Unsung heroes- The game of football is beautiful as well as harsh. The sport has evolved over the years with much focus on goals and goalscorers that defenders hardly get any mention or recognition for the Ballon d’Or or The Best FIFA Awards. This is how one-sided the game has become so much so that Philipp Lahm once suggested that the individual awards be segmented according to departments.
Another expression of one-sided expression to the game is the case of unsung heroes. When a team wins a tournament, much focus is more on who scored or visibly did some herculean defensive tasks. However, there are some players whose contribution is subtle but yet vital to the success of the team. The subtility of their efforts almost makes sure that history rarely remembers them. We have randomly selected in this piece players who were crucial to their team winning the Premier League but did not get the deserved recognition.
1. Javier Hernandez
Sir Alex Ferguson’s last Premier League campaign ended in another PL trophy with 89 points. Robin van Persie got plaudits for his goalscoring role with 26 goals and the aging Michael Carrick was a titan in the midfield. United’s triumph was characterized late winning goals and equalizer so much that the term ‘Fergie Time’ was coined. Without the Mexican, some of these would not have been possible especially the key victories over Chelsea, Newcastle, Aston Villa, and Swansea. Hernandez currently plays for LA Galaxy in the MLS.
2. Sylvain Wiltord
Manchester United dominated the Premier League at the turn winning it three consecutive times between 1999 to 2001. Wiltord joined Arsenal from Bordeaux in 2000 and was crucial to Arsenal ending the Red Devils’ three-year dominance. The sweetest part is that Arsenal won the 2001/2002 Premier League at Old Trafford with a 1-0 scoreline thanks to the winning goal from the Frenchman. Many give plaudits to Thierry Henry and Robert Pires for the Gunners’ success but forgot that Wiltord scored 10 goals and assisted 7 more that season. Wiltord deserves more recognition than he currently gets.
3. Edin Dzeko
Manchester City won their second title in three years when they toppled Liverpool to win the League by two points. Strangely, Yaya Toure was City’s top scorer in the Premier League that season with 20 goals. Sergio Aguero followed with 17 goals but one of the unsung heroes of that campaign was Edin Dzeko. The Bosnian scored 16 goals and City went on to claim the title with a record of 102 goals. He was soon sold to Roma in 2015 but Dzeko has not diminished in any way as he is still banging in the goals in Serie A.
4. Ji-Sung Park
It is not an exaggeration to say the South Korean was ain underappreciated throughout his time with Manchester United. Manchester United began the season quite slowly but they recovered in time to win the Premier League in 2010/2011. Berbatov won the golden boot and no player assisted more goals than Nani. However, Park was the big-game man who rose to the occasion to score an intelligent goal against Arsenal which aided the Red Devil’s course.
5. Branislav Ivanovic
Jose Mourinho’s second spell with Chelsea ended quite badly but not without a Premier League trophy in the 2014/2015 season. Ivanovic joins in as one of our unsung heroes because much of the attention was on Diego Costa and Eden Hazard. The duo scored 40 Premier League goals between them but Ivanovic added steel to the rearguard. He started every game in defense, kept 17 clean sheets and assisted 5 goals.
6. Gilberto Silva
Another Arsenal player on our list of unsung heroes is Gilberto Silva. The Brazilian joined the Gunners from Atletico Mineiro in 2002 and was a crucial part of the famous invincibles. Arsene Wenger’s men won the 2003/2004 Premier League without losing a single game; an unbeaten run that extended 11 games into the following season. As usual, the attackers are praised but Gilberto Silva was the defensive shield for the back four allowing the likes of Pires and even Vieira to operate upfront. Arsenal conceded just 26 goals that season.
7. Claude Makelele
Meet Claude Makelele. A player that was so good the defensive midfield position was named after him. It is believed by many that the Frenchman gave definition to the number 6 position in football. Not known for skill, guile or anything of the sort, he sits in front of the defense breaking up play and winning the ball back. In my opinion, Wilfred Ndidi seems to be following his footsteps. Chelsea won the Premier in 2004/2005 in what happened to be Jose Mourinho’s first season in England. His defensive work made sure the Blues let in only 15 goals all season. Unfortunately, not many remember him.
8. Wes Brown
After winning the title in 2006/2007, Manchester United defended their crown again the following campaign in the 2007/2008 season. This was a time when Ronaldo, Rooney, and Tevez were wrecking opposition teams upfront but one of Premier League’s unsung heroes was also putting in the shift defensively. Wes Brown managed to be fit for the entire season and played at the right-back position because of Gary Nevilles’s long-term layoff. This was no easy task as Brown was a center back by trade. However, he kept sixteen clean sheets that season and assisted Ronaldo’s goal in the Champions League final.
9. Pedro Rodriguez
Chelsea reclaimed the title in 2016/2017 and it the duo of Costa and Hazard that took the headlines, plaudits, and applause. Costa scored 20 goals and assisted 7 while Hazard scored 16 league goals. Pedro’s contribution of 9 goals and 9 assists did not show on the radar but he was an important piece in a forward line that saw Chelsea score 85 league goals.
10. Shinji Okazaki
We end our list of unsung heroes with the Japanese star. Leicester City won the 2015/2016 Premier League with a 5000/1 odd in what is still one of the major upsets in football. The trio of Vardy, Mahrez, and Kante are seen as the main players that steered the Foxes to the title but there was one player whose labor was silent. Okazaki’s work rate was a crucial part of their counter-attacking style and allowed Vardy to threaten opposition defense with his pace.
Conclusion on Unsung Heroes of PL Winning Sides
These players were definitely underappreciated in their days. Many more have followed and will follow after them. The headlines may display only a few players but statistics will always bear the records of players whose efforts slipped under the radar.