When it comes to football teams’ success, much of the credit goes to the attackers who score the goals. These forward players grab all the attention because of their goal-scoring pedigree. Looking back at the last ten years, majority of the top 10 players in the FIFA Ballon d’Or award have been attackers. It begs the question, are they the only players who contributed to their respective teams’ success? Well football is a team sport but sometimes players step up to help their team win or contribute in ultimately avoiding defeat.
There remains a group of players who made things happen in their own capacity. These are the footballers who played a vital role in different areas of the pitch. Scoring is important but not the only piece of contribution that is vital for a footballer. Over the years, these players were instrumental in stringing some of the pieces together for their teams.
He was the poster boy for the 2014 FIFA World Cup when Brazil hosted the tournament. The hopes and expectations of the 300 million soccer-mad nation rested on the 22-year-old’s shoulders. He started the tourney brightly and scored four goals in five matches.
The Brazilian national team captained by Neymar looked on course for a dream final in their backyard until a brutal back injury at the quarter-final stage ruled him out of the tournament.
The effect of his absence showed that he indeed carried the team. Without him, Brazil suffered a humiliating 7-1 defeat to Germany in the last four and further lost 3-0 to the Netherlands in the third place playoff.
Brazil will heavily depend on him again when they kick off their 2018 World Cup on Sunday evening against Switzerland.
7. Lionel Messi
He is arguably the best player to have ever played the sport. In the 2014 FIFA World Cup, Messi was forced to single-handedly make things happen for his country, Argentina. When the team struggled to break down relatively easy opposition, it was he who stepped up to get the goals. In a group match, Argentina toiled to find a goal against minnows Iran for 90 minutes. As the game drew closer to its conclusion, Messi scored a brilliant individual goal with about two minutes left.
Argentina also struggled against Nigeria in the group phase but it was Messi who delivered yet again with two goals in their 3-2 win. For his individual performances, the Barcelona star forward was named man of the match five times in seven matches.
6. Mohamed Salah
Liverpool reached the UEFA Champions League final and finished fourth in the Premier League. Key to those milestones was Salah’s astonishing 43 goals in the 2017/2018 season. Liverpool scored 84 league goals, 32 of those being Salah’s.
His contribution has propelled the Reds to the brink of European domination. The side faced defending European champions Real Madrid on May 26 and Salah’s 10 goals in the competition was played a big part of Liverpool’s journey in reaching the final.
5. Michael Essien
No other player African player has redefined the box-to-box role in modern football. The Ghanaian’s style of play likened him to Claude Makelele. Essien perfected the art of ball retention and halting opposition counter attacks. It is little surprise that in 2005, Chelsea broke their club record fee to sign him from Lyon where he won two successive Ligue 1 titles.
Under the stewardship of Jose Mourinho, Essien was rock solid in midfield as Chelsea won the league in his first season. He also chipped in the goals when needed including crucial match winners and equalisers. His 700 recoveries in the league and 70 blocked goal-bound shots was a testament to his ability. Scoring 25 goals in 256 league appearances is a commendable feat if his defined role as a defensive midfielder is anything to go by.
4. Yaya Toure
The big Ivorian won every major accolade at club level with Barcelona and Manchester City. What is impressive is that he was able to adapt quickly into the different roles tasked with.
Notably, in the 2009 Champions League final, he played exceptionally well as a centre back for Barcelona in their 2-0 win over Manchester United. He kept the likes of Ronaldo quiet in a position that he had previously played twice in.
Since his 2010 move to City, Toure was been influential in shifting football dominance to the blue half of Manchester. Overall, he had a 73% tackle success rate and made 1,152 recoveries. His impeccable tally of 79 goals contributed to City’s three Premier League titles in nine seasons.
3. Xabi Alonso
‘Mr. Dependable’ as he was regularly called by commentators got that name because he possessed qualities of both an attacking and defensive midfielder. Alonso was one of the finest players of his generation. He had a thing for the long-range game.
These included his trademark 70 yard passes and a knack for scoring goals from the half way line. The Spaniard stabilised the midfield in the run up to win major trophies with Liverpool, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and most notably the 2010 World Cup (Spain).
Additionally, he was dependable because of his ability to deliver virtually any set piece be it corners, various types of free kicks and maintained a cool presence when taking penalties. In his final season (2016/2017) at Bayern Munich, he still had impressive numbers. In 27 league matches, he averaged 89% pass accuracy and created 40 chances.
2. Michael Carrick
Manchester United has produced very many great players who have gone on to become legends. At the tip of the tongue, Cristiano Ronaldo, Ryan Giggs and Wayne Rooney are some that make the list. Carrick, who retired at the end of last season, has been a reliable midfield player for over a decade. He probably was the most underrated player at United given the array of attacking talent that had surrounded him in that period.
Carrick won it all with United: five league titles, the FA Cup, UEFA Champions League and Europa League. Whenever his team was under pressure, he offered that calm presence in midfield regardless of the match.
When duty called, Carrick stepped in as a centre back and commanded that position. It is therefore not surprising that United, in the last two seasons, rarely lost a match whenever he played. In the Premier League two seasons ago, United only lost twice when Carrick was on the pitch. Astonishingly, in 480 Premier League appearances, he made 707 tackles which translated to about 70% success rate. In that time, he made only one error that led to a goal.
1. N’Golo Kante
The 5 ft. 6 midfielder who plays for Chelsea is not your typical household name. He has two Premier League medals that he won back-to-back (2016, 2017). So what makes Kante so special? What Kante lacks in height he compensates with high football intelligence. He is the type of player that does not just lunge in challenges but times it to perfection. In Leicester City’s 2016 title run, Kante made almost 160 interceptions, a figure matched by no other player in the league.
When he made the switch to Chelsea for the 2016-2017 campaign, Kante replicated his superb form. He made 275 recoveries and won 197 duels. This resulted in him feted with the PFA Players Player, Player of the Year and Premier League Player of the Season awards.
“Do what you can, where you are, with what you have.”