The beautiful thing about the game of football is that everyone has an opinion, particularly when it comes to players.
There are those who are universally seen as being among the best, the truly outstanding such as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, who even if you don't really like them, you can only respect thanks to their utterly astonishing records. However, there are also those who, despite their reputations and the teams they play for, simply don't meet up to the hype.
Perhaps they had a short spell where they performed like a world-beater, but that river quickly ran dry.
Maybe they've moved for massive transfer fees thanks to astute agents, but have never justified such exorbitant deals.
Alternatively, they could quite clearly appear to have something and offer fleeting embers, but never truly catch fire.
These are the overrated—those who promise much and have their backers, yet all too often flatter to deceive. Listed are six players, earning big money and plying their trade among some of Europe's premier sides, who are rarely held accountable for being subpar, largely given their reputations.
These are not the Walcotts and Rooneys of the world whom fans argue for and against down the pub, nor are they the likes of Robinho—players who have clearly lost any semblance of what took them to the top in the first place.
These are the guys who simply haven't done it often or long enough when it counts and who simply aren't worth the argument.
Presenting the overrated:
When the precocious Italian forward broke into AC Milan, he was seen something as a breath of fresh air. A promising homegrown talent, technically adept and with plenty of pace, the signing from Genoa was the future with the Rossoneri looking to overhaul an ageing squad.
His debut season at San Siro, 2011-12, saw him begin to make appearances here and there—just seven in his first six months—and eventually he would make 22 Serie A appearances (16 as a substitute), scoring twice.
The summer of 2012 saw Massimiliano Allegri continue the vast overhaul of his squad—the likes of Gennaro Gattuso, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Thiago Silva all left—and the Milanese looked somewhat light. Nonetheless, El Shaarway exploded, his progress rapid, and he finished the opening half of the 2012-13 Serie A season as the league's top goalscorer with 14 goals.
However, since the day of 2012 turned into the night of 2013, what has there been? In short, very little.
The arrival of Mario Balotelli should have seen the weight of single-handedly carrying the Milan attack cleared off the 20-year-old's shoulders. However, it merely gave the player somewhere to hide when things weren't going to plan.
As Milan strode to a third-place finish in Serie A in May—remarkable considering their position in the table in November—El Shaarawy's form tailed off badly, with just two goals in his last 16 league matches and the verve and daring that marked his start to the campaign having been lost.
Common consensus has been to blame Allegri's stationing of the player on the left wing, something which doesn't really stand up considering it was the position in which he was most used and from where he appeared to be thriving, during the early part of the campaign.
Rather, perhaps it is that he needs to "show more character," as stated by Italy manager Cesare Prandelli in Goal.com.
Or maybe opposing sides have worked out his game and he is just too predictable, a theory meted out by former Milan and Croatia star Zvonimir Boban, according to Football Italia.
Certainly, El Shaarawy is a youngster with talent. But given that his performances at the top level equate to an excellent four-month spell and little else before or since, he needs to show far greater consistency and facets to his play before he can justify what is already a fairly massive reputation.
My greatest thought regarding Hulk, the Zenit St. Petersburg and Brazilian international forward, is that his is a reputation built around his effectiveness on a computer game.
After all, what's better than picking the ball up deep, running through a couple of defenders and firing home a rocket from 40 yards with ridiculous ease?
Not much, and Hulk is perhaps the best player to perform such feats.
But alas while he does indeed possess a sledgehammer left foot in real life and his last two years in Portuguese football with Porto were goal-laden, he is far from an outstanding attacking player—indeed, it's my opinion that his likeness to Lou Ferrigno and FIFA video game-like quality are greater reasons to notice him in matches than his actual performances.
The 27-year-old came to great prominence at Porto, where he was part of Andre Villas-Boas' treble winners and subsequently earned him a megamoney move—£48 million according to Transfermarkt—to Russian football with Zenit.
However, in a league of ropey pitches where one or two sides don't run dominion like Porto and Benfica in Portugal, he hasn't justified such an exorbitant fee—seven goals in 18 league matches last season (although four in five matches this one). It highlights that, apart from the YouTube moments of which he is so capable, he's chronically inconsistent for one so costly.
Moreover, part of Hulk's lustre can also be attributed to the fact that he's Brazilian.
His recent performances at the Confederations Cup, where he was scoreless and the weak link in a forward line encompassing Fred, Neymar and Oscar, were somewhat lamentable with attacking play consistently breaking down in and around him, while his set-piece delivery was utterly horrible.
In 27 international appearances at senior level, Hulk has just six goals. The manner of his scoring further highlights his inconsistency: His opening six matches produced none, his next 10 games saw him strike all six, and he currently is scoreless in nine matches. As such, he finds his starting place for next summer's World Cup under threat.
Consistently inconsistent and capable of great flashes but even greater spells of nothingness, Hulk's actual showings simply don't match up to either his price tag, reputation or computer-game prowess.
When discussing Karim Benzema, a player playing for perhaps European football's biggest club and one of Europe's traditional powerhouse countries, an idea is always to split down the 25-year-old into two separate entities: the one that plays for Real Madrid and the one who leads the line for France.
At club level, Benzema is a good player. After his move from Lyon to the Santiago Bernabeu it took him a little time to adjust, but he has since played himself into a position where he is a solid member of the starting XI.
But there's the caveat: solid. Not important, not vital, just solid.
Simply, in a team which should be head and shoulders above all others in their league, bar Barcelona—due basically to the financial nature of those two clubs in comparison with the rest of the league—Benzema does a job.
Playing second fiddle to the phenomenal Cristiano Ronaldo, Benzema's numbers are solid—12 league goals and 13 assists last season; 21 league goals, 11 assists in 2011-12 (according to Transfermarkt)—and his overall game brings plenty to the table.
And at a club where European achievement is of such vital importance, his numbers are also high: 21 goals and 13 assists in 35 Champions League matches. Subsequently additional faith has been placed in him this summer, following the sale of Gonzalo Higuain. When you mention the 10 best strikers in world football, his name deserves a mention whether he's to your taste or not.
However, when you talk about Benzema the international striker, you can't help but feel let down by a player who has the potential to give so much, but offers so little.
As a centre-forward, Benzema is a quite brilliant composition of pace, intelligent movement, strength, clever touches, vision, cool finishing and technical mastery; there are very few who can claim to cover so many bases. However, perhaps the vital thing that is missing is mental strength. In a team where Benzema is expected to be a difference-maker, he struggles to cope.
At Los Blancos, Benzema is an undercard. With Les Bleus he and Franck Ribery are the main attractions and Benzema has long represented national hope. However, too often he goes missing, seemingly unable to cope with the weight of expectations, and this has seen him go some 14 months, over 1,200 minutes, without an international goal.
France should re-call Henry. That would be amazing seeing as Benzema can't score for france to save his life— Adam (@AdamMarcus93) September 24, 2013
The truly great and good of centre-forwards, those who are remembered through the years, are the ones who step up and make a difference when needed. Plenty of average goalscorers can find the net when their team are romping to three- and four-goal victories, but it's those who make key decisions at big times that are remembered with greater admiration.
For all his talent, Benzema too often is found wanting when it matters most, and despite his technical excellence, that deception seems to always leave onlookers feeling underwhelmed. Until he proves himself capable of stepping up at key moments for both club and country, he'll remain overrated.
The 2009-2010 season was the pinnacle in the career of Wesley Sneijder. Having been bombed out of Real Madrid by Florentino Perez after a poor second season that yielded just two league goals and two assists and in the wake of Perez's second Galacticos project, Sneijder moved to Inter Milan, where, led by Jose Mourinho, he would have a magnificent 12 months.
A Serie A triumph, Coppa Italia success and Champions League crown was the Dutch playmaker's reward for the most consistent period of his career. He harnessed his creativity to score eight goals and make 15 assists in 40 matches as the Nerazzurri swept all before them.
That summer, the No. 10 would go on to play a key role, with five goals in seven matches, for his country as they made their way to the World Cup final in South Africa before defeat to Spain in the final. Then 26, the Ajax youth product looked to be on the cusp of becoming one of European football's very best, having won the World Cup silver ball and been named the UEFA Club Midfielder of the Year.
Now fast forward three years and think what has Sneijder, apart from being linked with a number of ridiculously high-priced moves to Manchester United, done since?
In short, he's performed pretty poorly, had some fitness problems and gotten some new tattoos. And moaned. In fact, he's moaned a lot.
He moaned that Inter were better off without Rafa Benitez, as reported by ESPNFC, despite the Spaniard building a 4-2-3-1 formation around Sneijder, like Mourinho before him. In 2012, he moaned about Inter wanting him to take a pay cut, despite performances over a two-year spell that did not justify his bloated salary, whichever way you slice it.
Sneijder, during his Ajax, Real Madrid days and Inter pomp, was a very good playmaker. Sitting just off the front, spreading passes, taking pot shots at goal, he really looked the part.
However, post-2010, it has almost been as though that role—the only one he's really suited to on a football pitch—hasn't been enough for him. He's almost come to think of himself as a secondary striker who needs to stay high up the pitch, despite having complained about that role under Benitez, saying: "I got frustrated under Benitez. … He wanted me to play as a striker."
Tactically, he isn't versatile—as much was shown during the ill-fated Gian Piero Gasperini tenure at Inter—lacking the pace required to play wide and the defensive nous needed to play deeper. As such, with teams at the very highest echelons unable to carry passengers anymore, Sneijder has had to head to Turkey and Galatasaray, in his hopes of remaining relevant.
Occasionally he shows glimpses of his former self.
At Euro 2012, as the Netherlands crashed, he was arguably their best player, while Fatih Terim had been willingly accommodating him in a 4-3-1-2 formation at Gala and he played his part in their latest title triumph. With Terim having gone, however, it'll be interesting to see what next lies in store for a player still living on a reputation garnered from a 12-month spell some three/four years ago.
As such, the question remains which is the real Sneijder: the one who enjoyed a fleeting spell, where he genuinely was considered world-class, or the guy who has ambled for far too long since.
Inter Milan defender Andrea Ranocchia is someone who completely perplexes me and, among this grouping, is the absurdity in the pack.
Whenever I watch Inter and he's playing at the heart of their defence, I wait for him to make some kind of needless error that will have been completely unnecessary and that will undoubtedly cost them a goal.
And he rarely disappoints. Whether it be being caught needlessly out of position, making a cumbersome challenge that results in a dangerous opportunity or simply being outfought or outthought by an opposing striker, something usually happens which costs his side points.
And then, the more that I talk to others about him, more often than not they share similar misgivings; the common consensus being that he makes too many basic errors and is an accident waiting to happen. Indeed these accidents tend to happen, but then he's back in the Inter side the following week and you have to think that his presence is a massive reason for Inter's finishing ninth in last year's Italian championship and the 57 goals they conceded.
However, this is where it all gets confusing.
You delve deeper into the player and realise that he can't surely be as bad as your eyes allow you to believe. The 25-year-old has been on the periphery of the Italian squad for the last three years, making 10 appearances in that time. Taking into account the central defensive strength Italy possess—the Juventus quartet of Leonardo Bonucci, Angelo Ogbonna, Andrea Barzagli and Giorgio Chiellini and Cagliari's Davide Astori to name five—he can't be that bad.
Additionally, further to that argument, you have a brilliant website such as WhoScored that ranks the player as one of the four best defenders across 2012-13 Serie A season with a 7.4 ranking. Moreover, he's subsequently earned a 7.65 rating in his opening five fixtures in the current campaign, averaging 2.4 tackles and 2.2 interceptions per game.
So what do you go with: What your eyes see or what statistics tell you?
For myself, I'll back my eyes 99 times out of a hundred and will do likewise with Ranocchia, passing off such statistics as an anomaly.
That feeling of uneasiness I get whenever I see him at the heart of Inter's defence continues, and whilst clubs like Manchester United and Juventus, according to the Express, may be keen on him, I just have to think that he's one of the most overrated defenders around.
Now 27, Olympique Lyonnais playmaker Yoann Gourcuff remains a tale of talent unfulfilled.
Having come through as a youngster at Rennes, he made an early move to AC Milan, where the periphery of a starting spot was as close to Gourcuff came to a first-team spot. He was competing with the likes of an in-form Kaka and Clarence Seedorf for a starting role, but seemingly couldn't handle the expectation placed on his prodigious talent at such a big club.
Subsequently he returned to France under Laurent Blanc at Bordeaux initially on a season-long loan deal. And for 12 months he was magnificent.
The creative hub of Blanc's side, Gourcuff's vision, passing and intelligence shone as Les Girondins astonishingly won their final 11 league matches to claim a sixth Ligue 1 crown. Thus, Gourcuff's deal was turned permanent and he completed an £11.8 million switch to the Stade Chaban Delmas.
A year later and in spite of a disastrous 2010 World Cup campaign, he moved to Lyon for just under £20 million. It's all been downhill since then.
Injuries and dips in form have meant that Gourcuff's appearances for Les Gones have been restricted—24 league games in his first season, 13 the next, 18 last—while he's struggled with the price tag and his wage packet weighing like an anchor around his neck as Lyon have sold a number of their other key assets.
Occasionally Gourcuff has decorated matches with brilliant pieces of skill or a fine goal, but almost never has he stamped his personality on a match since arriving at OL.
At international level, he has polarized opinion: 31 caps have yielded just four goals in a five-year spell. Such was the outcry of disdain for his place in the provisional France squad for Euro 2012, he duly asked French coach Blanc to be omitted. Again, he was unable to cope under the weight expectation.
There have long been mentions of psychological issues with Gourcuff and his inability to transcend his best form when the pressure was placed on him to be the main man—something akin to Benzema's problems with the national side.
And yet still the player himself is mentioned as a target for some of Europe's biggest clubs; the latest coming from the Daily Star linking him with a move to Arsenal as contract talks with OL flounder.
There is no doubt that Yoann Gourcuff has quality. But his inability to consistently put it on display and the subsequent transfer fees that have been paid for him register him as another overrated commodity.
Thoughts, let me know on Twitter: @AA_Richards