There’s a lot about football that ticks me off.
Considering it’s one of my most treasured aspects of life, a passion that engulfs most of my time and attention, it really does grind my gears an awful lot.
Of course, the severe issues like racism, corruption, and ludicrous transfer fees are as much a concern to me as to anyone who loves the sport. But there are also the little irritants. Like why does every cushioned header back to a goalkeeper deserve a smattering of applause? When will Owen Hargreaves decide on an accent, instead of using four at once? What happened to Amr Zaki?
This week, something got my goat bad. More than any of the aforementioned annoyances, this boiled my blood. It all started with an innocent enough tweet from the official account of Soccer AM.
‘Who is the most underrated player in the Premier League?’ was the question posed by Sky’s long-running Saturday morning show, in an effective if fairly unsubtle way to lure its 900,000 followers into engaging. My latest footballing fury surfaced with a quick scroll through the replies.
‘Roberto Firmino’, suggested @JonnyFootballFan.
‘It has to be Cesar Azpilicueta’, was the argument put forward by @HorrendouslyOffTheMark95.
Hidden amongst these and many other terrible suggestions was the real blood-boiler. No words, just a GIF of David Silva flashing a cheeky grin, as if to say ‘who else but me?’.
To say I dropped my phone there and then to start a sarcastic round of applause would be stretching the truth, but boy did I consider it. Here’s my gripe. Firmino is the focal point of one of the deadliest attacking teams in the country. He’s received endless praise for his performances this season, quite rightly, and is a major contender to start for Brazil this summer in Russia.
Who in their right mind is underrating him?
If you’ve never witnessed a pundit or commentator heap praise onto Azpilicueta’s supreme positioning and composure, then you haven’t watched a Chelsea game in the last 6 years. As for David Silva…DAVID SILVA?! David ‘World Cup winner and two-time Premier League Champion with over 100 caps for Spain’ Silva???? The game’s gone mad.
This is not to say that a world class player cannot be underrated – to claim the selfless work that these three players do goes unnoticed by the casual football fan would be a much more accurate point. But if you believe that these globally revered superstars of the game are the most underrated individuals in the division, you’re talking out your Amr Zaki.
In an industry where every kick, flick, and corner is analysed under a microscope, going under the radar is in itself a skill, an art form if you will. Step forward the Picasso of undervalued, the da Vinci of depreciation… Marc Albrighton.
The Leicester City wide-man’s lack of notoriety is notably impressive. Albrighton played every league game in the greatest underdog story in Premier League, nay, football history, but was given a measly portion of the plaudits in comparison to his title-winning teammates Jamie Vardy, Riyad Mahrez, Ngolo Kanté and Wes Morgan. The 28-year-old has more Premier League assists this season than Cesc Fàbregas, Sadio Mané and Raheem Sterling, and the same number as Christian Eriksen (7). He’s uncapped for England and hasn’t cost a penny in transfer fees. Marc Albrighton is so underrated, his parents didn’t even bother to spell his Christian name properly.
The former Aston Villa man played the role to perfection this weekend. Albrighton was overlooked by even his own manager, as Claude Puel opted to start Demarai Gray for Leicester’s visit to West Brom. With just over 20 minutes to go and the Foxes holding a 2-1 lead, Albrighton entered the fray in vintage unassuming fashion. Kelechi Iheanacho added a third before Marcy Marc whipped in the perfect corner to set up Vincente Iborra for a stoppage-time goal. The talk after the match focused primarily on Vardy’s goal of the season contender and the growing pressure on Baggies boss Alan Pardew. There was no mention of Albrighton’s impressive cameo, of course there wasn’t.
Because THAT is how you do underrated.