Football is a team game, but sometimes fans tend to forget that and concentrate so much on certain superstars that we lose track of all the good work done by other players. We tend to rate players based on numbers like goals, assists, tackles, and saves. Football is all about all that, but there are a lot of players whose contributions are overlooked because of the obsession with numbers.
This is why a Paolo Maldini never won a Ballon d'Or despite being one of the greatest players ever. Their flamboyant teammates overshadow these players as these players may not in the be in the news 24x7. The importance of such players might be recognised only by his own teammates, managers, and some of the club’s fans.
But in the eyes of the general public, he might just be another player who is there to make up the team. We look at five players whose performances went unnoticed in the eyes of the general audience.
5. Park Ji Sung - Manchester United
When the Korean moved from PSV Eindhoven to Manchester United, critics rubbished the transfer as a marketing gimmick. But 'Three-lung' Park went on to become Sir Alex Ferguson's most trusted soldier, and he played regularly in the big games.
His discipline, stamina, and dedication were such that even opponents like Andrea Pirlo struggled. Even though back home in Korea, he is considered as a demi-god, many consider him as one of the less important players of the Manchester United side that dominated English football during the 2007-2011 period. He was always in the shadow of players like Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney.
His stats of 25 goals from 207 matches does not make for good reading as well. Instead, to understand his importance, you just need to watch the 2007/08 Champions League semi-final when Manchester United faced off against Barcelona. Paul Scholes may have won them the tie with an absolute screamer, but Park never gave even an inch to Xavi or Andres Iniesta as he ran himself to the ground to ensure the Red Devils’ passage to the final.
He may not be the most gifted players Asia has ever produced yet, but he indeed has to be the most important one. He has won four Premier League titles and a Champions League winners medal. In addition to that he has played in two Champions League finals as well, no other Asian has ever accomplished that and does not look like doing so soon.
4. Lauren - Arsenal
The Cameroonian was often regarded as one of Arsenal's unsung heroes during the Invincibles season of 2003/04 when the gunners went an entire season unbeaten. He was relatively an unknown commodity when Arsene Wenger signed him as a replacement for Lee Dixon ahead of the 2000/01 season.
He spent the majority of his career at Arsenal playing as a right-back, and he was also impressive for Arsenal during the 2001/02 season when they won the league title. One of his major plus points was his consistency, which lead him to be called as Arsenal's Mr. Reliable.
He was strong, technically, and physically, and he was good at reading the game, which helped him adapt to Arsenal's style of play without any problems. The Cameroon star's versatility was also a precious asset as he could fill in at left-back and across the midfield during his time at Highbury. And he showed the same calm assurance in every position.
Though the latter half of his career was blighted with injuries and at the age of 30 he moved to Portsmouth, he is considered by Arsenal fans as a true legend. He made a total of 241 appearances (227 starts, 14 as a substitute) for Arsenal winning two Premiership titles and three FA Cups.
3. Mario Gomez - Bayern Munich
Gomez is one of the most underrated players of Bayern Munich that made it to two successive Champions League finals in 2011/12 and 2012/13. The consensus is that he is only good at scoring "tap-ins" and does not contribute much to the overall play.
But as a striker, he did very much what was asked of him; that is scoring goals. It may not be pretty, but he did the job efficiently. His positioning, finishing and movement were as good as any top striker. His physicality and aerial ability added an extra dimension to the Bavarians’ attack. At Bayern, he scored 113 goals from 174 appearances.
Although he was criticized for being invisible on big occasions, especially in the 2012 Champions League final, one must remember that he had scored 12 goals on the way to the final. In 2012/13, he was not the first choice striker as Mario Mandzukic took over the mantle after Gomez had ankle surgery. However, he still made significant contributions (he scored a brace for Bayern in the DFB Pokal final).
He moved on to Fiorentina to get more game time after failing to pip Mandzukic in the starting lineup. And with an injury to his knee ligaments, he has not achieved the same level of success.
2. Massimo Ambrosini - AC Milan
Ambrosini is often overlooked amongst the names of the legendary captains at AC Milan like legendary Herbert Kilpin, Gunnar Nordahl, Nils Liedholm, Cesare Maldini, Gianni Rivera, Franco Baresi, and Paolo Maldini. He was at AC Milan from 1995 to 2013 and made close to 500 appearances for the club.
His career was plagued with injuries throughout, but when has in the lineup, he played a pivotal role in midfield. His aerial ability, tackling and strength at the centre of the park were his important qualities. Even though his contributions on the pitch were a bit understated, you could feel his absence when he was not playing.
He may not have scored often, just 36 goals during his time at the San Siro, but he had scored when the team needed a goal – the one against PSV in Champions League 2005 semi-final comes to mind.
He was a crucial part of the teams that won the Champions League in 2003 and 2007. He enabled other players in the midfield to express themselves, especially the likes of Andrea Pirlo, Kaka and Clarence Seedorf in the 2007 Champions League-winning season. They were the architects of the team’s play, but he was the key player who enabled them to build the play.
1. Seydou Keita - Barcelona
Keita was one of the first signings of Pep Guardiola in 2008 as Barcelona boss, and he went on to play 188 matches in four seasons at the Camp Nou. He was the kind of player who did not set the world alight with his football, and his contribution normally went unnoticed by the majority.
In a side like Barcelona, he was overshadowed by players like Lionel Messi, Xavi, Iniesta, and David Villa. But he played a crucial part in Guardiola's Barcelona side by adding more physicality and steel to a side that was not known to be one.
He went about his business quietly, putting a shift in any midfield position and even at the back if necessary. He was an adept passer, could tackle very well, and once in a while score some crucial goals as well. Andres Iniesta's injury issues meant he often played in that role.
Guardiola was never afraid of playing him in big matches as he started in the 2010/11 Champions League semi-final against arch-rivals Real Madrid. He was one of those rare players who accepted a bench role and gave his 100% whenever called upon. And Guardiola recognized that when he said, “He is a generous player and deserves everything that he got.”