In the Oxford dictionary, the definition of underrated is to ‘underestimate the extent, value, or importance of (someone or something)’. The urban dictionary version meanwhile suggests it’s ‘cooler than most people think, like Busta Rhymes’.
Football wise, the word tends to get attached to players or managers so often that they cease to be underrated: see Mark Noble for example, who far too many intelligent people have suggested should be playing for England. The word has become sanitised, like much of the sport’s lexicon. When the genuine article comes along though, it should be recognised. That has to be Swansea’s Gylfi Sigurdsson, a player of criminally underemphasised quality.
Mauricio Pochettino certainly appreciates the Icelandic midfielder. In fact, listening to the Tottenham manager before their meeting with Swansea in December, you got the impression he wished he still had Sigurdsson as part of his squad. The Argentinian had only just been appointed when the decision was made to sell Sigurdsson to Swansea, in what was effectively a swap deal for Ben Davies.
“I think after he moved to Swansea and we saw his development at Swansea, he was a perfect player for us.” Pochettino said. “But it was a club decision and his decision to move to Swansea and find another way. Every time we meet him and see him, he shows his quality – not only as a player but like a man.”
Pochettino’s lingering sense of regret is understandable. Watching Spurs occasionally this season has resembled a group of firefighters battering down a door but missing the person who has the key. They possess intensity and strength, power and pace, but with the exception of Christian Eriksen, tend to miss a creator capable of prizing open mass defences. For all Tottenham’s territorial dominance in twin matches with Sunderland and Middlesborough, they had a solitary Harry Kane penalty to show for it.
In terms of pure productivity, Sigurdsson is the most prolific number ten in the Premier League. Scoring eight and assisting another seven, he’s directly provided more goals for his team than Eriksen, Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard, Philippe Coutinho, Juan Mata, Mesut Ozil and David Silva. Only four players (Alexis Sanchez, Diego Costa, Romelu Lukaku and Zlatan Ibrahimovic) have combined for more goals across the division.
During a week in which the Premier League’s greatest goalscoring midfielder Frank Lampard announced his retirement, we’ve witnessed the 27 year-old replicating the Chelsea legend’s ability to arrive late in the box to finish off chances.
Level at 1-1 against Southampton and with the result in the balance, a counterattacking opportunity arose for Swansea. Luciano Narsingh was released in space down the left flank. Sigurdsson sprinted from inside his own half to support. Narsingh’s cross was wayward, but he adjusted his body to beautifully direct the ball into the far corner with his left foot. On Sunday at the Etihad, Sigurdsson drilled home a precise shot past Willy Caballero, which looked to have earned the away side a precious draw – only for Gabriel Jesus to snatch points for Manchester City in injury time.
If there was an equivalent football specific word to ambidextrous, describing someone who is two footed, it would be used in association with Sigurdsson. Alongside Santi Cazorla, he is probably the most proficient player off both sides in the league, scoring four on his right foot and four on his left in 2016/17. Allied to that is his accuracy from dead balls – a weapon Swansea have benefited from frequently – as well as his energy in pressing opposing defenders.
Swansea are onto their third coach of the current season, and while Francesco Guidolin, Bob Bradley and Paul Clement all have their own ideas on the game, they’ve all revolved their team around the former Reading man.
In his three seasons since returning to South Wales, Sigurdsson has 26 goals and 20 assists. He also starred for Iceland at the European Championships last summer after leading the minnows to qualification for a first ever major tournament. Sigurdsson’s face adorns billboards in his home country and he was named sportsman of the year in both 2013 and 2016.
Quite why he’s so undervalued in England is a mystery. Perhaps it’s a consequence of nationality or that he plays for one of the less analysed/covered clubs in the top flight. Maybe Sigurdsson’s unassuming personality and introspectiveness precludes him from more attention.
One thing is for certain, Swans supporters treasure their star man. Read any fan forum or website and the majority agree they would be dangling in an even more perilous predicament without Sigurdsson. They wouldn’t be fighting relegation, they would most likely be doomed.
Following Ashley Williams’ departure, he is the heartbeat of the team and new manager Clement was keen to highlight that. “He’s a fantastic deliverer of set-plays, he really works at that so credit to him. But I would also like to commend him on his work ethic defensively.”
For Swansea to retain their Premier League status, they will need Sigurdsson to avoid injury and continue his current rich form. That starts on Sunday and the critical head-to-head against flailing champions Leicester City. Should Sigurdsson help complete the great escape, maybe he’ll garner the recognition he deserves.