The Most Overrated Soccer Stars Of All-Time

Profile Picture: Jason Ence

January 31st, 2021

The term “overrated” gets thrown around constantly in sports. However, some players are truly worthy of the moniker. Whether by being overvalued for the number of trophy-winning teams they were a part of, the spectacular moments they produce that overshadow their periods of mediocrity, or how time skews the way we remember them, these five players are the most overrated soccer stars of all-time.

5. Hulk

We start with one of the best names in the history of the game, even if he hasn’t lived up to it.

The Brazilian forward Givanildo Vieira de Souza, known to most as Hulk, broke onto the scene with FC Porto as he helped them win the 2010-11 Europa League. However, he did so on a team that also featured James Rodriguez and Radamel Falcao, falsely elevating his stock.

In 2012, Porto sold the forward to Zenit Saint Petersburg, with the Russian league side paying more than 60 million Euros to bring him over. After four underwhelming seasons, he was sold again to Chinese side Shanghai SIPG for 58.6 million Euros, where he scored just once per two matches in a fairly low-level league. Just this week, Hulk signed a deal to play in Brazil on a free transfer.

He also failed to produce as expected on the international level, scoring just 11 goals in 47 matches for the Brazilian national team.

Hulk’s level of fame was elevated by his brilliant long-range goals, of which he has scored many. However, the brilliance of the ones he scored often blinded fans to the lack of quality he often produced, especially when compared to how much he cost.

4. Mario Balotelli

Much of the hype for Mario Balotelli was created in his own mind, which eventually led to his downfall. Balotelli possessed amazing talent, breaking onto the scene with Inter Milan in 2007. The exciting young forward clashed with manager Jose Mourinho, however, due to his immaturity and behavioral issues.

He was transferred to Manchester City in 2010, where he helped them win the 2012 Premier League title, even assisting the title-winning goal in the final moments of the season. Yet again, his behavior and off-field antics, including setting fire to his home by playing with fireworks inside, led to him falling out with the club.

Since leaving City in 2013, Balotelli has played for six different clubs, and is now playing for a team in Italy’s second division. He has scored more than fifteen goals in a season just once, and the way he is remembered is often elevated by his antics than by how his actual play was.

While Balotelli truly possessed talent, he was in no way the level of player that people romantically remember him to be.

3. Hidetoshi Nakata

Considered by many to be the greatest Japanese player of all-time, Hidetoshi Nakata was nowhere near the player many seem to remember him to be. One of 100 “icons” in the FIFA video game, Nakata’s rise to fame coincided with the rise of the internet. He refused to give interviews, instead directing people to his website, which strengthened his relationship with Japanese fans.

He moved to Roma in a big money move in 2000, and helped them win the Serie A title in 2001. However, “helped” is the perfect way to describe his contribution, as he played no more than 15 matches in either of his two seasons with the club. Even when he moved to Parma and Fiorentina afterwards, he was never a full-time starter despite neither club being very good.

Nakata scored just 52 goals in 365 matches for club and country, and after leading Japan to the 2006 World Cup, he retired at age 29.

While a very good player, his multiple large transfer fees and inability to maintain a starting role upon moving to Europe prove that he was simply not the player people remember him to be.

2. Sergio Busquets

A key player at the base of the Barcelona midfield for years, Sergio Busquets was lauded by some as “one of the greatest central defensive midfielders of all-time” during his prime. However, that is simply not true.

Busquets had the luxury of playing with some of the greatest midfielders to ever lace up their boots, with Iniesta and Xavi being in front of him for years. He also enjoyed the protection of some amazing central defenders behind him in Gerard Pique and Carlos Puyol.

Busquets has also been considered a dirty player for years, not for how he tackles, but for his blatant play-acting, diving, and consistent whining to referees. The most famous incident of this, of course, was the “peek-a-Busquets” incident in the 2010 Champions League tie with Inter Milan, where he was caught peeking at the referee as he “writhed” in pain, resulting in Thiago Motta’s sending off.

Is Busquets a good player? Without question. Is he the best CDM to ever play? He isn’t even in the conversation.

1. Pele

You’re probably thinking, “Wait, how can one of the players mentioned as the greatest of all-time be the most overrated player?” Well, there are a number of reasons.

First, Pele never played against the best players in the world on a regular basis, as he played nearly all of his club soccer in Brazil before finishing his career with the New York Cosmos. The defenders he faced in these leagues where nowhere near the caliber of those playing today.

Then there is his goal-scoring tally, which many point to as being 1,283 goals in 1,363 matches. However, when accounting for the fact that over 500 of those goals were scored in unofficial friendlies, which are typically not counted in a player’s goal numbers, he actually scored just 767 goals in 831 official matches. These matches included playing for the Brazilian military teams while serving, and during international tours.

Finally, we have to look at his three World Cup titles. While he was undoubtedly a terrific player, showing the world his prowess in the 1958 World Cup as he set multiple records – including the youngest player to score a hat trick – he was injured in Brazil’s second match in 1962 and missed the rest of the tournament as Brazil won without him.

In 1966, when Pele was in his prime, Brazil failed to reach the knockout stage. Brazil’s 1970 World Cup win saw him score just four of their 18 goals, second-most on the squad, and he was less important to their effort than dynamic attackers Jairzinho and Rivellino. In fact, when Brazilians who saw both play were asked who was the better player, many have said Jairzinho was better than Pele.

Pele was a brilliant footballer, a dynamic attacker, and one of the most exciting to ever play the game. However, the inflation of both his career statistics and of his importance to Brazil’s three World Cup winning teams lands him at the top of our list of most overrated players of all-time.