Very few footballers in the modern game are underrated.
Far too often, one eye-catching performance results in a YouTube compilation video. That compilation video then leads to a mini-movement on social media. And from then on a player’s reputation can snowball.
Yet there are a handful of players whose talents aren’t appreciated. It isn’t that they aren’t valued, it’s just what they do on a football pitch isn’t sexy enough to warrant attention.
Claude Makélélé went on to have a position named after him but he was one of the most underrated players in the world while at Real Madrid.
It tends to be these midfield destroyers who are overlooked, and the same thing happened with Idrissa Gueye. Despite his impressive individual numbers in an Aston Villa team that was relegated, fans didn’t view him as anything special.
It’s why his £7million move to Everton in the summer of 2016 went somewhat under the radar. And while his reputation increased at Goodison Park, those who didn’t watch the Toffees on a regular basis perhaps didn’t appreciate just how good Gueye was.
Not just a consistent performer, the Senegal international was also reliable in terms of availability, another trait often overlooked.
During his three campaigns at Goodison Park, he missed just 15 matches in the Premier League. But with Everton regularly failing to deliver on pre-season promise, Gueye’s exploits in the middle third didn’t make major headlines.
He wasn’t named by pundits as the man to fix the Manchester United, Spurs or Arsenal midfield. In was an extension of Gueye being undervalued.
This summer he left Everton and joined Paris Saint-Germain for £30million. It was not a transfer that sent shockwaves across Europe and those who did notice generally raised an eyebrow over the Ligue 1 side’s decision to part with such a fee for a 30-year-old.
It’s only now, though, playing for one of Europe’s biggest sides, that the midfielder is getting the credit his performances have warranted since his Lille days. In the seven matches he’s started for PSG, the team are yet to concede a goal.
Thomas Tuchel’s side have a 100 per cent record when their No.27 starts and average close to two goals per game. He’s struck up a formidable partnership in the middle third alongside Marco Verratti and Marquinhos.
Of those seven matches, two have been in the Champions League including the Parisian’s historic 3-0 victory over Real Madrid. Against Los Blancos, the PSG midfielder completed 100 per cent of his dribbles, 93 per cent of his passes, created three chances for the hosts, recovered the ball on six occasions and chipped in with an assist.
Idrissa Gueye’s game by numbers vs. Lyon:
most passes attempted (89)
most passes completed (84)
most attempted final third passes (39)
most completed final third passes (35)
most attempted tackles (9)
joint most tackles won (5)
most chances created (4)
Good two-way display. 🇸🇳 pic.twitter.com/egjU1SikoC
— Statman Dave (@StatmanDave) September 23, 2019
Gueye also bossed PSG’s 1-0 win over Lyon; his performance showcased he’s much more than just a ball-winner.
PSG have been signing stars for a number of years but only now, after the arrival of former Villa man, does their squad look complete. In many ways, it mirrors Makélélé’s time in the Spanish capital. He won’t get the plaudits but without him, the team just aren’t the same.
Without Gueye, PSG look fragile. Just as Everton do.
On paper, selling a soon to be 30-year-old for £30million is good business. But there, at times, exceptions. Gueye should’ve been one of those. He’s a player who can dominate a game without touching the ball. The midfielder owns and controls space and it’s near impossible to replace that, not without breaking the bank.
The Premier League side haven’t been helped by Jean-Philippe Gbamin, the man signed to replace Gueye, being ruled out with injury.
But the former Mainz midfielder isn’t identical to the new PSG star: he relies on his physicality to dominate opponents whereas the 5ft 7ins Gueye uses his speed of thought to combat powerful opponents.
It’s a tiny sample size, just the seven matches, but since Gueye’s departure in the summer, Everton’s goals against per 90 total has risen by 0.5. It may not seem like much but over the course of an entire 38-game season that is a difference of 19 goals. It may improve when Gbamin is back fit but there’s no guarantee.
Gueye could be this generation’s Makélélé. An undervalued talent who could walk into any midfield and transform it without any fanfare or the drama.