FIVE of football’s most underrated stars:

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Thomas MullerThe topic of over or underrated players is a common one between football fans today. With so many differing opinions and allegiances, nevermind the simple fickle nature of football fans, a player considered indispensable to a club by one supporter could be considered by another as overpaid and surplus to his team’s requirements. Watching the aftermath of Barcelona’s Champions League Second Round victory over AC Milan made this topic come to mind.

While certain players were lauded with the usual praise, other equally important players received little or no attention from the masses, and not for the first time. The superstars will always be in the limelight, that’s to be expected. Others aren’t so lucky. Here’s my list of five of the most underrated players in the world today.

TIF Article 10 - EvansJonny Evans

The Northern Irishman has been a near ever-present in Manchester United’s defence this season. With Nemanja Vidic being used sparingly on his return from injury, and Rio Ferdinand’s much-publicised fitness issues, it has been either the Englishman or the Serbian partnering Evans in United’s back line this campaign.

He rose to prominence as a youngster of great potential at United before unexpectedly stuttering his way through a few seasons (he started only thirteen league games in 2010/11). He appeared to suffer a crisis of confidence, possibly down to the chopping and changing in the United defence, or much more likely due to simply being a young man feeling the pressure of Old Trafford on his shoulders.

But in recent seasons he’s shown the kind of judgement and reading of the game that has brought comparisons between him and the man he’s gradually replacing, Rio Ferdinand. However, despite being highly considered within both the United and Northern Ireland setup, Evans is still yet to find the sort of recognition that his fellow United central defenders have.

While the man to his right, Brazilian Rafael, has been applauded for his improved performances this season, praise for Evans, who it could be said has held the United defence together at times this season, has been in short supply. Northern Ireland has very few superstars and perhaps such little international coverage has worked against him but if performances and results continue to come for Evans, that recognition won’t be far away.

TIF Article 10 - IvanovicBranislav Ivanovic

The Serbian moved to Chelsea in January 2008 but failed to make a single appearance in his debut season, despite costing close to €15M. Even before he’d made his debut, there were rumours linking him with moves to Juventus or AC Milan, after only six months at the club.

He stayed put, however, and since then his Stamford Bridge career has gone from strength to strength. Originally at centre-back, but more recently at right-back, Ivanovic has proven himself time and time again. Extremely solid in defence, in recent times he’s also shown an eye for goal, popping up at crucial times with his incisive, intelligently timed runs.

While the more attractive or cultured types of Philipp Lahm, Ignazio Abate or Dani Alves are linked with other major clubs and receive the plaudits, Ivanovic steadily trudges on with little flash but no lack of endeavor.

Since the timely signing of Cesar Azpilicueta, mainstay John Terry has suffered regular injuries. Ivanovic’s versatility means that Chelsea have a more than capable deputy. From being Chelsea’s unseen man at the start of his career, Ivanovic has developed into a player Chelsea cannot afford to be without.

TIF Article 10 - MullerThomas Muller

This homegrown winger is a superstar in his native Germany, where he’s been a regular for club and country since 2008 and 2010 respectively. Unique in his versatility, the 23 year old is a mainstay for Bayern and Germany, for whim he’s been employed as a centre forward, second striker, attacking midfielder and often on either wing. Perhaps it is due to this versatility that the attacker doesn’t receive the recognition he deserves.

Without a defined role, versatile players can often be overlooked. This is possibly due to it being harder to compare them to other, more traditionally positioned players. Many players can employ a few positions, but like Wayne Rooney at Manchester United, Muller excels in so many that he receives praise for his industry rather than his technical ability.

Muller has proven his credentials at all levels. He scored for Bayern in the Champions League Final defeat to Chelsea in 2011 and has impressed for Germany at the World Cup in 2010 and the European Championship in 2012. Yet despite all of this, he’s rarely touted as a signing for big clubs and seldom mentioned in the same breath as the likes of Cavani, Falcao or even Neymar.

The lack of transfer speculation surrounding him is more likely than anything down to his loyalty to Bayern Munich and with the incumbent Munich manager, Pep Guardiola, a known admirer of versatile players it may not be long before Muller is elevated to the very top level, in all people’s eyes.

TIF Article 10 - CarrickMichael Carrick

There once was a time when Michael Carrick was regarded as one of the best ball-playing midfielders in England, even Europe. Under Martin Jol at Spurs, Carrick had a way of dictating games on his terms, with the ability to quicken or slow down the tempo of a game with one pass.

This brought a €20M+ move to Manchester United in 2006 and despite starting well Carrick’s development stalled and his influence diminished. Where he was once incisive and precise, he became tentative and sloppy, seemingly both over and under thinking his passes at the same time. He lost his place in the England setup and question marks were being raised over his ability to consistently perform at the top level. He would have had a long time to think after last season.

Faced with memories of Man Utd’s title collapse and his own disappointing performances, he would have looked forward to the new season with relish. And so he should have. His displays this season have hit a level not seen since his days at White Hart Lane. His urgency has returned and he’s becoming a leader at United, finally stepping up to the plate, even if it did take Paul Scholes coming out of retirement to prompt it.

Despite this resurgence, Carrick has found it hard to win over the critics. Even United fans seem unwilling to accept that Carrick is no longer the easy target to criticize that he once was. It may have come late, but Carrick has assumed the role of playmaker in the United midfield. They still require more grit and creativity in midfield but Carrick should be credited for making that hole in midfield appear less gaping.

TIF Article 10 - BusquetsSergio Busquets

And so we come to the player that inspired this article in the first place. At the age of just 24, the son of the former Barcelona keeper Carles Busquets, has won La Liga, Copa del Rey, the Champions League, the UEFA Super Cup, the World Cup and the European Championship among others.

He already has a football resumé that even the greatest players in history haven’t come close to matching. He played every minute bar thirty during Span’s victorious World Cup campaign in 2010 and is seen with such fondness in his home country that when asked about the midfielder, his national coach Vicente del Bosque stated; “If I were a player, I would like to be like Busquets.”

He’s won almost everything there is to win and at 24, arguably still has another decade of top class football in him. But despite all the trophies, despite being seen as indispensable by arguably the greatest club and national sides of all time, Busquets is still regularly referred to as a “water-carrier”, the player that does the dirty work, makes the tackles, takes one for the team. You’ll find no compilation videos of Busquets heroics on YouTube, in fact, the first search result when you search his name is “Sergio Busquets dive”. All of this undermines the player that Busquets is.

Far from a “water-carrier”, far more than a warhorse among masters at Camp Nou, under the tutelage of the likes of Guardiola and del Bosque, Busquets has become one of the most complete central midfielders in the world. It may go unseen, but he is the one propping up each passing move with a gentle give and go, an unselfish run to make space, or a perfectly weighted through ball. Perhaps in a team with stars such as Xavi, Iniesta, Messi and Villa it should be expected that Busquets is somewhat overshadowed.

Yet some consider him a figure of ridicule, a dirty player, one necessary to allow his more talented teammates to flourish. But the tide of opinion is changing. Trophy by trophy, performance after performance, he’s finally garnering the sort of praise he richly deserves. It was once thought that he was lucky to get into such a talented Barcelona team, truth is, Barcelona are lucky to have him.#

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