The Premier league is analysed to death. Every facet of on-pitch activity is catered to. Various stats-driven websites collate thousands of pieces of information and Twitter has made statistics, heat maps and graphics readily available.
Obviously these tools can be illuminating and creative; they can often explain points better than words. However, the spotlight stays upon the stand-out players: the players who attract headlines, score goals and do things worthy of mention.
Nobody ever writes an in-depth article examining Marc Wilson’s positional play in Stoke vs. West Ham. Paul Dummett doesn’t attract attention for his defensive contribution to Newcastle.
These are professional footballers that are good enough to play every week at the top level but generally go unnoticed. Functional not flashy. Reliable not extroverted. Not loved enough to reach cult hero status. They can only hope they’ll reach the heights of Tony Hibbert.
Here are some professional footballers that turn up every week but never make it onto Match of the Day.
They say you can find statistics to illustrate any point. Well, here are some particularly mundane ones which detail the league’s most passed-by individuals.
Ritchie de Laet
According to stats website WhoScored Leicester City defender Ritchie de Laet likes to play football. In fact, he is basically fan of every aspect. Bless him.
He’s played all but 27 minutes of the season so far, being subbed against Crystal Palace. He must have been gutted.
He did get an assist in Leicester’s memorable 5-3 win over Man United, but due to a lot of other things happening in that game he managed to go under the radar.
He is caught offside 0.1 times every game (probably because linesmen never notice him).
Although in a very competitive field, Gardner manages to out-shine household names like Graham Dorrans and James Morrison to win the unremarkable West Brom midfielder category.
Gardner has missed just nine of 810 minutes but you would struggle to think of anything memorable.
Once in the school of ‘I have been known to score long-range screamers so I will shoot on sight of the goal’, Gardner now only averages 2.1 shots per game. As a result he is now merely a cog in one of the most practical teams in the league.
Could you pick Ashley Westwood out of a line-up? No? Neither could I.
Generic and easily forgettable, he would be a master criminal.
When you’re playing for a team that have lost five games in a row without scoring there shouldn’t be anywhere to hide, but wherever this place is, Westwood has found it.
Playing the role of holding / boring midfielder admittedly doesn’t help your visibility on the football pitch. Your duties are to win the ball and pass the ball – a good defensive midfielder shouldn’t be noticed.
If you want to get noticed but aren’t particularly talented kicking people is a good option. Westwood can’t even manage that. He has so far picked up one yellow card and only averages 0.8 fouls per game.
David Jones has missed two games for Burnley this season. I bet you didn’t notice.
He does have the advantage of playing for the league’s worst side, meaning scoring goals and making assists is difficult, but he could at least score an own goal or something.
It is true that Jones once did this free-kick but that was just a blip in a staggeringly unexceptional career.
These characters should be celebrated. They are players that have eked a career out of being OK at something many people love.
No amount of statistics can describe the majesty of their functionality.