephan El Shaarawy, Paul Pogba and Lucas Moura.
Oh wait, where's Koke?
The 21-year-old Atlético Madrid footballer is the most complete of the aforementioned prospects with world-class upside.
Play the Spaniard on the right of midfield—he's elite.
Give him a central role and enable him to run the show—he's world-class.
In fact, his tackling, pressing and defensive positioning are so good that he probably would do a better job at right-back than Álvaro Arbeloa and Dani Alves.
It's amazing how hard the Atléti players are willing to work for Diego Simeone, who's one of the best managers in the world.
CAM: Hiroshi Kiyotake (Nürnberg)
Hiroshi Kiyotake, a €1.2 million signing from Cerezo Osaka, has scored and created a combined 14 league goals for a modest Nürnberg team.
He is the creative fulcrum of a mediocre Nürnberg side, who've based their entire team around the Japanese international.
Kiyotake would have 20 assists if Stefan Kießling or Robert Lewandowski was Nürnberg's No. 9.
Unlike Shinji Kagawa, who harbors aspirations of being one of Europe's most prolific goal-scoring midfielders, Hiroshi is a pass-first, Mesut Özil-type playmaker.
LAM: Piti (Rayo Vallecano)
When Rayo Vallecano finished second during the 2010-11 Segunda División campaign to seal promotion to La Liga, Emiliano Armenteros—now with Osasuna—netted 20 goals.
Last season, Michu was a revelation as a deep-lying forward scoring 15 league goals, which sealed a move to Swansea City, where he has continued his rich goal-scoring form.
15 - Piti has scored the same goals for Rayo Vallecano in this season than Michu in the last season in the Spanish League (15 goals) Idol— OptaJose (@OptaJose) April 26, 2013
Piti—a left-sided player with a green light to shoot, shoot, shoot—is a tricky and quick-thinking wide attacking midfielder.
He's classified as a midfielder, but his positioning resembles that of a wide forward with the freedom to roam à la Cristiano Ronaldo.
CF: Lima (Benfica)
Why has Lima only scored once from 10 combined UEFA Champions League group stage/Europa League games this season?
80 percent of his games have been sub-affected, hence his poor returns, so just bear that in mind when looking over his goal-scoring record.
Lima is comfortable shooting the ball with both feet. He can play in his teammates, he is a technically sound forward and it's unfortunate that a player of his quality may never play international football.
His former Braga teammate Éder has the characteristics to be a world-beater.