Grab a glass of wine, let’s talk about some of the most misunderstood footballers in soccer. In the fiercely competitive world of football, misconceptions and misunderstandings can plague even the most talented players. Just like in life, being misunderstood on the pitch can be incredibly frustrating.
Most Misunderstood Footballers
In this blog post, we’ll dive deep into the stories of ten footballers who have faced this challenge and examine why they have been so misunderstood by coaches, fans, and the football world in general.
1. Joao Felix
Ever since leaving Benfica, Joao Felix has struggled with being misunderstood. He has been misunderstood and misused all through his time at Atletico, and he was also misunderstood at Chelsea. Felix is a player that wants to be free; he wants to roam and show his flair and ability with the ball. But Simeone caged him so much that it stifled the player and eventually broke the relationship between the pair. At Chelsea, he was employed mainly as a center-forward and a left-winger. He was hardly ever given that freedom he requires, and that led everyone to thinking he is a bad player. Hopefully Xavi gets it right with him at Barcelona.
2. Andre Onana
Raised in the Barcelona academy, Andre Onana developed exceptional skills beyond his goalkeeping duties. Thanks to his La Masia background, Onana is very comfortable outside his box and with the ball at his feet—an attribute that’s a huge plus for modern-day goalkeepers. However, this skill wasn’t fully appreciated by Rigobert Song, the coach of the Cameroon national team.
During the 2022 World Cup, Song struggled to understand why Onana frequently ventured out of his penalty area. He couldn’t comprehend it, and this misunderstanding led to a significant disagreement between the coach and the player. The dispute escalated to the point where Onana was sent home midway through the tournament. Hopefully, he will find better understanding and utilization of his abilities at Manchester United.
3. Harry Maguire
Another Man United player who is massively misunderstood is Harry Maguire. Every Man United player thinks he’s just a trash player, but have you ever wondered why he’s always so error-prone for Man United but solid for England? It’s because he’s been largely misunderstood by the Man United coaches. They have not been able to figure out how best to apply him which has led to him being largely uncomfortable and error-prone whenever he plays.
And you might disagree with this, but it’s definitely a valid point. How else can you explain his solid performances with the national team?
4. Christian Pulisic
Another person many are guilty of misunderstanding is Christian Pulisic. There’s a certain way the American likes to play his football which was not always afforded him at Chelsea, and that’s why many saw him as a flop.
When he was given the freedom to play where and how he wanted to play, we saw how he flourished in Chelsea’s 2020-21 Champions League run, producing goal contributions in both of their semi-final games against Real Madrid.
What many people fail to understand is that, despite being a right-footer, Pulisic is primarily a right-winger, and he can also play well just behind the striker. But we saw Chelsea use him a lot as a left-winger, a midfielder, and even a wing-back. When you keep using a player out of position, you can’t blame him for not delivering.
5. Philippe Coutinho
The story was no different for Philippe Coutinho, especially during his time at Barcelona. It seemed that all the coaches who managed Coutinho at Barcelona struggled to grasp that he was a highly skilled technician, ideally suited to play in a free role on the pitch. Instead, they repeatedly attempted to confine him to the left-wing position, largely due to the presence of the great Lionel Messi.
In reality, Coutinho’s true forte lies in midfield. Barcelona persisted in trying to fit a square peg into a round hole, primarily because prioritizing Coutinho over Messi was simply not feasible. The responsibility for this misunderstanding largely falls on the shoulders of the board, who signed the player without fully comprehending his unique qualities.
6. James Rodriguez
Another midfielder who has faced chronic misunderstanding in his career is James Rodriguez. Remarkably, it appears that Carlo Ancelotti is the sole European coach who truly comprehended the genius of the Colombian maestro, which is why James found success primarily under Ancelotti’s guidance.
Ancelotti initially acquired James at Real Madrid, and the Colombian excelled under his management. However, when Ancelotti departed, Zinedine Zidane failed to recognize James’s potential and subsequently loaned him to Bayern Munich for two years. Unfortunately, the coach who succeeded Ancelotti at Bayern also struggled to harness James’s abilities effectively.
In 2020, Ancelotti came to James’s rescue once more by bringing him to Everton. During that year, James Rodriguez emerged as one of the top midfielders in England, contributing significantly with 15 goals in 27 appearances. However, when Ancelotti left Everton and returned to Real Madrid, James’s fortunes dwindled, prompting him to leave European football altogether.
James Rodriguez undeniably possesses immense talent, but his career has been marked by profound misunderstandings with coaches and teams, with Carlo Ancelotti being the exception to this pattern.
7. Alvaro Morata
Alvaro Morata is another player who has been consistently misunderstood throughout his career. It’s essential to recognize that Morata is far from being a subpar striker; rather, he thrives when provided with the right support up front.
The challenge for Morata has often been that many coaches and fans fail to grasp his true potential, resulting in a sense of constant transition between clubs like Juventus and Atletico Madrid. During his spells at Juventus, Morata had the support of players like Tevez and Ronaldo, which allowed him to excel. Similarly, at Atletico Madrid, he benefits from the presence of Antoine Griezmann. However, his time at Chelsea was marked by a lack of such support, which affected his performance negatively.
What’s truly astonishing is how Morata’s stint at Chelsea has significantly influenced the perception of him among fans. Despite consistently delivering 20+ goal contributions in three of the last four seasons, including a remarkable 30+ in one of those campaigns, he continues to be unfairly labeled as a subpar striker. This misconception arises primarily from a lack of understanding of Morata’s playing style and the vital role that support plays in his success.
8. Timo Werner
Timo Werner’s journey bears a striking resemblance to that of Alvaro Morata. It’s easy to label a player a flop when their full potential is not realized, but it’s essential to remember that this is the same individual who contributed to 47 goals in 45 appearances in a single season just before joining Chelsea.
However, his transition to English football saw his talents woefully misjudged. At Chelsea, Werner was often misused and thrust into a targetman role, a far cry from his natural playing style. His speed, one of his key attributes, was underutilized, leading to a stagnation in his performance.
Just like Morata, Werner thrives when provided with support up front. He relies on a symbiotic relationship with his teammates, both as a provider and beneficiary. Unfortunately, this crucial support was lacking during his time at Chelsea, which ultimately contributed to his struggles. It’s important to recognize that Werner was never inherently subpar; he was merely a victim of misunderstanding and mismanagement.
9. Kai Havertz
The same narrative extends to Kai Havertz. Despite being pushed into a center-forward role at Chelsea, he isn’t naturally a striker. When he couldn’t deliver in that position, it understandably frustrated fans.
In all honesty, Havertz is one of the most misunderstood players in the global football scene today. He doesn’t fit neatly into the categories of a winger or a striker, which is where most coaches attempt to pigeonhole him. When he falls short in these roles, critics are quick to label him a disappointment.
Havertz possesses extraordinary technical skills, making him best suited to play just behind the striker. It’s a nuanced role—neither a pure striker nor a deep-lying midfielder. Yet, because of these misunderstandings, there’s undue pressure on him to score goals. When those goals don’t materialize, he’s unfairly branded as a flop.
10. Rene Higuita
Let’s conclude with a trip down memory lane to remember the enigmatic Rene Higuita. He was a goalkeeper so misunderstood that some labeled him a madman. Higuita was a pioneer of the sweeper-keeper role long before it gained popularity. He displayed remarkable comfort far from his goal, a concept that confounded coaches, fans, players, and the media of his time.
Adding to his mystique, Higuita often took penalties and free kicks—an unconventional choice for a goalkeeper in any era. And who could forget his iconic scorpion kick save against England in 2002?
Higuita remained an enigma throughout his career, and his unique style led to widespread misunderstanding. However, if there’s one individual who not only accepted but also embraced this enigmatic persona, it was undoubtedly Higuita himself.
Do you think there are more misunderstood footballers we’ve overlooked? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.
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