With the the majority of Europe's top leagues drawing to a close, football fans around the world are set to experience a massive hole in their schedules over the next few months - a gaping chasm that no amount of friendlies and exhibition matches will be able to fill. Without the weekly excitement of the best clubs in Britain doing battle, contesting points and engaging in a series of psychological and physical clashes, many see the off-season as a point of disinterest, something that is becoming increasingly about unimportant tournaments and meaningless matches hyped by excessive money.
Take a less cynical view, however, and the intrigue, spectacle and potential are boundless. Giving us time to take a look at some of the best players from outside our primary interests, players who normally would not get much attention suddenly have the chance to break the mould, grab the headlines and capture our imaginations. Club friendlies from all over the world will offer us plenty of opportunities to see some fringe players at some of the biggest clubs gain some much-needed experience and time to shine in the limelight and on the pitch, where they belong.
With that, we've decided to run though some of the most underrated players we'd love to see in the Premier League. Including performers who have had little opportunity to play over the last few months as well as those who have received little or no media coverage in contrast to some of the bigger stars, we've attempted to compile only the best of the rest. Knowing that there will be plenty of games to feature in the coming months, expect to see lots of transfer speculation linking rising stars to some of Britain's most-loved clubs. But just who will make our list?
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15 Richie Towell (Dundalk)
With nine goals to his name already, Richie Towell is already the League of Ireland's best player and top scorer, having helped Dundalk reach the summit of the Premier Division with his exquisite play. Committing to the Lilywhites for the 2015 season, the 23-year-old clearly has his sights set on helping his team retain the title they fought so hard to win last year as he scored 15 goals in all competitions.
Nevertheless, the ex-Celtic star has the skill set to make it outside the Emerald Isle and the Premier League would be his ideal destination. Having recently had a trial with Cardiff City just a few months ago it's clear the interest from abroad is there.
14 Franco Vazquez (Palermo)
Signed from Belgrano back in 2012 for the princely sum of around €4.5 million, the Palermo attacking midfielder has since established himself as a regular starter, and with seven goals and nine assists to his name in the Italian Serie A this season, the 26-year-old has undoubtedly been one of the league's brightest stars from clubs outside the top four.
That said, his contributions have been greatly overshadowed by the coverage fellow team-mate Paulo Dybala has received in the media. An equally good footballer, Vazquez has not been linked with a move away as heavily, but it's clear he certainly deserves a transfer to a top club. Because although the real litmus test won't come until he does secure a transfer, his skills should stand up to it if he does.
13 Nolito (Celta de Vigo)
Sure, the 28-year-old star who plies his trade with Celta de Vigo in La Liga might well have been linked with a move to the Premier League's Everton in the past, but interest in his services really ought to be a lot higher. Statistically speaking, the ex-Benfica man has been one of the most impressive of the season.
Featuring ahead of Karim Benzema, James Rodriguez, Luis Suarez, Koke and several other top names in the league's assist charts, he has shone brighter than some of the best-paid players in world football. Add this to his ability to net nine goals as well as the capacity to become a real leader for his team-mates and he would become a terrific addition to a number of clubs who might otherwise struggle to create goals in the English top flight next campaign.
12 Rubio Rubin (Utrecht)
At 19 years of age, the USMNT star is currently plying his trade with Utrecht in the Dutch Eredivisie, and he's been playing some rather good stuff of late since he signed for them. With a handful of assists (five) to his name in the league, the starlet has made a decent impact since he joined.
With the guts of his four-year contract let to run, he should see his attributes embellished and improved upon as he continues to get regular game-time. No doubt, Jurgen Klinsmann will be hopeful of that, too. Although he has a good bit to run on his current deal, the end of next season could see him prised away for a couple of million - going to the likes of Southampton (renowned for their capacity to nurture young talent) or, indeed, a struggling side like Everton could see him feature regularly and continue to grow.
11 Hakim Ziyech (FC Twente)
Vying to finish at the top of the Eredivisie assists chart, 22-year-old Hakim Ziyech has been an absolute revelation ever since joining from FC Heerenveen. Normally a midfielder, his love for netting deadly accurate free-kicks - like the impressive one he scored against Feyenoord back in 2014 - has seen him grab a few headlines, but interest from the Premier League has been sparse. And it's been a head-scratcher trying to figure out exactly why.
Thinking on it, the Dronten-born playmaker would not be out of his depth in the Premier League. With pace, a tremendous dead-ball skill and confidence in himself sky-high, he'll be looking to slot in somewhere special. Indeed, with some of the country's big clubs like Liverpool, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur all continuing to go through a period of reformation, don't be surprised to see some of them come calling.
10 Benik Afobe (Wolverhampton Wanderers)
Following a series of loan spells with Bolton Wanderers and MK Dons, Wolverhampton Wanderers eventually signed the ex-Arsenal man on a three-and-a-half year contract. Pretty much everywhere the 22-year-old has gone, he has had the Midas touch, and although he has possessed it in the lower leagues, his rate of rattling the net has always been impressive and incredibly eye-catching.
With more goals than Harry Kane in all competitions, the Wolves star already has some tremendous experience of English football and is well used to the rigours of its style, so don't be surprised to see the Gunners come calling for their youth product in the near future - he could just be the striker they crave.
9 Shinji Okazaki (FSV Mainz)
Over the past few seasons, there has not been a huge amount of fuss made over Shinji Okazaki. That said, the tide of public opinion is slowly but surely starting to turn as the 25-year-old continues to churn out some fantastic displays in the German Bundesliga.
Despite the fact that Japanese footballers tend, traditionally, to not have much success in England, Okazaki looks as though he might have the skill set to banish that perception. Having become the most prolific Japanese goalscorer in Bundesliga history, he's clearly good enough to nab goals in a top league - will we see him wow crowds in Britain, too?
8 Julian Green (Hamburg)
Not given enough playing time, 19-year-old loanee Julian Green has been neglected and shunned since he made the move to Germany, and it's a shame to see such an innately talented midfielder waste his potential on the sidelines. Demoted to the reserves team after a public falling out, he has only featured a few times for the senior side.
However, talk of a loan move to the Premier League in recent months, fuelled by comments made by Karl-Heinz Rummenigge have set many clubs on red alert. Memorably, Green scored for his national team at the World Cup as Jurgen Klinsmann's charges lost 2-1 to Belgium in Brazil, something that certainly hints at his ability to shine on the big stage. But who will take the gamble?
7 Tommy Oar (Utrecht)
Yet another underestimated Utrecht star to make the cut is Australian international Tommy Oar. Still only 23 years of age, the youngster, who had a terrific time at the World Cup, could well be poised to move on from a team he has worked wonders for.
In truth, he has never hidden his desire to one day play in the Premier League. Indeed, his own words earlier this year really tell us all there is to know about his next step: "It was always my dream to play in England or Germany where it's really physical and direct. Coming here was a development step and in the back of my head I always wanted to play in one of those competitions."
6 Domenico Berardi (Sassuolo)
One of the youngest players to feature on our list is Domenico Berardi, a pacey attacker who has shown great signs of promise in his formative Serie A seasons, but has remained on the fridges of the top clubs' radars nonetheless. Initially catching the public's eye towards the beginning of 2014 at the Citta del Tricolore, the then 19-year-old sensation bagged four goals against AC Milan in a remarkable performance as he became the second-youngest player ever to score that many goals in Italy's top flight.
Since then, a battle triggered by part-ownership has ensued, but Berardi has recently been linked with a move to Arsenal - so a meeting with English shores beckons as his ownership debacle looks to have finally found a resolution. Between goals and assists, he has nearly 20 to his name in the Italian league in the 2014/15 season, meaning he is one of the most creative players in the division - something that should excite Gunners fans no end.
5 Marek Hamsik (Napoli)
As surprised as some of you might be that Napoli playmaker Marek Hamsik has been included here, it's almost irrefutable just how underrated a player he is when you look at the facts. Last season, in the league, between assists and finishes, he contributed to 12 goals whereas this season he has already bettered that with 13. Suffice to say, his contributions have been severely diminished in the public's eye, and it's easy to see why.
Alongside Edinson Cavani and Ezequiel Lavezzi, he formed a formidable attacking trident that worked wonders. Now that those two have departed the Partenopoei, he has been left to fend for himself and his performances have lacked impressive familiarity (despite improved personal results). Continuing to fight hard, though, he has played a major role in Napoli's surge towards a possible Europa League triumph. Simply put, a move to the Premier League, although unlikely, would be a massive coup for just about anyone - and the way Manchester City have ended the domestic campaign, it's easy to see why he might be the underrated genius they need.
4 Yacine Brahimi (Porto)
Lighting up this season's Champions League for Porto has been 25-year-old Algerian international Yacine Brahimi. Playing a key role in their run to the quarter-finals of Europe's elite club competition, he did his utmost to prolong the dream that the Portuguese club could go all the way again - alas, Bayern Munich got in their way.
Netting five times as well as recording three assists along the way, he has also scored numerous goals in the Primeira Liga to ensure his contributions have made a difference in what's been a fantastic season for the club. That said, despite these heroics as well as those he carried out at the World Cup, Premier League clubs have not yet stumped up the cash for him, a sure sign his clear talents have been undervalued for far too long. Perhaps this summer a previously interested party, like Tottenham Hotspur, will finally make their move.
3 Stefan Kiessling (Bayer Leverkusen)
He might be 31 years of age, but Stefan Kiessling has all the hallmarks of being the Premier League's next best striker. Far from the easiest league for ageing stars to make their mark, it has seen certain players such as Rickie Lambert, Graziano Pelle and others come into their own with some fantastic performances - could Kiessling be next?
Sure, eight goals and four assists in the Bundesliga might not be the most prolific of returns, but the hard-working forward has been involved in over 20 of his club's goals already this season - a real sign that he always does his best for the team regardless of the competition. But how is he underrated? He hasn't been valued as highly in terms of transfer fees as Borussia Dortmund's Robert Lewandowski was and it's more than a bit puzzling trying to figure out exactly why.
2 Luiz Adriano (Shakhtar Donetsk)
He might well be in contention to take home the Champions League golden boot this season, but the 28-year-old from Porto Alegre, Brazil has not been as highly-thought of as that achievement suggests he should be. The reason? All nine goals arrived in the short space of just three group stage encounters as he struggled to find another once the Ukrainian outfit had wriggled their way into the knock-out phase.
No doubt, some of the big Premier League clubs will feel hesitant to throw down any money on him yet, but both Arsenal and Liverpool have already expressed an interest in bringing him aboard. Nevertheless, he's closing in on double figures in the Ukrainian Premier League this season and should really have been given a chance by one of the EPL's big guns a few seasons ago when he had fresh legs and more pace - two elements necessary to survival in England.
1 Jonathan Soriano (Red Bull Salzburg)
Far and away the Austrian Bundesliga's top scorer this season with nearly 30 strikes, he has scored more league goals than Harry Kane, Sergio Aguero, Diego Costa, and Carlos Tevez, but the 29-year-old still finds himself unable to secure a move to England's top flight.
Scoring for fun, the striker has been one of the most prolific in Europe for the past 12 months, but many remain unconvinced by is knack for goalscoring due to the fact he plays in a league that is widely regarded as weak. Nevertheless, confidence is something that can be replicated in pretty much any league and it's something he possesses in spades. This summer could see the towering forward finally secure a transfer, but as he's one of the most underrated players in the game, it could well be a last-minute deal.
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