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Overrated or underappreciated? Lukaku, Grealish, Pogba and the most divisive players in football

2:00 PM GMT 24/10/2022
Hugo Lloris Jack Grealish Romelu Lukaku GFX
Is Hugo Lloris really a great goalkeeper? Is Romelu Lukaku a flat-track bully? Have your say on the most polarising players in the game today...

Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo – who's better? Everyone's long since taken a side in the most heated debate of the past decade.

One thing everyone can agree on, though, is the pair's shared status as all-time greats. That has to be the starting point, as we're talking about two living legends here. Love them or loathe them, you have to respect their talent and achievements.

However, there are several other high-profile players in the game today who continue to polarise opinions, established stars that supporters, pundits and former pros believe are either overrated or underappreciated.

But what do you think? Have your say in the comment box below after running through GOAL's list of the most divisive players in world football...

  • Thiago Alcantara Liverpool 2022-23

    Thiago Alcantara

    For the vast majority of Liverpool fans, the only problem with Thiago Alcantara is he's not always fit to start because of his seemingly incessant injury issues.

    With his tenacious tackling and ridiculous range of passing, the Spaniard is considered utterly integral to Jurgen Klopp's game plan.

    As assistant coach Pep Lijnders told GOAL back in August, "When Thiago plays, we play."

    However, not everyone is as enamoured with the silky-skilled midfielder.

    "I don't understand the hype about Thiago," former Liverpool ace Didi Hamann wrote last season. "For me, he is one of the most overrated players in European football.

    "When things are going well and you have a lot of possession he's a good player, but when push comes to shove you don't see him."

    Do you agree with Didi? We know that Klopp certainly doesn't...

  • Trent Alexander-Arnold Liverpool 2022-23

    Trent Alexander-Arnold

    Ahead of this season's Premier League clash with Brighton, Klopp was asked about Trent Alexander-Arnold's latest England snub. The Liverpool boss replied, "You really want to open this box?!"

    Klopp's reaction was understandable. This is the most heated tactical debate in English football since how best to get Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard into the same team!

    To quickly sum it up, England boss simply feels that he has better options at right-back, including Reece James and Kyle Walker. Indeed, Alexander-Arnold is only likely to travel to the World Cup in Qatar if one or both of those two players are ruled out through injury.

    Klopp, and the likes of Gary Lineker, are in a state of shock, believing it madness to even consider leaving such a gifted attacking outlet at home.

    Of course, the counter-argument is that Alexander-Arnold is a liability, with former France centre-back Frank Leboeuf last week claiming that the 23-year-old was "Championship level" from a defensive perspective.

    Whatever the truth, this is one argument that is going to run and run until Southgate's squad is announced.

  • Andrea Barzagli Leonardo Bonucci Giorgio Chiellini Juventus

    Leonardo Bonucci

    Leonardo Bonucci is under fire again from his own fans, with Juventus ultras upset that the centre-back is their club captain: "He has never been a leader, and never will be."

    However, there is also a school of thought in Italy that Bonucci has never been a particularly good defender either.

    The argument goes that he benefited enormously from Antonio Conte's inspired decision to switch to a back three in 2011, as it meant the ball-playing Bonucci could focus on instigating attacks with his wonderful and wide range of passing, while being carried by the two other famed members of Juventus' 'BBC', Giorgio Chiellini and Andrea Barzagli, for the best part of a decade.

    Certainly, Bonucci has looked a little more exposed with Chiellini and Barzagli now gone, but it does seem a little harsh to completely dismiss the defensive qualities of a centre-back who was named man of the match in the final of Euro 2020, and included in the team of the tournament, more for the dirty work he did in defence than his eye-catching contributions further forward.

  • Dembele-Barca-2022-23

    Ousmane Dembele

    Ousmane Dembele joined Barcelona from Borussia Dortmund five years ago for an initial fee of €105m (£92m/$103m) but very nearly left Barcelona during the summer on a free transfer.

    He would have gone down as one of the worst signings in football history. As he said himself, "From 2017 to 2021, I wasted my time enormously."

    Now, though, he has a shot at redemption, with the winger showing serious signs of belatedly realising his potential under Xavi.

    Will he maintain his new-found professionalism and become a Camp Nou legend? Or will he lose focus once again and end up being remembered as one of the game's great unfulfilled talents?

    Based on what we've seen so far from Dembele in his career, it really could go either way.

  • Dybala Roma

    Paulo Dybala

    Paulo Dybala's official unveiling as a Roma player was spectacular, with some 8,000 Roma fans turning out to greet him.

    Some football fans wondered what all the fuss was about, though. Juventus, after all, had allowed the Argentine's contract to expire last season because of his incessant injury problems and lack of consistency.

    They'll have no regrets over that decision, with Dybala in danger of missing the World Cup with yet another niggle.

    In Dybala's defence, he had made an impressive start to his career at the Stadio Olimpico and when he's on top form, there's no denying that 'La Joya' truly is a pleasure to watch.

    However, the suspicion remains that Lionel Messi's supposed heir, who turns 29 next month, will never realise his full potential.

  • Joao Felix Atletico Madrid 2022-23

    Joao Felix

    Joao Felix already has a plaque on the 'Legends Walk' at the Wanda Metropolitano, having passed 100 appearances for Atletico Madrid earlier this year.

    But it would be difficult to portray the Portuguese as a big hit in Spain. Indeed, since arriving at Atleti from Benfica in 2019, he has sparkled only sporadically, largely failing to justify his staggering €126m (£106m/$138m) transfer fee.

    That also felt like a colossal sum of money at the time, of course: the teenager had only one season of professional football under his belt.

    However, he was being compared with true legends like Kaka and Rui Costa, and even the latter was convinced that Felix had the footballing intelligence and strikers' instinct to make a real name for himself.

    He's found it tough going in La Liga, though. He's yet to reach double figures over the course of a single campaign and hasn't scored once so far this term.

    He's still only 22, of course. Time is on his side. And maybe he would flourish in a more attack-minded side.

    But there is a growing and justifiable fear that a move to Atleti may have been a case of too much, too soon for one so young.

  • Jack Grealish Manchester City 2022-23

    Jack Grealish

    So many players take a season to settle at Manchester City. It's not easy getting to grips with Pep Guardiola's meticulous tactical demands.

    So, the jury is still out on Jack Grealish's talents. He proved himself a fine player at Aston Villa but the question always was whether he was good enough, and disciplined enough, to cut it at the very highest level.

    His first season at City suggested he wasn't up to the task, with Grealish's most notable contributions coming during the team's title celebrations.

    Guardiola has repeatedly jumped to the defence of the £100 million ($111m) signing but, in fairness to Grealish, even he's admitted that his numbers since arriving at the Etihad are dreadfully underwhelming.

    With a World Cup coming up and his second season at City now well under way, we'll know by next summer whether Grealish was a serious waste of money.

  • Jordan Henderson Liverpool 2022-23

    Jordan Henderson

    It's fair to say that Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson has always had his critics. Brendan Rodgers famously tried to sell him to Fulham in exchange for Clint Dempsey. Sir Alex Ferguson felt the midfielder had a weird gait.

    And yet Henderson would go on to become a key figure in Liverpool's revival under Jurgen Klopp, which eventually culminated in the Reds becoming 'champions of everything'.

    Indeed, after the Club World Cup triumph in 2019, Flamengo boss Jorge Jesus described Henderson as the best player in the world in his position.

    However, the midfielder continues to divide opinion. Plenty of England fans would argue he's too slow and too conservative, unworthy of a starting spot in Southgate's side in Qatar.

    By complete contrast, at Anfield, they're just happy Henderson's fit again, given he remains utterly integral to Liverpool's hopes of continued success, particularly with Fabinho now struggling.

  • Ciro Immobile Lazio

    Ciro Immobile

    Italy coach Roberto Mancini told Ciro Immobile last September, "Remember that you are a European champion. You don't need to prove anything."

    It's a valid argument. Immobile is Lazio's all-time leading goalscorer, has finished as Serie A's Capocannoniere on four occasions, and even won the European Golden Shoe in 2019-20.

    And yet there are plenty of people who simply do not believe that he is a world-class striker.

    Part of the problem, of course, is that he has so rarely had the chance to play in the Champions League.

    However, as he also admits himself, he has not scored as many goals as he would have liked at international level (just 15 in 55 appearances) and so his contribution is often overlooked.

    "Sometimes," he said last November, "it's felt as if I wasn't part of the team that won the Euros."

    Indeed, for neutrals, his tournament is probably best remembered for the miraculous recovery he made from 'injury' after Nicolo Barella's goal against Belgium!

  • Hugo Lloris France 2022

    Hugo Lloris

    Hugo Lloris has plenty of supporters, chief among them Didier Deschamps. The France boss is a big reason why the goalkeeper has earned 139 caps at international level, picking up a World Cup winners' medal along the way.

    And yet Lloris also has a reputation for dropping clangers, particularly with the ball at his feet. Indeed, it's often forgotten that he gifted Mario Mandzukic a goal in the final of Russia 2018 simply because France still won the game.

    Furthermore, while Tottenham's No.1 is primarily praised for his shot-stopping, which is often impressive, he's also prone to dreadful errors, as underlined by the most recent north London derby, and Sunday's 2-1 loss to Newcastle.

    Lloris is lucky, then, that AC Milan's in-form Mike Maignan has just been sidlined by injury. Otherwise, the clamour for the latter to start at Qatar 2022 would have become deafening.

  • Lukaku Inter

    Romelu Lukaku

    Romelu Lukaku rebuilt his reputation at Inter after a trying time at Manchester United, which ended with Gary Neville accusing him of being overweight and unprofessional.

    Then, he made the ill-advised decision to return to England to rejoin Chelsea, where his stock plummeted once again.

    Indeed, things went so badly under Thomas Tuchel at Stamford Bridge that the Blues gave up on their club-record £97.5m ($108m) signing after just one season and allowed him to return to Inter on loan.

    So, a little over a year after Luca Toni described him as a more complete centre forward than Cristiano Ronaldo, Lukaku was once again dismissed by Premier League followers as a flop, a flat-track bully who only scored for, and against, smaller sides.

    Obviously, as Antonio Conte proved during their time together at San Siro, Lukaku is no "donkey". The argument is that he just needs the right kind of support, on and off the field.

    Jamie Carragher, though, spoke for many earlier this year when he argued that while the No.9 will always score goals, he does not belong in the same bracket as the likes of Robert Lewandowski and Karim Benzema.

    Lukaku fans will, thus, be hoping their man proves the critics wrong at the upcoming World Cup.

  •  Alvaro Morata of Spain

    Alvaro Morata

    You've got to hand it to Alvaro Morata: he's never proven himself a reliable goalscorer and yet he'll most likely lead the Spain attack at the 2022 World Cup.

    However, maybe that says more about his country's lack of prolific centre-forwards than the 29-year-old's striking prowess.

    It is, of course, worth acknowledging that Morata has a decent ratio for Spain, scoring 27 times in 57 appearances.

    At club level, though, Morata has often struggled. Indeed, the spectacular Chelsea flop has failed to score 12 league goals or more since netting 15 for Real Madrid back in 2016-17, which earned him his ill-fated move to Stamford Bridge.

    But who knows what might happen at the World Cup?

    The Atletico Madrid attacker has admitted himself that he has struggled mentally at times with the pressure of playing top-flight football.

    With Luis Enrique's continued support, maybe the much-maligned Morata will silence his critics in Qatar.

  • Paul Pogba 2022-23

    Paul Pogba

    Paul Pogba has admitted that the past three years have not gone as he would have liked, which smacks of a massive understatement.

    Manchester United fans were ecstatic when the Frenchman returned to Old Trafford from Juventus in 2016, but they were even happier when he left during the summer.

    Pogba occasionally showcased his undoubted gifts during his six-year stay but, by the end, he was more active on social media than the football pitch.

    Pogba's defenders will point to his performances for France as evidence of his class. He's a World Cup winner after all, and has a wonderful array of skills.

    And yet it's telling that when he left United on a free this summer, there was no clamour for his services among Europe's elite, and the increasingly injury-prone midfielder instead ended up back at a Juve side going through a difficult period of transition.