Like it or not, Miralem Pjanic is one of the best midfielders in Europe

Bosnians often complain that a Bosnian player has to preform twice as well to enjoy the same recognition and respect that players from Brazil, Spain, Germany, Italy and other “big” nations receive on a regular basis. Our players are valued less regardless of how good they are, we have a weak domestic league, little money, and the difficult political situation puts a strain on virtually every aspect of life, including football. This may seem like whining on our part but Bosnian fans have seen too many promising talents go down the toilet and never achieve their full potential simply because they could not attract the right interest.

Admittedly, it is getting better. Participating in the 2014 World Cup will surely help bring more attention to Bosnian talent, but right now we are still far behind most of Europe – even our Balkan neighbors such as Croatia and Serbia. Nationality can mean a lot in football in terms of value and demand.

The newest example of this appeared a few days ago when Goal.com held a poll asking readers to decide who the greatest midfielder in Europe is currently. Readers were given a choice of Arturo Vidal (Juventus), Andreas Iniesta (Barcelona), Yaya Toure (Manchester City), Bastian Schweinsteiger (Bayern Munich), and Bosnian central midfielder Miralem Pjanic (AS Roma).

What happened next was predictable. Bosnian fans and Roma fans appeared in hordes to vote for their man Pjanic and when it was all said and done, the 23 year old had comfortably won the poll with 38.5% of the vote. Coming a distant second was Arturo Vidal with 20.5% of the vote.

Many Goal.com readers rightfully dismissed the validity of the poll as they knew it was a result of patriotically motivated Bosnian trickery, but what was not justified was that many also questioned why Pjanic was even on the poll to begin with(!?). What the fuck? As if Pjanic did not deserve to even be mentioned along with the others. As if Goal.com included him by accident and someone needed to correct this grave error. One can almost picture them snobbishly scoffing or foaming at the mouth with rage at the very idea that a Bosnian kid named Pjanic may be just as good, if not better, than his Spanish, German and South American counterparts.

Do these people watch football? Do they watch Pjanic? Have they seen the kind of technical ability this kid possesses? The passes he makes? Do they know he is one of the key players for Roma who are now a title contender and have just eliminated Juventus from the Coppa Italia? Do they know Pjanic is linked with giants such as Barcelona, PSG, and Manchester United? Have they looked at the stats? I sincerely doubt it.

Stats, of course, aren’t everything, but they are a very good indicator of the effectiveness and influence of a central midfielder, and Pjanic’s stats show that he is without a doubt among the top and most balanced midfielders playing today.

(Serie A stats as of January 23, 2014)

CREATIVITY

Pjanic: created 42 chances in 19 apps
Vidal: created 39 chances in 20 apps
Toure: created 23 chances in 21 apps
Iniesta: created 22 chances in 19 apps
Schweinsteiger: created 10 chances in 9 apps

Pjanic is the clear winner here as the most creative midfielder so far this season, with Vidal being a close second. The others aren’t even close to these two.

PASSING

Schweinsteiger: 83.6 avg passes, 92.1% pass success
Toure: 73.2 avg passes, 90.7% pass success
Iniesta: 64.7 avg passes, 90.8% pass success
Pjanic: 63.4 avg passes, 88% pass success
Vidal: 47.3 avg passes, 84.1% pass success

KEY PASSES 

Pjanic: 2.3
Vidal: 2
Iniesta: 1.2
Toure: 1.1
Schweinsteiger: 0.9

It’s no surprise that the two midfielders who create the most scoring chances also have the most key passes, but also a slightly lower pass success percentage. Their lower number of average passes but higher number of chances created and key passes also show they are more efficient.

DRIBBLES

Iniesta: 2.4
Pjanic: 1.9
Toure: 1.3
Vidal: 0.5
Schweinsteiger: 0.5

GOALS/ASSISTS

Toure: 11 goals, 4 assists
Vidal: 10 goals, 5 assists
Pjanic: 3 goals, 4 assists
Iniesta: 1 goal, 2 assists
Schweinsteiger: 1 goal, 1 assist

Yaya Toure and Vidal are without a doubt the most impressive goal scorers this season, with Pjanic landing somewhere in the middle, ahead of Iniesta and Schweinsteiger. When it comes to the assists, however, Pjanic is once again among the very top – dead even with Toure and only one behind Vidal.

It is important to note that out of all of the players in the poll, Pjanic plays for the weakest club, particularly in the attacking department. Vidal and Toure are assisting finishers like Aguero, Negredo, Dzeko, and Tevez , but Roma on the other hand has no such forwards for Pjanic to pass to and many of his brilliant passes are not converted, the biggest offender being the infamously wasteful Gervinho.

The fact that Pjanic has managed to keep up with Vidal and Toure in assists, despite the lack of world class attackers on his team, is no small feat. One can imagine how many assists he would record if he was playing with top strikers.

DEFENSE

Vidal: 4.6 tackles, 1.3 interceptions
Pjanic: 2.4 tackles, 1.4 interceptions
Iniesta: 1.9 tackles, 0.6 interceptions
Schweinsteiger: 1.7 tackles, 0.8 interceptions
Toure: 1.5 tackles, 0.8 interceptions

Some will be surprised by this one. Despite his relatively small physique, Pjanic does very well defensively, putting far bigger and stronger players like Toure to shame. Only Vidal outperforms him in tackles, but not in interceptions.

Anyone who has been paying attention to the Serie A this season agrees Pjanic has been brilliant so far, and if nothing else, his performances and these stats prove that he is currently one of the best and most balanced central midfielders in Europe. He certainly deserves to be on the poll. He can dictate the match much like Xavi, score and assist goals, he’s a great dribbler, a hard worker defensively, and a set piece specialist who is dangerous from any distance.

What’s downright frightening is that he is only 23 years old. Vidal is 26, Iniesta and Schweinsteiger are 29, and Toure is 30. Pjanic is still growing, still improving, and still gaining experience. The others, with the possible exception of Vidal, will never be any better than they are now.

Maybe Pjanic did not deserve to win the poll, but he certainly deserved to be a candidate and those who scoff at his inclusion should honestly ask themselves what about him they deem so unworthy – his performances, or his nationality?

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