Top 20 Underestimated Summer Transfers
These summer transfers are underestimated because they’re not eye-catching signings to the casual football supporter.
This article will only list players moving to European clubs that don’t receive enough media coverage. So don’t expect to see the likes of Didier Drogba, Clarence Seedorf, Alessandro Nesta, Eden Hazard, Ezequiel Lavezzi, Marco Reus, Shinji Kagawa, Olivier Giroud, Jordi Alba, Lukas Podolski, Xherdan Shaqiri, Sebastian Giovinco, etc.
Players signing for Premier League clubs will be covered in a forthcoming article.
20. Hiroki Sakai, Right-Back, Age: 22
From Kashiwa Reysol to Hannover
Hannover have signed Hiroki Sakai as Steve Cherundolo's heir apparent.
Unlike the best J. League prospects, Sakai is powerfully built and his game relies more on athleticism than finesse.
Sakai or Cherundolo? Sakai is a better player, but he's still a rookie, who doesn't understand German.
Cherundolo has been with Hannover through thick and thin, is the captain of the team and speaks fluent German.
Hopefully for Sakai, he'll get some meaningful minutes as a super sub.
19. Hiroshi Kiyotake, Right Attacking Midfielder, Age: 22
From Cerezo Osaka to Nürnberg
Three months ago, I said:
I've seen quite a bit of Hiroshi Kiyotake and I'm sure he'll be the next Japanese star to make it big in Europe.
With his pace, his dribbling ability and vision, it will be a surprise if he isn't playing in Europe by 2014.
Sure enough, Nürnberg signed Kiyotake for €1 million, which reinforced a growing trend of Bundesliga clubs ransacking the J. League's best young talents for virtually nothing.
If Cerezo look at the situation from a glass half-full perspective, at least they received €650,000 more for Kiyotake than they did for Shinji Kagawa.
18. Zakaria Labyad, Right Forward, Age: 19
From PSV Eindhoven to Sporting Lisbon
Zakaria Labyad needs to be as efficient as Dries Mertens.
At first glance, Labyad's decision to move to Sporting Lisbon seems odd, but it makes sense when you think about the situation.
Stijn Schaars and Ricky van Wolfswinkel will help Labyad settle in.
The Dutch-born Moroccan has soft competition in his position. Marat Izmailov has knee issues and may leave the club. André Carrillo hasn't done anything to justify the hype. Jeffrén has been mediocre.
17. Eljero Elia, Left Winger, Age: 25
From Juventus to Werder Bremen
Eljero Elia's blasé approach to keeping possession, his dribble-first mentality and his unwillingness to press hard meant he was never going to fit into Antonio Conte's system.
Elia's ability to go past most full-backs earmarked him as one to watch during his ADO Den Haag days. He progressed rapidly at Twente and became the club's first Football Talent of the Year recipient since Pieter Huistra. Elia left Hamburg way too early, which led to his predicament at Juventus.
The problem with going to Werder Bremen is Thomas Schaaf used a 4-3-1-2 formation last season—a formation that doesn't use wingers or wide forwards.
That's mainly the reason why Marko Marin was so awful last season.
16. Yohan Mollo, Left Forward, Age: 22
From Granada to Nancy
Yohan Mollo possesses excellent technical ability, a knack for incisive passes and wonderful vision.
He's a great showman, but he needs to dominate games more. Someone of his talent should be playing for a top club right now.
He created 3.1 shots per game last season, which was a higher average than Lionel Messi's, Eden Hazard's and Cristiano Ronaldo's.
15. Václav Pilař, Left Attacking Midfielder, Age: 23
From Hradec Králové to Wolfsburg
Václav Pilař's low center of gravity allows him to dink past several opposing players without breaking a sweat. He was one of the Czech Republic's best players at Euro 2012. For a skilled dribbler, it's surprising that he works so hard without the ball—Felix Magath will like that.
14. João Pereira, Right-Back, Age: 28
From Sporting Lisbon to Valencia
João Pereira is hit-and-miss when it comes to defending.
In a 0-0 draw against Porto, he almost lost the game for Sporting Lisbon when he turned over possession to Cristian Rodríguez.
In a 1-0 win over Manchester City, Aleksandar Kolarov consistently surged past Pereira.
Last season, in an eight-game stretch for Sporting, Pereira picked up six yellow cards.
However, he is really good when he's on song, as evident during Euro 2012.
In a 2-1 win against the Netherlands, he placed a terrific through ball to Cristiano Ronaldo and also teamed up with Nani to cause Jetro Willems some distress.
Against Spain, Pereira was tenacious in defense as he made seven tackles and intercepted the ball twice.
13. Theodor Gebre Selassie, Right-Back, Age: 25
From Slovan Liberec to Werder Bremen
Theodor Gebre Selassie first came to prominence as a victim of racial abuse. He didn't allow the ignorant hate to ruin his chance for fame during Euro 2012.
He was a pleasant surprise with his lively performances and gritty defending.
Last season, Thomas Schaaf didn't consistently start a full-time right-back, with the likes of Sokratis Papastathopoulos (centre-back), Clemens Fritz (defensive midfielder) and Aleksandar Ignjovski (utility player) filling in.
As long as Gebre Selassie plays the same way he did at Euro 2012, he'll do well for Werder Bremen.
12. Chori Castro, Left Winger, Age: 27
From Mallorca to Real Sociedad
Chori Castro made headlines when financially stricken Mallorca shot themselves in the foot by inserting an €18,000 release clause in his contract.
Mallorca probably meant €10.8 million instead of €18,000; Castro certainly was worth €10.8 million last season.
He schooled Mario by accumulating a hat trick of assists in a 4-0 win over Villarreal. He scored and provided an assist in two games against Real Madrid. Whilst he didn’t produce against Barcelona, he had some fine individual moments in a 3-0 loss.
11. Artjoms Rudņevs, Centre-Forward, Age: 24
From Lech Poznań to Hamburg
The season before last, Artjoms Rudņevs tormented Juventus with four goals in two Europa League games against Juventus.
In 2010, Lech Poznań sold Robert Lewandowski for £4.2 million to Borussia Dortmund. Since then, Lewandowski has quadrupled his transfer value.
Rudņevs could be the forward Hamburg need to become relevant again.
Last season, Mladen Petrić, Paolo Guerrero, Son Heung-Min and Marcus Berg combined for 19 league goals. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar scored 29 goals for Schalke.
10. Dusan Tadić, Left Winger, Age: 23
From Groningen to Twente
Dusan Tadić is the guy who hacked Yann M'Vila in a friendly, and consequently, the Frenchman wasn't at his best during Euro 2012.
Tadić is also a gifted winger with splendid dribbling ability. He was first-class when Groningen thrashed Feyenoord 6-0.
He'll be filling the void left by Ola John, who was spectacular last season.
9. Bas Dost, Centre Forward, Age: 23
From Heerenveen to Wolfsburg
Bas Dost benefited from playing with selfless teammates like Luciano Narsingh and Filip Djuricic.
Narsingh is the arguably the most dynamic winger in European football. Djuricic is a productive playmaker who'd be considered a world-class prospect if he played for Ajax.
Dost scored 38 goals in 39 games last season, but how many shots did he create for himself? Not many. He's a limited forward who relies heavily on creative and unselfish teammates.
Luuk de Jong or Dost? De Jong because he can conjure up something out of nothing, score every other game and create for others.
8. Tranquillo Barnetta, Left Attacking Midfielder, Age: 27
From Bayer Leverkusen to Schalke
Schalke have taken a calculated risk on Tranquillo Barnetta, who has suffered hip and knee problems in the past.
Barnetta's signing will allow Julian Draxler to abdicate his wide duties and move centrally.
Benedikt Höwedes can verify firsthand how deadly Barnetta is as an inside-out threat because the German defender was torn to shreds by Barnetta when Switzerland won 5-3.
7. Marvin Martin, Attacking Midfielder, Age: 24
From Sochaux to Lille
With Vincent Nogueira and Joseph Lopy behind him, Marvin Martin was theoretically the attacking midfielder, but he generally ended up dropping deep to orchestrate Sochaux's midfield.
By stopping Martin, opposing teams stopped Sochaux. It didn't help Martin that Ryad Boudebouz gave up from time to time.
Martin must develop a cohesive on-field relationship with Salomon Kalou, as both can help each other perform at an elite level for Lille.
6. Roman Neustädter, Defensive Midfielder, Age: 24
From Borussia Mönchengladbach to Schalke
Roman Neustädter and Håvard Nordtveit were so important to Borussia Mönchengladbach's midfield. Last season, both combined to win back possession 10.4 times per game, which gave Marco Reus ample opportunity to run at opposing defenders.
Signing Neustädter is not a good sign for Lewis Holtby. There were a plethora of occasions when Holtby charged up forward, even though he was one of the two pivots in a 4-2-3-1, and was caught upfield when the opposing team counterattacked.
In fairness to Holtby, he's an attacking midfielder at heart.
5. Salomon Kalou, Left Forward, Age: 26
From Chelsea to Lille
Rather than chase the money in China or Russia, Salomon Kalou made an excellent football decision by signing with Lille.
With no Eden Hazard, Kalou can be the alpha male on the team.
Despite a disappointing last season with Chelsea, he scored 60 goals and provided 40 assists on sub affected minutes during his Chelsea career.
His main problem at Stamford Bridge was accepting a super-sub role when his talent merited a starting position.
Yes, he never lived up to expectations and was so frustrating to watch, but he was a good player for Chelsea.
4. Andrés Guardado, Left Winger, Age: 25
From Deportivo La Coruña to Valencia
Andrés Guardado and Filipe Luís were one of most dangerous left flank combinations in recent La Liga memory.
You'd categorize both of them as nearly great players. Luís' path to superstardom was tragically blocked by a horrific leg break—mind you, he's still a quality left-back.
Guardado is just as talented as Arjen Robben, but the Mexican needs to be more efficient. On his day, he can drift past three or four opposing players and score a golazo.
3. Ola John, Left Forward, Age: 20
From Twente to Benfica
Manchester United's scouting system comically failed Sir Alex Ferguson with Bébé, but they were spot on with their projection of Ola John—so was Arsenal, though that's to be expected.
Dietmar Hamann once commented on Harry Kewell: "When he first came to Liverpool, he dropped the shoulder, he was gone, and he wasn't even accelerating."
The same can be said about Ola, who is more talented than his brother, Collins John.
The way Collins' career has sadly unfolded is a cautionary warning to Ola that hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard.
2. Granit Xhaka, Central Midfielder, Age: 19
From Basel to Borussia Mönchengladbach
Granit Xhaka played like a seasoned professional in both games against Manchester United.
He was Bastian Schweinsteiger-esque in a surprise 1-0 win over a Schweinsteiger-less Bayern Munich—though Xhaka was below-par when Bayern responded with seven goals in the second leg.
He completed 86.9 percent of his 64 passes per game in the UEFA Champions League. His game is mature for a teenager, which is why Basel allowed him to play such an important role.
Interestingly, whenever Cabral played alongside Xhaka, the Ivorian-born Swiss midfielder had more impact than Xhaka.
When Switzerland embarrassed Germany 5-3, Xhaka was a dominant presence in midfield.
1. Philipp Wollscheid, Centre-Back, Age: 23
From Nürnberg to Bayer Leverkusen
The reason why the English tabloids continue to speculate about Mats Hummels' future, even though he's made it clear that he wants to stay with Borussia Dortmund, is because the tabloids don't have an alternative to Hummels.
If Philipp Wollscheid continues his Nürnberg form for Bayer Leverkusen, expect the tabloids to copy and paste his name over Hummels'.
Wollscheid was decent last season, but he didn't live up to the expectations he set during the 2010-11 season, when kicker rated him as the Bundesliga's third-best defender.