Ask 100 football fans what ‘underrated’ means to them and you’ll get 100 different answers.
So, if you don’t mind, allow me to quickly explain what I believe that term means. I’ll make it visual for you.
Picture a graph with an X-axis and a Y-axis. The Y-axis is what fellow professional footballers think of the player, the X-axis is regular fans’ opinions of the player.
Underrated players can be located at the top of the Y-axis and the start of the X-axis. Top of the lot is the most underrated footballer in Premier League history, Man City’s Fernandinho.
Fernandinho rocked up in Manchester over six years ago. City, despite not having a manager at the time, shelled out £30m on a 28-year-old who’d spent the previous eight seasons in Ukraine. City fans could be forgiven for their scepticism.
Of the five arrivals that summer, only Martin Demichelis was older. Six years on, only Fernandinho remains.
The Brazilian has withstood the test of time. A test of time which, due to City’s endless supply of cash, is more punishing than most.
But longevity itself isn’t enough to make someone underrated, otherwise this piece would be dedicated to Arsenal’s stubborn stalwart Carl Jenkinson. To understand the genius of Fernandinho we need to peel back his layers.
Playing as the pivot in a Pep Guardiola side is a role few midfielders are cut out for. It’s relentless. When one of Pep’s attacking midfielders is off their game, there’s always another to pick up the slack. That’s not the case for Pep’s sole deep-lying anchor, something new boy Rodri has found out the hard way so far this season.
In possession, Fernandinho needs to be the angle upon which City’s goalkeeper, full-backs and centre-halves can bounce the ball out from the back.
His passes are subtly cutting, always finding one of City’s attacking players in those pockets of space. If he’s not positive in possession then City are vulnerable to the press.
The 33-year-old will also give you the odd long-range stunner when he’s bored of letting Kevin De Bruyne and co take all the plaudits.
Out of possession, it’s too obvious to point out Fernandinho’s tenacity in the tackle and capacity to break up play. His defensive nous goes deeper than that.
Pep is rightfully lauded for his dedication to flowing football, but his side’s ability to nip counter-attacks in the bud, whether legally or illegally, is crucial to recovering when those moves break down.
Fernandinho is the absolute master of this dark art, hence why he’s picked up 14 yellow cards since the beginning of last season.
The Brazilian has grown into an on-field leader, especially in commanding City’s full-backs when they tuck in centrally, as per Guardiola’s instructions.
Let’s leave the last word to Fernandinho himself.
He told Brazilian publication UOL: “The biggest legacy I’ll leave maybe is the fact that I have reopened the door for Brazilians in the club.
“When I got here, Brazilians were still seen with a bad eye, and today we have four Brazilians of a very high level in the squad, which makes me very happy.”
Consider that £30m well and truly paid back.