The undervalued team of the decade
With the end of the decade upon us, we are all thinking about the best teams, players, and moments of the past ten years. Naturally, a consensus emerges over time and most lists of the best players of the decade tend to be slight variations on the same few players. We wanted to take a look at the best players who are unlikely to make many “Team of the decade” lists, but that deserve to do so.
In order to do that, we used our Player Contribution model, which objectively identifies every player’s value added to their team, to identify the best players to never reach a high market valuation. These players were mostly consistent performers for teams that regularly made it to the Champions League knockout stages, but overshadowed by some of their teammates.
Atlético de Madrid had the best defense in the world for most of the decade, and many of the key players in their defensive system, such as Oblak and Godín garnered some measure of worldwide recognition. On the other hand, many of their teammates just never got any sort of widespread acclaim. We’ve picked three of Atlético’s key defensive performers: Juanfran, Miranda, and Gabi. In the case of Gabi, he was club captain and one of the first names on the team sheet for over six seasons, leading Atlético to two Champions League finals, yet he never got an international cap nor was he ever even remotely a Ballon D’Or or UEFA Team of the Year contender. There is no better choice to captain our undervalued team of the decade.
Atlético’s defense may have been the best, but there were many other great defensive systems this decade. Sirigu, Barzagli, Bernat, and Thiago Motta were consistent performers for PSG, Juventus, and Bayern. Thiago Motta especially opened the decade by winning the Champions League with Mourinho’s Inter, and later was a crucial piece in PSG’s midfield as they established themselves in Europe. Much like his midfield companion Gabi, he was overlooked by his national team, although in Motta’s case he switched his allegiance from Brazil to Italy and was called up to the Italian national team.
The attacking four have in general been consistent performers, but lacking the flair we would expect from Champions League-level attackers. Pedro, Callejón, and Mandžukić were consistent scorers for a long time, but never scored more than 20 goals in any of their league seasons. Their role instead was to selflessly support the stars on their respective teams. The self-effacing nature of their game may have worked a bit too well, as it prevented them from ever reaching the high valuations of their attacking teammates.
Jonathan Soriano had an extremely good run at RB Salzburg, where he averaged a goal a game for four seasons. However, because Salzburg are based in Austria and just breaking through in Europe, they never managed to qualify for the Champions League, which possibly prevented Soriano from attracting much attention from the biggest clubs.
What lessons can we learn from this undervalued team of the decade? When first seeing this team, our reactions were that it is just incredibly uninspiring. And that is exactly the point – there is a lot of value to be found by looking for players who don’t excite the media or the fans (yet). This team could have taken our club to the Champions League title in the middle of the decade, and the average transfer fee would have been less than £20m. It’s basic Economics; when looking for value, we can find it wherever there’s no demand, and football is no different.