Burning Question: The most underrated player in history?

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This week at ProSoccerTalk we will be asking some burning questions we have when it comes to the beautiful game. Today’s topic is naming the most underrated player in history.

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To be clear, there is stark difference between being underrated and being underexposed. The following four players – it was overwhelmingly complicated to trim the list to one, sole player – had intercontinental exposure during and/or after their playing days, meaning that their magic met the eyes of many but, for one reason or another, they didn’t reap the unanimous praise they deserved.

So, with that in mind, let’s break down the world’s most underrated players in the history of the game.

Jimmy Greaves

English professional footballer Jimmy Greaves in action for West Ham in the League Division One match between Crystal Palace FC and West Ham United FC at Selhurst Park Stadium in London on 24th October 1970. The match would end in a 1-1 draw. (Photo by Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Before the turn of the millennial, before Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo demonstrated to the modern world that scoring over 400 goals in top-flight soccer was possible, the world turned to Jimmy Greaves’ pristine goalscoring dominancy in England.

From the late 1950s to the early 1970s, the English forward was his country’s reference point as it pertained to The Beautiful Game, scoring 357 first-division goals over the span of 14 years. Greaves’ 266 goals with Tottenham makes him the club’s all-time top scorer, while his 44 goals in 57 caps (0.77 goals per game) with England makes him one the most efficient scorers the Three Lions have ever had.

Ironically, in 2019, it was Greaves’ family that took their concerns to the frontlines, asking English soccer authorities why it is that an ill, 80-year-old Greaves has yet to be recognized by the honors system despite being England’s king of goals.

“I have no idea why [Greaves has not been honored],” Danny Greaves, son of Jimmy, said in 2019. “As a family we are not bothered but if someone knocked on the door tomorrow and said we would like to give your dad an honor we would accept with open arms. It is up to the authorities.”

Garrincha

Garrincha: a dignified soccer phenom that truly never was due to Pelé’s immense, looming shadow over the soccer world, and, specifically, Brazil.

A supreme dribbler and one of the most agile wingers of his time, Garrincha was, without exception, the closest player to match Pelé’s greatness during Brazil’s first Golden Age. But to some, the Botafogo icon was better.

Brazilian forward Garrincha (L) dribbles past Welsh defender Mel Hopkins during the World Cup quarterfinal soccer match between Brazil and Wales 19 June 1958 in Goteborg.

“Garrincha was more of a danger than Pelé I believe at the time, a phenomenon, capable of sheer magic,” said Wales defender Mel Hopkins, who marked Garrincha in 1958. 

It is for that reason, that over the years, a world-wide case has been brewing in the Brazilian’s corner: Garrincha is one of soccer’s most underrated players of all time. No spoilers, but the statement hasn’t turned into an animated debate. It’s as factual of a statement as Pelé being one of the top three greats ever.

Miroslav Klose

No other player in the history of the game has scored more World Cup goals than Miroslav Klose. Most lovers of the game are cognizant of that, which has its own, elite level of merit, taking into consideration that the German tops a list composed of Ronaldo, Gerd Muller, Pelé, among other greats of the game.

One can make the case that Klose is the World Cup’s most underrated player, no doubt. But, at the same time, one can make the case that the German striker is one of the games’ most underrated players in history.

BERLIN, GERMANY – OCTOBER 16: Miroslav Klose of Germany celebrates after scoring the opening goal during the FIFA 2014 World Cup qualifier group C match between German and Sweden at Olympiastadion on October 16, 2012 in Berlin, Germany.

Klose had it all: a vigorous right foot, slithering movements, a dynamite header, the titles, and, most awarding for any player in his position, a penchant for scoring goals – for club and country. By the time a 38-year-old Klose called it a career in 2016, he’d lifted 11 trophies, was Germany’s all-time scorer with 71 goals, scored 231 goals and was the World Cup’s all-time scorer with 16 goals.

There may never be another Klose, a sentiment even he would likely agree with: “The football I grew up playing is no longer there. Today, all players care about is their cars, their shoes with their names on, and their image. While for me, the only thing that counted was football. Nothing else,” Klose said in January.

Jorge “Mágico” González

Latin America’s long list of greats poses as if it is at full capacity, showcasing names such as Pelé, Diego Maradona, Lionel Messi, Ronaldo, Alfredo Di Stéfano, Elías Figueroa, Hugo Sánchez, Hugo Sotil in its trophy case. The list truly goes on and on, but always tends to leave one name out of the equation: Jorge “Mágico” González.

The Salvadoran, who is recognized by many as the player who didn’t want to be better than Maradona, was Cadiz’s reference point in the 1980s, characterized as a force due to his unmatched dribbling skills, wizardry faints and zippy speed.

Off the field, however, it was a different story for the player that led El Salvador to a World Cup in 1982.

In 1984, during Barcelona’s tour in the United States, Diego Maradona and the rest of the team made their way out of the hotel they were staying at due to a fire alarm that had gone off. González, who was on trial with the team at the time, was in his room with a woman, and was reluctant to exit the room despite what was occurring. Shortly after they found out about his actions, Barcelona decided to cut Mágico loose.

“I admit that I am not a saint, that I like the nightlife and that the desire to party; not even my mother can take it away. I know that I am irresponsible and a bad professional, and I may be missing the opportunity of my life. I know, but I have nonsense in the head: I don’t like to treat football as a job. If I did it wouldn’t be me. I only play for fun,” González said.

Honorable Mentions: 

Hugo Sánchez

Rivaldo

Dirk Kuyt

Gerd Muller