Raul, Paul Scholes And 10 Of The Most Under-Appreciated Footballers, Recently
The photo accompanying this slide show is of Clarence Seedorf, in case anyone didn't know.
Seedorf is one of the most modest and least high profile footballers of recent times. His picture is never in the paper. Commentators only speak of him to marvel that he is still playing. They all think he must be ancient although they never know his exact age. You will never hear of him spoken of the greats of the game. But he is.
He has started at three of Europe's premier clubs, won national titles in three different leagues and won a combined four Champions League winners medals with these clubs, having won at least one with each. At every club he has been adored by the fans and respected by the staff as a fine player and a consummate professional. He has never received the recognition he deserves for one of the most successful careers in modern football.
And it is on that note that we begin this slide show - a look at 10 other highly talented and successful players of the past 15 years who never seem to get the recognition they deserve for their fantastic achievements.
This list is based solely upon opinion. It is not definitive or exhaustive. Furthermore, it does in general feature players who are reasonably well known - much like Clarence Seedorf. The point is not that the player is an anonymous genius. Rather it is that the player has never been given the global appreciation he deserves for his phenomenal ability. While these players have all been appreciated to an extent and are all considered good players, and indeed have all been idolized by the fans of their own team, none have ever been viewed or globally categorized as the absolute legends that they are.
Henrik spent the best years of his career playing for Celtic in the Scottish Premier League.
In that time he succeeded in scoring 174 goals in 221 games. In an overall career spanning 772 games he scored 434 goals. On top of this, he scored 37 goals in 106 appearances for the Swedish national team. After his prime at Celtic, he went to Barcelona and briefly to Manchester United where he more than held his own despite his prohibitive age and was held in extremely high esteem by the management at both clubs for his decency, love of the game and professionality.
The knock on Larsson is that he scored the majority of his goals in a poor league, but I think this is flawed logic. Larsson was lethal at Celtic, and the manner of his goals suggest he would have scored copious times no matter where he played. His decision to stay at Celtic throughout the prime of his career showed the great loyalty of a man who felt he owed the club that had in turn stuck by him after an horrific broken leg.
No player should be criticized or undervalued for showing loyalty. Both as a footballer and as a man, Larsson set extremely high standards of excellence in his career that many modern players would do well to follow. It is a shame his legacy is never given its due as he was a truly special individual.
Nedved is a guy who, although he won the Ballon D'Or, is rarely discussed in the same category as guys like Zidane and Figo.
And this is, in my view, a travesty. Pavel Nedved was a terrific football player. He had great pace, fantastic vision, wonderful passing and crossing capabilities and a sharp eye for goal. He was a supremely elegant and accomplished player. He is undoubtedly the greatest Czech player in history.
Nedved won various Serie A titles, first with Lazio and then with Juve. (Although two of these titles were stripped following the revelations of match fixing.) After this scandal had Juve relegated, Nedved elected to stay with his club and play in Serie B rather than leave to get a payday.
This more than anything demonstrates the fabulous temperament and commitment that went along with this man's quite extraordinary talent.
Many people remember Sheva as the guy Chelsea bought for £30+ million who was a total flop.
It's hard to argue that point. He did flop in the EPL. He was getting old, had lost a step, had been overtaken by injury and quite simply didn't ever really look too interested. But this does not paint an accurate picture of the man.
In Kiev at his home club in his youth he scored 60 goals in117 appearances, including famously scoring a hat-trick against Barca in the Nou Camp. He will be remembered in Milan for scoring the winning penalty in the 2003 Champions league final, as well as for scoring 127 goals in 208 games. His stats since he joined Chelsea as an injured 30-year-old have been dire, but so has his luck. Shevchenko's last season of true 100 percent fitness was 2005-2006. He scored 28 times in 40 games.
Shevchenko ought be remembered for his awesome first touch, his deft passing and link up play, and his clinical finishing. But more than this he should be remembered for his movement off the ball which was nothing short of mesmeric, was a huge factor to the success of his striking partners and may never be replicated by anyone else.
When fit he was instinctive, graceful, poised and clinical. He was Europe's premier striker and ought be remembered as one of the greatest that ever played the position.
Yes he may be vaguely psychopathic, but Keano is also one of the least appreciated footballers ever.
Manchester United won seven league titles, four FA Cups and a Champions League during Roy's tenure. He was one of the finest enforcing midfielder's that ever played the game and yet outside of Manchester and Cork, nobody seems to view him as anything more than the fella that got in the fight with Patrick Viera and tried to end Alfie Haaland's career.
Keane was part of a midfield tandem (the other one is on the list as well) that drove Manchester United to the very top of the footballing tree. He had a never-quit mentality, inspired his team mates, won every 50/50 challenge he ever entered and basically just willed his teammates to success.
He was absolutely vital to Manchester United and may never be adequately replaced. Players of his ilk do not materialise at will. But perhaps the most fitting tribute to Keane is to be found in the words of his legendary manager Alex Ferguson.
"To my mind, he is the best player I have had in all of my time here."
The Real Madrid legend is another guy who, despite winning everything in the club domain he could, has been consistently overlooked in his career.
He's joint top of the list with Pippo Inzaghi for top goalscorer of all time in European competitions with 70 goals. He scored 323 goals in 741 appearances for Los Blancos. Raul, since emotionally departing the Bernabeu at age 33 and moving to Scahlke, is doing the only thing that comes naturally to him - scoring goals. He has 12 goals in 24 appearances.
Overshadowed in El Galacticos by higher profile players and dropped by Luis Aragones for apparently having too much influence over the Spanish national side, Raul is a guy who never really got the mainstream worldwide exposure he warranted. But it was a rare player that meant more to a successful club or who maintained a consistent standard of excellence for such a long time.
The love and devotion showed to him by Madrid fans probably compensated for his lack of worldwide reverence. The fact he was allowed to leave Madrid after 16 years in the first team is in my opinion a crime that shows the increased separation between Real and its devoted fan base.
A string of unfortunate injuries in major international competitions has robbed a lot of the world of the chance to appreciate one of the greatest defenders that ever laced up a boot.
Alessandro Nesta is a beast. No other word does him justice. Watching him play often reminds me of Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings roaring at the demon "You shall not pass!"
He is still playing at a level that belies his advancing years and puts many so-called top class centre backs to shame. In his youth, however, he was superhuman. Nesta had frightening recovery pace, was a tower in the air, could play the ball out, controlled his defensive line like an army general and had the steel and cool disposition of a man that was just about impossible to rattle. In winning two Champions League medals at Milan, Nesta made a consistent habit of nullifying Europe's elite forward players to a point where one might not be sure they were even playing.
He is the best defender I have ever seen and it is a great injustice that the man is not better renowned as one of the finest ever players in a long line of Italian defensive greats.
Alessandro Del Piero
Alex Del Piero has never won any major individual football awards. Commentators do not worship the ground he walks on. He is probably not even instantly recognizable to a majority of casual fans.
Alessandro Del Piero has been a striker for Juventus since 1993. He stayed with them when they were relegated to Serie B, much like his close friend, the previously discussed Pavel Nedved. He has scored 281 goals for Juve - a club record, and 42 internationally for an Italian team he aided in winning the World Cup in 2006.
He is worshiped in Turin, but the fact that this man isn't idolized the football world over is utterly galling. His intelligence, balance, vision and skill are second to none. He is even famed for scoring astonishing goals from his favourite zone of the pitch just off the left wing - 'The Del Piero Zone'. He has won everything there is to win as a professional footballer, has played consistently brilliantly for nearly 20 years - he's still scoring goals now for gods sake - and has always been a highly dignified and admirable individual off the pitch.
It is sad that we live in a time where a man as gifted as this is an afterthought while many players not fit to wipe his boots are household names.
Of all of the brilliant players on this list, I think Scholes is probably the one who has got least publicity.
Which is ridiculous when you consider that he is the other half of the midfield tandem (along with the aforementioned Roy Keane) who guided Manchester United to an unprecedented period of dominance in English football and won a European cup.
Even after Keane's departure, Scholes has been instrumental in leading United to further titles and another European crown. He is stilling playing at a high level today although he has lost a step and his complete lack of any tackling ability is more stark now that he has lost Keano.
In his prime, however, Scholes was somewhat of a freak conflagration of all the best qualities in an attack minded central midfielder. He had pace, great stamina, an unbelievable will to win, all the vision of Xavi, all the long ball precision of Xabi Alonso and a habit of scoring spectacular and important goals that would shame Steven Gerrard. His support runs from midfield to join in attacks are the stuff of legend and led to his scoring over 100 goals for United from midfield.
And yet Scholes is barely known outside of England, and even in England he has consistently been overshadowed by inferior players. His quiet, professional and non-flashy nature - much like many other players on the list - has often led to him being little more than an afterthought. But when one considers that just before the 2010 World Cup Fabio Cappello turned to a 36-year-old Scholes and pleaded with him to come out of international retirement, one can see that despite all the hype surrounding the various younger English midfielders, Scholes always had that extra something that made him truly special.
The ageless Zanetti is one of the lowest profile players in Europe. He is also one of the very finest.
The Inter Milan and Argentina captain, at 37 years of age, has been one of the savviest and most unflappable operators in world football since he was signed by Inter in 1995. He has since played 714 times as a full back and even on occasion as the holding midfielder. His calm demeanor, rock solid defending and graceful ball playing ability have lit up many's an evening football throughout his illustrious career.
Even now Zanetti looks world class. His fitness is testament to his outstanding professionalism and dedication to his club. He has long been one of the outstanding full backs in world football, and he has never shown any desire to leave Inter where has been instrumental in the winning of multiple Serie A titles.
His importance to Inter was showcased beautifully in his team's run to the Champions League crown last year, where he was relied upon time and again as a calming influence to get his foot on the ball and relieve pressure on Inter's back line. His wonderfully relaxed and unruffled elegance was fabulous to watch.
Of all the players I have ever witnessed lifting that famous trophy, I think Zanetti may have deserved it the most.
The best footballer that ever played in the EPL, Dennis Bergkamp was a genius. I know that word is bandied around a lot but Bergkamp actually was.
He was never especially clinical and did not score a ridiculous amount of goals, although when he did they tended to be flabbergastingly amazing. I think we all remember the goals against Leicester and Newcastle and the one he scored for Holland against Argentina.
But his greatness was not in his goalscoring. It was in his outrageous link up play. Bergkamp made a career of picking the ball up deep and holding it under magnetic command with his supernatural touch. He always seemed to have space and time - even in the fastest league in the world he was never rushed. And then with one swing of that magical left foot he would give the ball to a teammate in such a way as to put him in acres of space that hadn't been there before, as if he had just parted the Red Sea.
The Red Sea analogy is apt because his passing was an absolute miracle. The man could do things with a football that defied the laws of physics. His striking partners never needed to worry about service when he was on the pitch. All they needed to do was make runs and he would do the rest.
"Dennis is the best player I have ever played with as a partner. It is a dream for a striker to have him in the team with you." - Thierry Henry
Bergkamp was the single most intelligent and classy footballer that I have ever seen play the game. He made excellence look so effortless that it made you wonder whether he was even trying. What he could and couldn't do on the pitch was not bound by physics. Rather it was bound solely by the limits of his imagination.
So that's the list. I had initially thought about numbering it but after some thought, I decided it was better to just leave them all on the same level and let people judge for themselves. For what it's worth, it is my view that Zanetti, Nedved and Bergkamp are the three most under appreciated and that Bergkamp is probably the most talented player on the list. But feel free to disagree or offer any other names you feel ought be on the list.
I think it is poignant to note that the majority of these players are similar in their loyal, hard working natures. They did not go in for the publicity and larger than life personae enjoyed by the Ronaldos, Rooneys and Beckhams of the world. They worked (and in some cases work still) with utmost professionalism and determination to compliment their rare skills. For this they were adored by the fan's at their clubs but overlooked by many others.
And it is on that point that I would like to end. Messi, Ronaldo, Rooney, Ribery and Co. will win awards and acclaim in abundance throughout their high profile careers. They are all terrific players and they deserve it. But it is important to remember that the real hero's of football are the talented players who are loyal, and who care more about the game and their team than about money and publicity. It is the modern day guys like Xavi, Pirlo, Casillas, Gerrard and Totti that we should remember to appreciate the most while we can.
They are the ones the clubs and the game and us, the fans, will miss most after they're gone.