This is the first of three instalments featuring many of the less recognised players in world football. The names are drawn from all European/South American leagues, and there is definitely no Premier League bias here - it is itself too often a cause of players being underrated in the first place.
We start with the defenders.
Jussi Jääskeläinen (33, Finnish, Bolton Wanderers): Typing his name is already hard enough, then comes the task of believing that he's been at Bolton for 12 years now. A tremendous influence on his team and a rock at the back, without him Bolton would not be in the top flight. Better defences ahead of him would have spared him a few blushes, and a move to a bigger club should probably have materialised some time ago.
Cristian Chivu (28, Romanian, Internazionale): Operating almost anywhere across the defence and in midfield for Romania, Chivu is a rarity in that he is a utility man of extremely high calibre. Defensively solid and neat in his passing but not as flashy as his colleague Maicon. And any left-back in Italy is in the shadow of a certain Paolo Maldini.
Sylvain Distin (30, French, Portsmouth): He's certainly the best defender outside the English 'Top Four', and stands alongside Ricardo Carvalho and Nemanja Vidic as another foreign defender who makes his English partner (Sol Campbell in this case) look like twice the player he really is. Distin's still got one move left in him - and the fact that it's likely to be as a replacement for William Gallas at Arsenal(69 caps versus Distin's 0)says a lot.
Josip Šimunić (30, Croatian, Hertha Berlin): He's 6'5" and born in Australia, but why would anyone play cricket when they have the silky technique of this Croatian beast? His neat passing and ability to beat a man (usually an opposing striker!) makes the phrase "he's got a good touch for a big man" ring truer for Šimunić than for, say, Peter Crouch. His playing style is uncompromising and he epitomises the versatility we expect from Croatian players. That he hasn't been picked up by a Champions League club is surprising, but I don't think they'd know where to play the man anyway.
Wes Brown (29, English, Manchester United): England's favourite booing victim despite being what English fans seem to fetishise - hard work, modesty, loyalty to the club and respect. When has anyone ever heard of Wes Brown making trouble? He's got drive minus the negative attitude. He's won five leagues and two Champions League trophies at Old Trafford. Most fans don't rate him, but Fergie does - he's had a new contract this year and his return to what is currently an injury-racked defence is eagerly awaited. Another double for Wes? Don't discount it.
In the next instalment I look at the midfield corporals who should really be generals. Awful joke there, but you know it'll be a good read!