The Premier League is where £90 million deals are brokered and the world’s richest footballing glitterati are housed.
While there is no disputing the quality of the ‘product’ (as we must now term it), there is a deep, inherent contrast within the league as celebrated stars agitate for moves elsewhere.
What is to be said for those practising the ideals of loyalty, application and dedication for their clubs on a weekly basis? In this feature we profile five players who don’t always get the credit they deserve. Who are the underrated players?
5. Sascha Riether (Fulham)
The erstwhile German full-back enjoyed a terrific debut season by the Thames, making the right-back spot his own upon his arrival from FC Koln.
No outfield player played more minutes for Fulham than the 30-year old, but he only made two defensive errors all season and completed an impressive 85% of his passes.
In comparison with fellow full-back Kyle Walker of city rivals Tottenham last season; the international defender made five errors and only had a pass completion rate of 77%.
His attacking instincts are more pronounced at home as opposed to in away games where Fulham’s tactics are more conservative- in 3-0 win against West Brom he delivered ten crosses, all from positions deep in the visitors’ half.
A favourite on the terraces, Riether’s winning of the Player’s Player of the Season award in his first campaign shows how his consistency is as valued by his teammates as it is by the fans.
4. Sebastien Bassong (Norwich City)
Underused at Tottenham and moved out on loan to the condemned Wolverhampton Wanderers, the no-nonsense central defender has made a typically understated adaptation to life at Carrow Road.
Appointed captain by Chris Hughton this summer, Bassong leads by example- making a team-high 216 clearances and mastering the offside trap; shepherding opponents into such positions 30 times last season.
He won the Canaries’ player of the season award last year over a highly credible candidate in Robert Snodgrass in recognition of his unfailing commitment to the cause.
3. Joey O’Brien (West Ham)
Sam Allardyce is ostensibly a manager who inspires loyalty- exemplified in the person of O’Brien.
Following the boss from Bolton down to West Ham, he forms part of a stellar defence at Upton Park and is usefully versatile- able to play in either full back position.
He doesn’t score many goals, but when he did last season they were important ones; earning a rare away point for the Hammers at Stoke and scoring the winning goal in the Boxing Day clash with Norwich City.
O’Brien was personified in the battling 0-0 stalemate at home to Manchester City, in which his persistence in dealing with Silva and the overlapping runs of Clichy paid off in gaining a valuable draw.
In addition, he made no errors in the entirety of the 2012/13 campaign, a testament to his concentration and consistency.
2. Youssouf Mulumbu (West Brom)
The Congolese player goes about his work at the base of Albion’s midfield with a strong sense of physicality allied with an unselfish understanding of his own role in the side; distinctly lacking in star names and egos.
Mulumbu encapsulates the team ethic engendered at the Hawthorns, attempting a team-high number of passes (1529) at an impressive completion rate of 86%.
What is all the more impressive is that almost half of those passes came in the opposition’s forward zone, displaying a multi-dimensional side to his distribution that helps Albion dominate games from the middle of the park- and saw him create 31 chances last season.
His midfield partner Yacob is more conservative, engineering just 7 openings, but positionally, the pair work handsomely together.
In their 2-1 win against QPR last year- albeit against a poor Rangers side- Mulumbu was a colossus, taking control of the small pitch at Loftus Road in the shape of 6 completed tackles and 13 successful ground duels.
1. Morgan Schneiderlin (Southampton)
No one played a greater role than Schneiderlin in ensuring Southampton’s first season back in the Premier League was a successful one.
Leading the Premier League last season in total tackles with 146 and his team in ground duels with 325, the Belgian’s determination in the challenge has been vital in implementing Pochettino’s pressing philosophy.
In addition however, he evolved early in his career from a hard-tackling, rough and ready type player into a player able to play a much more complex role requiring intelligence and creativity.
While passing at a typically high 93% in his own half, he also reached an efficient completion rate of 77% in opposition territory- as well as finding the time to create 29 chances.
It is an aberration that sides in the higher echelons of the league have not taken an interest in the player, but in the absence of transfer speculation- Schneiderlin will definitely continue to perform with aplomb and assurance; in doing so fulfilling the mantra of an ‘unsung hero’.