You won’t find many YouTube compilations of their best bits and they rarely grab the headlines, but without them no team can succeed. Ladies and gentlemen please be upstanding for the Premier League’s Unsung Heroes XI, a team that wouldn’t break the bank yet together would probably challenge for a top four place.
GK/ Tim Krul
Steve Harper was Shay Given’s understudy for so long at St James’ Park that his place on the bench had monogrammed initials (not true but it should be). After nearly two decades of waiting patiently for his turn to shine finally Given left for City…only for Newcastle to promptly unearth a young shot-stopping gem from Holland. Still only twenty-three Krul is an outstanding prospect who has recently broken into the national side. Whilst Taylor and the rejuvenated Coloccini understandably receive the lion’s share of the plaudits for the Toon’s excellent campaign so far their proud defensive parsimony is in no small part due to the man between the sticks.
Currently on loan to Brighton the unfortunate Harper must hate the talented Dutchman with a vengeance.
RB/ Angel Rangel
Behind Micah Richards the Spaniard is arguably the best right-back playing in the UK right now. Having signed from Terrassa (no, me neither) in 2007 the likable 27-year old has consistently been superb down the right flank for Swansea – marauding forward with serious intent at every given opportunity but also capable of shackling the best wingers around. His attacking verve and endless stamina makes him an integral part of the Swan’s adventurous style of play.
LB/ Stephen Warnock
The left-back berth should rightfully have gone to Swansea’s Neil Taylor but the Welsh contingent is already well-acknowledged on this list and besides Warnock has long epitomised the unsung hero role and deserves his place for his long, committed service to the post. With nearly two hundred appearances in the top flight and yet with less than half an hour adorning an England jersey (in a position where they’ve traditionally struggled to find anyone of real quality to challenge Cole) it is sadly inevitable that the affable Lancastrian will be unfairly remembered as a ‘nearly man’ once his career draws to a close. Warnock deserves much better than that. Of those 185 performances perhaps a handful or less have been below par.
CB/ Danny Higginbotham
Partly due to the clubs he has represented (Derby, Southampton and Stoke) Higginbotham has never really received anything like the credit and respect his ability warrants. Released by Man Utd at a time when they were over-staffed with top quality centre-backs the no-nonsense Manc strikes a mean free-kick, has a finely tuned positional sense, and is adaptable to whichever challenge he faces. If up against a tricky speed-merchant he is more than capable of nullifying them in anonymity for the full ninety-minutes. If it’s a scrappy bruiser there is only going to be one winner. Higginbotham is an old-fashioned stopper blessed with the nous and technique to succeed in the modern game. There are too few of his ilk around.
CB/ Leon Barnett
Great things were expected of this pacy centre-back at Luton but Barnett’s switch to WBA, for one reason or another, didn’t pan out. A loan move to Norwich helped them realise their top flight dream and now that he’s signed permanently – and appears more settled and mature in Norfolk – the 25 year old is reminding everyone of what all the fuss was about. Can play in the centre, down the right or in midfield and such adaptability is a priceless commodity to a club such as the Canaries. In whatever position he’s selected his athleticism shines through.
CM/ Bradley Johnson
There were doubts about whether Johnson could make the step up to the Prem following his summer switch from Elland Road. Even Leeds fans were a touch sceptical even though he was a fan’s favourite there for his tough-tackling and whole-hearted commitment. Johnson however has proved everybody wrong in style so far becoming an integral fixture in the Norwich midfield and often being the best player on the pitch no matter how high the standard of the opposition.
CM/ Joe Allen
Prior to the opening game of the season a Jacks fan told me to look out for Allen, an accomplished star in the making. In the event the 21 year old from Carmarthen didn’t start against Man City but I’d already seen enough glimpses in last year’s promotion push to know that here was an intelligent ball-player who was comfortable in possession. Now a part of Wales’ young-blood revolution it surely won’t be long before the big boys start visiting the Liberty regularly hoping to snap up a player of outstanding promise.
AM/ Mauro Formica
The silky Argentine arrived from Newell’s Old Boys with little fanfare in January of this year and, after a brief settling-in period, is now showing the class that saw him make his full Argentina debut recently. He and Hoillet are playing some marvellous stuff for Rovers this term but unfortunately their attacking flair is being somewhat overshadowed by the Steve Kean saga off the pitch.
As befitting his name he also has a smooth finish. (nb sorry, couldn’t resist that one)
10/ Clint Dempsey
It could be argued that the American is fairly high-profile and receives due recognition for his talents so perhaps doesn’t deserve his place in this side. The fact remains though that if Dempsey played for a bigger club than Fulham his stock would be much higher. A consistent thorn in many a side this winger-cum-striker buzzes around the danger areas with malice and skill in equal moderation. For several seasons now he’s been one of the best fantasy football picks around due to his affordable price and bagfuls of assists.
CF/ Ivan Klasnic
There are few better deep-lying attackers around at present who feed off a target-man. Granted the Croatian is spoilt for knock-downs and tit-bits orbiting around the burly frame of arch trouble-maker Kevin Davies but he has proven himself to be a superb foil nonetheless. Klasnic has a fine pedigree but – as with most in this team – is criminally under-valued due to the unfashionable club he plays for.
CF/ Heidar Helguson
If the Icelandic bomber scored more goals he would be causing chaos amongst the best defences in the Champion’s League because every other facet of his game is up there with the best. Helguson routinely works his socks off, holds the ball up well, has intelligent movement, and possesses a remarkable standing leap; not many strikers can make Micah Richards look like he has lead in his boots from high deliveries as Helguson did at Loftus Road recently.