FourFourTwo's water-carrying XI: 11 quietly-brilliant stars who never really got the credit they deserved

Crispin Andrews
Its the flamboyant stars who hog the headlines, but as Eric Cantona pointed out with reference to Didier Deschamps, every side needs its share of dependable professionals

Colin Boulton (GK)

Boulton was the only man to play in all of Derby's league matches during their two title-winning campaigns in 1971/72 and 1974/75 – but you never hear his name mentioned. Bruce Rioch, Colin Todd, Kevin Hector and Alan Hinton took most of the plaudits on the pitch, while managers Brian Clough and Dave Mackay received plenty of praise off it.

Without Boulton, though, neither triumph would have been possible: the Cheltenham-born custodian, who was only 5ft 11in, kept 23 clean sheets in the Rams' first success.

Colin Boulton

Kevin Grosskreutz (RB)

Before he was involved in a fight outside a bar and sacked by Stuttgart, Grosskreutz was Jurgen Klopp’s go-to man in a crisis at Borussia Dortmund. Whenever the likes of Marco Reus, Mario Gotze or Jakob Blasczykowski were injured, the current Liverpool boss would turn to the utility man, who almost always put in a sterling – if unspectacular – shift as a full-back or wide midfielder.

When Klopp had a fully-fit squad of players to choose from, Grosskreutz was regularly deployed as a second-half substitute to help shut games down.

Kevin Grosskreutz

Javier Mascherano (CB)

Without Javier Mascherano in their side, Barcelona lost 4-0 to PSG last month. The Argentine was back in the fold for the return leg, though, and provided his team with the defensive security that allowed them to make history with a 6-1 triumph.

Lionel Messi may have won the Golden Boot at the 2014 World Cup, but there were plenty of folk arguing that he wasn't even Argentina's best player in Brazil. Mascherano was superb in helping the Albiceleste to the final, putting out fires right across the pitch in almost every game his side contested.

He's not always first choice at Barça these days, but he's never been anything less than solid and reliable throughout his career – whether that's at centre-back, full-back or in the engine room.

Miodrag Belodedici (CB)

When a team has one superstar and wants to compete with the best, the 10 other players usually end up having to work their socks off. That was the case with Romania in the 1990s; after all, no one was ever going to convince Gheorghe Hagi to work back or defend from the front.

Romania's gameplan revolved around sitting deep and absorbing pressure, before giving the ball to Hagi as soon as possession changed hands. In a sense, everyone in this Romanian team carried Hagi's water for him: speedy widemen Dan Petrescu and Daniel Munteanu shuttled up and down the flanks, Ilie Dumitrescu sprung many of their counter-attacks, and hard-running striker Florin Raducioiu worked tirelessly up top.

It all started at the back with Belodedici, though, the intelligent and classy sweeper holding everything together. Romania beat Colombia and Argentina on the way to the quarter-finals of the 1994 World Cup, with the libero an integral part of their success.

Alan Kennedy (LB)

It’s all the more memorable when the unsung hero has his moment in the sun. Kennedy was in the all-conquering Liverpool team of the late 1970s and early 1980s, but Alan Hansen, Phil Thompson, Mark Lawrenson and Phil Neal were stars that shone brighter. Mick Mills and then Kenny Sansom kept Kennedy out of the England side, meanwhile, but the left-back played 251 times for Liverpool between 1978 and 1986, and won 14 major honours.

And who could forget that moment in the Parc des Princes, in May 1981? Kennedy received a throw-in from namesake Ray on his chest, burst into the Real Madrid box and fired Liverpool to their third European Cup triumph. Nicely done.

 

Alan Ball (RM)

Geoff Hurst scored a hat-trick in 1966, and Martin Peters notched another. Nobby Stiles was a terrier in the middle and the Bobbys, Moore and Charlton, provided grace and poise at both ends of the pitch.

It might come as a surprise, then, that when Sky Sports pundits analysed England's 1966 World Cup final defeat of West Germany last summer, Ball was chosen as man of the match. The Three Lions' youngest player on the pitch created six chances – including the assist for Hurst's controversial second goal – played 49 successful passes, won five free-kicks and attempted two shots. The 21-year-old started on the right of mdifield, but tucked into central positions and even popped up on the other flank when necessary.

"Ask any of the players that day who was their man of the match and they would all say Bally," Hurst later asserted. Enough said.

Alan Ball

Guti (CM)

A team full of galacticos needs a water carrier more than most, and when Real Madrid tried to squeeze Zinedine Zidane, Raul, David Beckham Luis Figo, Ronaldo and Roberto Carlos into the same starting XI, Guti became even more important.

The midfielder was shuffled around the side depending on the fitness of others, but he never kicked up a fuss and continued to perform in a multitude of roles. The Spaniard most often played at the base of midfield, particularly after Claude Makelele was sold to Chelsea ("Why put another layer of gold paint on the Bentley when you are losing the entire engine?" Zidane famously quipped after the sale), and ended his career with almost 550 Madrid appearances. The stars came and went at the Bernabeu, and Guti outlasted them all. 

Steve McManaman (CM)

It’s not often that a player is the star man at one club and the water carrier at another, but that’s what happened to McManaman when he joined Real Madrid.

Liverpool looked to make the most of his creative talents in Roy Evans' 3-5-2 formation, but in Spain the same player was labelled the 'postman' because he liked to carry the ball long distances before passing it on to one of his team's bigger names.

In order to survive when Madrid signed Zidane and Figo in the early 2000s, McManaman reinvented himself as a hard-working central midfielder who could deputise in other areas of the pitch if needed.

Steve McManaman

Sergio Batista (CM)

When Argentina won the 1986 World Cup, Jorge(s) Valdano and Burruchaga were a constant threat up front, Oscar Ruggeri was a rock at the back and Diego Maradona was... well, Diego Maradona.

But holding everything together was Batista, a defensive midfielder who was only 23 years old when called up for the finals. The Argentinos Junior anchorman went on to play every game, impressing with his sense of anticipation and a fine range of passing.

Sergio Batista

Marc Albrighton (LM) 

When Leicester won the league in 2015/16, everyone wondered whether N'Golo Kante, Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy would be snapped up by the big boys. Danny Drinkwater was called up by England, meanwhile, and a back four led by Wes Morgan and Robert Huth was lauded far and wide.

Albrighton's contributions were somewhat overlooked, however. The former Aston Villa man had enjoyed a superb campaign, working hard on the left flank and posing a real threat with his crossing ability. Claudio Ranieri insisted that he embodied the spirit of his Leicester side due to his sense of sacrifice, and it was pleasing to see him make the headlines after his recent strike against Sevilla.

Dirk Kuyt (FW)

When Liverpool bought Dirk Kuyt from Feyenoord in 2006, they thought they had the next world-class Dutch striker on their hands. Kuyt, after all, had scored 71 goals in 101 games for the Rotterdam outfit, and seemed to have all the attributes needed to take Liverpool to the next level.

It soon became clear that he lacked the sharpness of top-drawer centre-forwards, though, and Kuyt duly managed only 12 goals in his debut campaign at Anfield. That prompted Rafa Benitez to move him out wide, where he became a willing workhorse in support of Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard.

Kuyt still chipped in with goals, most memorably in the 2007 Champions League and 2012 League Cup finals, while he was Liverpool's top scorer with 15 strikes in 2011. The Dutchman took water-carrying to another level at the 2014 World Cup, though: having made his first national team apperance as a striker, Kuyt ended up playing as a wing-back under Louis van Gaal in Brazil, as his tireless running and positional discipline gave Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder the freedom to excel. We'll drink to that.

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