Four unsung players to watch out for at Euro 2012
There are certain footballers that tend to go under the radar; underrated players not given their fair dues, particularly when compared to their less gifted, less consistent counterparts.
Footballing fame is often bestowed and assigned in a haphazard and wholly inconsistent manner, putting particular players on a pedestal and shining a dotingly bright spotlight on their performances for one fickle reason or another.
For every overhyped star, there is an undervalued lesser light. These unheralded players are viewed as B-status athletes, selling fewer jerseys and inspiring fewer chants than their A-list peers.
Sam Allardyce once asserted that if he was born Sam Allerdiche – christened more exotically as an Italian or Spanish coach – he would have earned more respect for his managerial exploits.
At times, the same appears to be true for footballers. Players with sexier names, starrier, eye-catching profiles, tend to be treated more favourably. A footballer’s nationality can also be a blessing or a curse, players from countries with less illustrious footballing legacies being relatively unappreciated.
A striker from Azerbaijan is not likely to be afforded the same acclaim as a forward from Italy, England or the Netherlands. Even at club level, there is a correlation between the status of the team a player plies his trade for and the respect a footballer commands.
As a result, football celebrity culture can be painstakingly misleading and deceptive, pushing overrated players to the top of the footballing totem pole, while brushing genuinely gifted performers aside. Here’s a look at four excellent, unsung players set to strut their stuff in Poland/Ukraine.
Even though this Portuguese international plays for Real Madrid, the former Porto defender isn’t rated nearly as highly as he should be. Aggressive and confrontational, the physically imposing centre-back is often criticised and pilloried as a brute, particularly when going up against Barcelona and Lionel Messi.
The tall defender is blessed with all the attributes required of the modern centre-back – pacy, powerful, aerially dominant, a strong leader and an uncompromising tackler. The 29-year-old was Madrid’s best defender this season, guiding Mourinho’s men to the La Liga title.
Alvaro Arbeloa is one of those players who suffer for their own versatility. A very good full-back, the ex-Liverpool man can be deployed as a right-back, a left-back, or a centre-back, even proving his mettle in defensive midfield.
The Spaniard has a decent turn of pace, is tall, good in the air and tough in the tackle, mixing his nifty approach with a chicanery that allows him to protect his team with some dirty, professional tackles here and there.
His greatest strength, however, is his consistency. With Carles Puyol ruled out of the tournament, Arbeloa will be Spain’s starting right-back. Versatile as ever, the Madrid defender will also deputise for Jordi Alba in the left-back position, while providing cover for Martinez, Ramos and Pique in central defence.
Blighted by injury, Tomas Rosicky’s health problems over the past few seasons have not only been a major loss for Arsenal, but also for the Premier League. The ex-Dortmund and Sparta Prague playmaker really is that good.
Overcoming niggling injuries, the Czech skipper has shot back into form this season and would have been a contender for player of the year, up there along with the likes of David Silva and Yoan Cabaye had he been fit earlier in the campaign.
Rosicky is a player of considerable gifts; a world-class talent that has shone wonderfully everywhere he has been; be it as a prodigy at Sparta nicknamed Little Mozart, or at Dortmund, where he led the German side to Bundesliga titles and European finals.
Highly technical, skilful and intelligent, Rosicky is one of those rare players who inextricably run faster with the ball than without it. Described as an accelerator of the game by Arsene Wenger, Arsenal fans will be hoping he can replicate this season’s form over the next coming years. The quick-footed attacker should take Poland/Ukraine by storm.
Mark van Bommel
Like Pepe, Mark van Bommel is viewed by many as an overly aggressive, if not wholly violent player. Vilified by most fans, van Bommel is described as a destroyer more than anything else; a master of football’s dark arts. He is certainly a master.
While many were quick to criticise his performances in South Africa 2010, the Dutch skipper was not censured for the quality of his play, but sanctimoniously cast as the pantomime villain for his defensive efforts.
At times scathing, yes; sometimes dirty, indeed; Rubbish? No. The towering 35-year-old is combative, tireless, defensively astute, positionally excellent, sound on the ball, tidy with his distribution and tactically astute.
Often derided and portrayed as a limited footballer, van Bommel possesses a deceptively wide array of strengths. Most seem to have forgotten the deep lying midfielder was often deployed as an offensive or box-to-box player, getting forward to score a lot of goals when playing for PSV. The ex-Eindoven man is equipped with a rocket of a shot and has an eye for goal.
Mark van Bommel is much more than a hatchet man. A distinguished career spanning spells at Barcelona, Bayern Munich and AC Milan attest for that.