Arturo Vidal celebrates his goal in the Derby d'Italia against Inter. He has been slow in getting the worldwide recognition he deserves.
Yes. The answer is yes. Arturo Vidal is amazingly, incomprehensibly, criminally underrated on the world stage, and it's about time that changed.
Those who are regular readers of my articles may remember this article, in which I argued that Vidal is the best player in the world, bar none—Messi and Ronaldo included. Nothing has transpired since I wrote that late last year to make me change my opinion.
To sum up my argument from December, I consider Vidal superior to the players normally considered the world's best because of the completeness of his game. He is an excellent passer and a superlative defender, and he scores from the midfield at a level that is starting to approach that of another man who played for Juve—Michel Platini.
Defensively, Vidal's numbers have improved in the two months since I wrote my first article. He is now averaging 4.7 tackles per match in league play—up from four in December—and has climbed from seventh to second among all players in the league. His interception numbers have ticked up as well, from 1.2 to 1.3.
His pass completion percentage has not changed in a statistically significant way, at 84 flat from 84.3. He has scored six league goals—more than half his total of 11—since the first article's publication on December 6. His 16 in all competitions are already three more than he scored between the league and Champions League for all of last season.
His goals aren't meaningless either. As charted by Adam Digby in this WhoScored.com piece, of the 30 goals he scored for Juve through December 6, 2013, 12 came with the score 0-0 and 10 with Juve leading 1-0 and looking to put the match out of reach. A further seven earned the team draws. Juve won 20 of the 27 games in which he had scored to that point.
But for all of this success, Vidal is getting no recognition beyond those who watch the Serie A with regularity.
He was frozen out of the FIFA/FIFPro World XI in favor of Bayern Munich's Franck Ribery and Barcelona men Andres Iniesta and Xavi. There is no argument to exclude Ribery from that list, but Iniesta and Xavi have both been dogged by injuries the last year, and Xavi in particular is becoming a shadow of the player we saw at the beginning of Barca's era of dominance. Either of them could have been swapped out for the Chilean.
Similarly, Vidal wasn't even a semifinalist for the Ballon d'Or, despite his superlative performances throughout 2013.
Why has Vidal not gotten the recognition he so rightly deserves? A lot of it probably has to do with playing in Italy.
The Serie A has endured a period of serious decline since 2006. The ramifications of the Calciopoli match-fixing scandal gutted several of the league's best clubs—including Juventus, who were at that point one of the best squads in Europe as a whole. Lesser teams filled the voids at the European levels while Juve and, to a lesser extent, Milan recovered from the sanctions.
The global financial crisis in 2008 added another layer to the league's misery. It is now the fourth-ranked league in Europe and is being threatened by France and Portugal from behind. Playing in Italy simply doesn't carry the prestige it did even 10 years ago.
As Italy has fallen, other nations have risen in the eyes of the world—Spain, in particular. The Spanish national team's incredible run since 2008 has captivated soccer fans of the world, as has the dominance shown in the late 2000s and early 2010s by Barcelona.
That adoration has, in recent years, bordered on the absurd. The 2012 FIFA/FIFPro XI was made up almost entire entirely of players who played for Barcelona and Real Madrid. Radamel Falcao, then of Atletico Madrid, was the lone exception, making for a World XI that was entirely made up of La Liga players.
This in a season in which Andrea Pirlo's play for club and country may have trumped any of the three midfielders on the 2012 list.
This season's XI has been diffused somewhat by the players of a Bayern squad that could turn into the next dominant force in the game as well as a few PSG players, but Vidal could legitimately displace either of the Barca midfielders on the list.
The people who decide the awards may be giving Vidal the cold shoulder, but the managers of the world's best clubs surely have him on their radar. ESPNFC.com reported late in the winter transfer window that Manchester United were interested in making a summer bid for him. Their hopes would need to rest on a massive wage bump, as Vidal is extremely loyal to Juve and manager Antonio Conte—to say nothing of the fact that Man U's participation in the Champions League next year is looking less and less likely.
Is Arturo Vidal the most underrated player in the game today?
There are those who do see Vidal as he should be seen. ESPNFC.com's tactics guru Michael Cox, in a piece posted on the eve of the new year, praised Vidal's mastery of all phases of the game and called him the player who "personifies football in 2013." That, in turn, inspired Ryan O'Hanlon of Grantland to gush, "If you like soccer, he does it better than anyone else."
A large segment of the reading public will never agree with my opinion on who the best player in the world is. But even the biggest Messi superfan can admit Vidal is the best midfielder the game has right now. No other player has his set of box-to-box skills, and no other player combines top-level skills in all phases of the game as well as he does. It is only a matter of time before he gets the recognition he truly deserves on a wide scale. In the meantime, he remains the most underrated player in the game.