Specialist position

Once upon a time being a utility player/a versatile player was seen as a player having a special quality, a gem of a player. If you’re a player for Manchester City for example or of any club in the modern game, then part and parcel of your day job is to be able to play anywhere across the pitch.

Tongue and cheek of course, but for what was once a black-and-white issue in the football world isn’t so much these days, that arguably is due to the tweaking of formations as well.

If a player was a right-back for example, then that would be his position, but in the modern game due to tactics and other factors, it’s not uncommon for the centre-back to play as a full-back or vice versa.

Manchester City seems to be the most obvious example of this. Erling Haaland who was signed from Borussia Dortmund by Man City was deployed behind the lone forward that was Jack Grealish.

To keep the example City related, central midfielder Fabian Delph was deployed for a near full season at full-back for The Cityzens in a title-winning campaign.

Cross-city rivals Manchester United did this with Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young too, which were both to good effect. Not their specialist positions, but a testament to both of the players and Delph too for making a change of position seamless.

Before opening my laptop and firing it on, I, Ayyaz Malik thought I would tackle this issue from one angle, but the more I delve into this, I find this quite amazing that although players can play their whole lives in one position, there will be times they get played in another.

With the previous examples, I have pointed to when a player playing in a different position is a success, but I also want to talk about the times when it arguably hasn’t worked.

One of Manchester City’s best players offensively, Bernardo Silva was deployed as a left-back in a league game, to near detrimental effect.

Guardiola being the tinker man of the modern era, was able to rectify the issue and this decision enabled Silva to go back to his more attacking position, and he changed the game.

Let’s not forget to mention the time when David James, a goalkeeper played as a striker. There have been many examples of when goalies at youth level have been able to develop skills and become outfield players and vice versa.

Peter Schmeichel is one famous example of this. Even current Manchester United star Marcus Rashford too.

Even the great Sir Alex Ferguson had to play players out of position. Famously due to Man United’s chronic injury list at the time, Rio Ferdinand played as a holding midfielder against Blackburn, a game which The Red Devils lost 2-0.

Again Sir Alex had to do something similar, this time with Michael Carrick. The defensive midfielder was deployed as a centre-back due to United’s crippling injury crisis. Just like with the Rio experiment, it didn’t work and Carrick was badly exposed in a 3-0 defeat to Fulham.

There have been occasions where an experiment of this kind has worked. The experiment of putting a central midfielder into defence. That was of course done by Liverpool, who like United all those years ago, had to play players out of position.

For Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, he almost stumbled upon a good partnership in the centre of defence. Club captain Jordan Henderson and Fabino, who used to be a right-back in his Monaco days, proved to be a match made in heaven.

Talking of Fabino, he is of a list of three players that I can think of who were once right-back but would end up as holding midfielders later on in their career.

Joshua Kimmich and Bayern Munich legend Phillip Lahm were the other two examples. With the example of both men, it’s like they have played in this position their whole life.

Football players changing position from the outside looking in, will have many thinking they get paid shed loads of money, and if I got told to play in a position I wouldn’t usually play in, I would do so without a bat of an eyelid.

How I understand this is that playing in your designated position means you need certain disciplines that the position requires. For example, as a centre-half, it’s the understanding you would need with your defensive partner who would mark the striker/strikers.

Upon further reflection, more players have played in different positions for the betterment of the team and it’s not been better for them. Wayne Rooney is the prime example, of one of the most selfless footballers.

Rooney is of course a record goalscorer for England (only just) and for Manchester United too. Wazza, played across the front line and even in midfield, which helped the team massively, but was detrimental to the team that was missing out on his attacking skills.

France striker Antoine Griezmann was another. The Atletico man who starred for his country in Euro 2016 and was the top scorer in the tournament, in Qatar 2022, played as a holding midfielder.

Alongside Adel Rabiot, someone who’s more specialised in the role, former Sociedad forward Griezmann was superb in the role. Just like Man United missed out on Rooney’s attacking benefits, no doubt France missed out on Griezmann’s attacking skills.

It’s amazing the dedication that some players have to adapt to a different role for the betterment of the team. Then you have the Paul Pogba debate. Former Manchester United midfielder Pogba arguably wasn’t played in his normal position, the one he plays for when he is with France.

Modern-day football has brought in a new position, the false nine, and I argue that this is due to the chronic shortage of world-class strikers.

Everton, it can be argued are the latest club to deploy the tactic as Demari Gray who was their deployed forward against Nottingham Forest is a winger by trade.

Players changing positions or playing in a different position can work as a masterstroke in some cases and a disaster stroke in others. The managers’ challenge is to work out who is the best player for the best position at the best time of the game.

Let’s pay a tribute to football managers, they are some examples of great footballing minds operating out there.

Hey! You can use my code DWBBTHECAPTAIN at checkout to get 15% off your entire purchase at Daniel Wellington! danielwellington.com

Here at the-sports-buff.com, we have enjoyed serving you the readers. Thank you for your support and your feedback. We are aiming to grow, and we need your help.

We please need your support as we look to grow and improve our site. With as little or as much as you can do to our site to grow, so it be one of the pioneers of sports that we know it can be, we appreciate if you can donate, as much or as little as you can. With your donation, we are determined to donate part of it to a local sports community centre.

Nothing is quite as powerful as sport is. Thank you.


Make a one-time donation

Make a monthly donation

Make a yearly donation

Choose an amount


Or enter a custom amount


Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

DonateDonate monthlyDonate yearly

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: