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Off the Crossbar: Ivan Perišić could be the most underrated player of the decade

Stay with me now. I promise you I have my reasons.

Paris Saint-Germain v Bayern Munich - UEFA Champions League Final Photo by M. Donato/FC Bayern via Getty Images

The last decade of football has seen many changes. Empires falling and crumbling.

There will be players that are looked back upon as the most influential of the decade. Of course the popular list will be extremely biased towards those who played alongside Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, but nevertheless stories not centered around these two must slip through the cracks eventually, if ever.

A common opinion among football fans that has seen popular coverage in the last year or so is that Thomas Müller is one of if not the most underrated player in world football. But the fact that everyone agrees Müller is underrated violates the very concept of being underrated.

However, there is one player I feel is truly underrated for his contribution to football this last decade. One of the most consistent players I’ve ever watched play, and with a more than impressive trophy cabinet. You’ve seen the title of this article, you know who it is.

Ivan Perišić.

Note: This article was written and approved before the announcement that Tottenham Hotspur had signed Ivan Perišić.

First Contact

Beginning his career in Croatia with HNK Hajduk Split’s youth academy, he would soon move to FC Sochaux in Ligue 1 in 2006. After spending two years in the B team, he would move to KSV Roeselare in Belgium on loan, where he would score 8 times and assist twice in 20 games. The loan would only last until January, as Perišić would return to Sochaux but fail to register any minutes with the club.

FBL-FRA-L1-SOCHAUX Photo credit should read SEBASTIEN BOZON/AFP via Getty Images

Perišić would immediately return to the Jupiler Pro League as Club Brugge would pick him up for €200k. In his debut season for Brugge, Perišić would pick up a fantastic 13 goals and 13 assists in 43 games, at the rate of a goal contribution every 136 minutes.

Club Brugge ‘s Ivan Perisic (R) celebrat Photo credit should read JOHN THYS/AFP via Getty Images

Perišić’s second season would see him ascend a level. Playing 46 games, Perišić would notch an insane 22 goals and 10 assists, winning the Jupiler Pro League with Club Brugge, nabbing the domestic Golden Boot award along with the Jupiler Pro League Player of the Year award.

Perišić would leave Brugge for Borussia Dortmund for a fee of €4m, a bargain in today’s market where players like Charles De Ketelaere and Noa Lang of Brugge fame are going for about ten times that price.

Germany: The First Frontier

Perišić would become an important cog of the legendary Dortmund team of the early 2010s under Jurgen Klopp, scoring 9 and assisting 6 in the 2011/12 season as Dortmund lifted the Meisterschale and DfB Pokal in a legendary double. While Perišić would not start a lot, he was a regular feature off the bench. He would average a goal contribution every 102 minutes. Perišić would drop off in form in the 2012/13 season, with Dortmund opting to sell him to Wolfsburg in the January window of 2013 for €8m. He would not immediately find his feet at Wolfsburg, only contributed 2 goals and 1 assist, averaging a contribution every 180 minutes. Dortmund themselves would slip down a notch as they would be beaten to the Bundesliga, DFB-Pokal and the Champions League by Bayern Munich.

VfR Aalen v Borussia Dortmund - DFB Cup Photo by Alex Grimm/Bongarts/Getty Images

Perišić would find his feet and become the creative heart of Wolfsburg alongside one Kevin De Bruyne in the 2013/14 season, scoring 11 and assisting 7, playing every game but one in the league. It was at this time that he would be named Croatia’s Footballer of the Year. The next season, Perišić would adapt his playstyle to become one of multiple creative outlets alongside Kevin De Bruyne, assisting 9 but scoring “only” 7. However, his playstyle had adapted to being further wide. While numbers would not support his claim to being one of the best wingers in world football, the eye test certainly would. This is when Perišić transformed from a narrow-sat winger who cuts in, into a proper wide playmaker who marauds across the left flank, linking up play excellently and pressing efficiently.

VfL Wolfsburg v Eintracht Frankfurt - Bundesliga Photo by Martin Rose/Bongarts/Getty Images

The season would be Wolfsburg at their finest, beating Bayern Munich in the DfB Pokal and subsequently in the DfB Super Cup, completing a domestic double over the course of the summer, and Perišić was a key part of it.

The Voyage to Italy

Internazionale would purchase Ivan Perišić from Wolfsburg late in the summer of 2015, acknowledging his great talent. Perišić would pay dividends with 7 goals and 6 assists in his first season in Italy, excelling especially in his link-up with Alex Telles at left-back. He would revert to a slightly more narrow role with Telles providing width, but even when reverting to a role he was no longer familiar with, Perišić was excellent.

FBL-ITA-SERIEA-INTER-PALERMO Photo credit should read GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP via Getty Images

In terms of titles, Perišić would enter a dry spell, but individually he was getting better and better as the seasons went on.

The 2016/17 season would see him score 11 and assist 9, becoming Inter’s primary creator sat behind Mauro Icardi on the left flank. He would score 11 and assist 11 in the 2017/18 season, continuing to be quietly one of the best wingers in the world.

The 2018 World Cup would see Perišić play a key role in Croatia’s magical run to the final, and although the final was heartbreaking, the fact that Croatia even made it to the final was an achievement.

Perišić’s 2018/19 season would be quieter with ‘just’ 9 goals and 8 assists, and it would see him pushed out of the team by Antonio Conte in the summer of 2019, who preferred a more rounded player on the left flank, and Perišić lacked the defensive qualities according to him. Internazionale’s upper management knew better however, and elected to loan him out instead of selling him outright. They would loan him to a certain club in Germany. A certain Bayern Munich.

The Wrath of Hansi

Paris Saint-Germain v Bayern Munich - UEFA Champions League Final Photo by Michael Regan - UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images

It was not the most glamorous season for Perišić individually. 8 goals and 10 assists is not the best return of his career, but it was an elite return nonetheless — the kind he had gotten used to, a testament to his quality and consistency. Most of his appearances were off the bench, but he managed to still contribute with key goals. Under Hansi Flick especially, Perišić would compete with Kingsley Coman for a spot on the left flank, averaging a goal contribution every 97 minutes. Perišić would win the Bundesliga, Champions League and DFB-Pokal in a historic treble (he would not be present for the UEFA Super Cup, DFL Supercup or Club World Cup to complete the sextuple as these trophies were won after the transfer window of 2020). Perišić cemented his place as a world class winger and even changed Antonio Conte’s mind about him when he returned.

The Search for Scudetto

Ivan Perisic of FC Internazionale kisses the Scudetto trophy... Photo by Nicolò Campo/LightRocket via Getty Images

Perišić would return to Inter in the summer of 2020 to the chagrin of much of the Bayern Munich fanbase who had hoped the deal would become permanent (including me as I had been a fan of him for as long as I could remember). Antonio Conte was still unsure if he would utilise him but in the end he would, and while Perišić would not seem as mercurial with a return of 5 goals and 5 assists, his role had now changed to being a left wing-back in a back three. With new defensive duties, even 8 goal contributions across the season was a more than satisfactory return for the Nerazzuri. Inter would go on to lift the Scudetto and Supercoppa Italia, ending a nine-year streak set by Juventus, and Perišić was a key member of the squad. This season he has continued to play at left wing back in a back three system under Simone Inzaghi, but has now combined defensive solidity with the attacking brilliance that marked the earlier years of his career, scoring 10 and assisting 9. Inter would unfortunately not go far in Europe and would lose the league on the last matchday, but would win the Coppa Italia (Perišić being man of the match in the final scoring a brace in extra time) and Perišić would cement his place as the most important player in the team, providing cover all across the left flank and allowing the other players to focus on pockets in the middle, such as Hakan Çalhanoğlu who has flourished using spaces opened up by the movements of Perišić and Edin Džeko.

Ivan Perišić now has reached a crossroads in his career. He could accept the extension offered to him by Internazionale, or he could move to the Premier League where he has multiple offers waiting for him, including Chelsea FC or even a reunion with Antonio Conte at Tottenham Hotspur. Wherever he goes, I know for sure that I’ll be watching him closely, as he is one of my favourite players of all time.

The final tally?
139 goals and 108 assists in 550 games
2 Bundesliga titles with different teams
1 Champions League title
3 DfB Pokals — with 3 different teams
1 DfB Super Cup
1 Serie A title
1 Coppa Italia title
1 Supercoppa Italia title
2014 Croatia Footballer of the Year
1 Jupiler Pro League Player of the Year award
1 Jupiler Pro League top scorer award

Am I crazy or am I crazy for thinking Ivan Perišić is the most underrated player of this decade? What do you guys think? Let us know in the discussion below.

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