The ever-changing and innovative world of football have required of players and managers to continue to experiment with playing roles and trying out new ideas in positions and styles of play. Multiple players at different levels have undertaken positional changes, for a myriad of reasons, which may include the team’s tactical construction, combat strength of oppositions, bringing the best out of a player at the team’s disposal and achieving varied levels of success.
Players sometimes reveal positions they played as children and some even in their formative days as professional footballers and most times these roles are total opposites of the roles in which they have made a name for themselves. Gianluigi Buffon, for instance, is one of the best goalkeepers in footballing history and he started out as a defender.
In this piece, we look at 5 players who have gone on to enjoy great success in new positions they tried out for their team.
- Gareth Bale – Tottenham (From LB to RW)
Spurs acquired the dynamic full-back from Southampton in the summer of 2006 following his impressive debut campaign at St. Mary's at the age of 17. The Welsh international struggled with his difficult transition to the Premier League, going 24 games without a win.
Ironically, it was an injury that transformed Bale into the ravaging giant whose name puts defenders across the globe in fear. He underwent knee surgery in 2009, which resulted in a protracted break. Benoit Assou-Ekotto was then given the opportunity to excel as the starting left-back as a result leaving Bale in limbo.
Harry Redknapp, the manager of Tottenham at the time, made a wonderful decision in response to the situation. He decided to use Bale on the left-wing. The decision quickly paid off. Bale triumphed in both his first victory as a starter against Fulham and his first league victory for Tottenham against Burnley.
- Joelinton – Newcastle United (From CF to CM)
Arriving from Hoffenheim in the summer of 2019 for a club-record £ 40 million, the Brazilian may have looked lost at St James’ Park. But all of that changed on November 30th, 2021, when Newcastle drew 1-1 with Norwich in the Premier League. Joelinton who had scored just seven goals in 87 appearances for Newcastle and had days at the club look numbered until the arrival of Eddie Howe, who has transformed the Brazilian into a midfielder.
Howe decided to move Joelinton out of the firing line and into midfield upon his arrival, and he has reaped the benefits. The Brazilian’s physical attributes also contributed to his role change. His ability to, drop in deep to protect his backline but also trying to be a presence in the final third as well has so far contributed to Newcastle’s rise.
• Vincent Kompany – Manchester City (From DM to CB)
The young Belgian manager arriving at Manchester City from Hamburg in 2008, joined as a promising defensive midfielder for a fee in the region of £ 6 million – a price tag that soon became a bargain for many, following Roberto Mancini’s decision upon his arrival in 2009 to experiment with the versatile performer at the heart of his defence.
Kompany went from strength to strength, becoming captain and leading the club to their first Premier League title in 2012. At the age of 26, Kompany was mentioned as possibly the greatest defender of the modern era in England, possessing every attribute needed to thrive and provide further success for the Citizens. Despite suffering from injuries in the later part of his career, Kompany stood out as a top performer when he took to the pitch.
• Ashley Young – Manchester United (RW to RB)
When Ashley Young signed the dotted lines for Manchester United in the summer of 2011, many United faithful thought they had just signed one of England’s most exciting wing forward. But little did they know they had signed a highly versatile fullback. His first three years saw him play as a forward for Manchester United, until the club’s pre-season tour of the USA in 2014. Coach Louis Van Gaal deployed him as a wingback so as to suit his 3-5-2 system. Young also featured as a fullback under Jose Mourinho and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Moving back to England and joining Aston Villa in July 2021, Young has since played over 51 times as a fullback for Unai Emery’s team.
• Antonio Valencia – Manchester United (From LW to RB)
In 2017, Jose Mourinho thad called Antonio Valencia the best right-back there is. “There is no better right-back in football” he told MUTV. Without Louis Van Gaal making the Ecuadorina a fullback, who knows what would have been of him.
Signed as the replacement for Cristiano Ronaldo, Valencia flourished under Sir Alex Ferguson. However, as the years went by and United added more depth in attack than defence, the former Wigan star had to fill in at right-back on occasions. Fast forward to 2014, Valencia’s strength and pace meant that he was one of the first names on the teamsheet in defence for Dutch Coach Louis Van Gaal, who, in effect, extended his time playing at Old Trafford remarkably.
• Oihan Sancet – Athletic Club (From CF to CM)
In an April 2019 1-0 victory over FC Barcelona, Sancet made his Gaizka Garitano debut. In less than four years, the 23-year-old has become a more important player than he was while playing for Coach Marcelino Toral.
A young forward who was set to succeed aging forward Raul Garcia saw his role shift with the hiring of head coach Ernesto Valverde.
Sancet, despite possessing the instinct of a natural goal scorer, can play a variety of positions making him quite adaptable for managers. The youthful player, who recently signed a contract through 2032, has now found his voice as a central midfielder under the new coach Valverde. He frequently works in a two-man pivot setup with Dani Garcia or Ander Herrera. Many believe that his current change in position is one of the nicest things that has ever happened to the San Mames side.