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Versatility is crucial but can be a curse

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Jack Ross | 12:17 UK time, Monday, 8 March 2010

Good players can play in any position is one of those idealistic football theories that is very rarely proven to be correct.

Of course, players should be aware of the tactical implications and football ability required to play in different positions within a team but it is only natural that the skills and attributes they possess will restrict them to being able to playing one or two roles, or in the more versatile cases three or four.

Versatility is vital in today's SPL as teams operate with smaller budgets and consequently smaller playing squads and therefore managers will be delighted to bring those capable of filling a number of positions to their club.

There is however a downside to being one of those players labelled as versatile in that it can sometimes be more difficult to cement a permanent place in the starting eleven as you may only be seen as back up to a number of players.

What is more impressive is those players who are used in different positions from their natural or usual role, and then go on to become a regular and major success in their new position.

mcculloch595.jpgTo be able to adapt so successfully requires good football knowledge, a willingness to make changes to your game and being open-minded enough to listen to advice no matter your age or experience.

One successful example of this was all too evident to us at St Mirren on Saturday in the shape of Lee McCulloch.

His contribution of two goals was obviously vital in Rangers winning the match, but his overall performance from the centre of midfield was - as it has been all season - a big part of Rangers performance.

Lee has progressed from a striker to a wide midfielder to his current position and it speaks volumes for his capabilities as an all-round player that he has made this most recent change such a successful one.

There are several other examples that come to mind, with another Scottish international Graham Alexander being one, as he continues to influence Burnley from a deep midfield role having spent a large part of his career playing as a full back.

I must say that having done part of a coaching licence alongside Graham, and witnessed first hand how technically good he was as a player it is not a surprise that he has managed this reinvention so well.

It is worth noting that sometimes a positional change is forced upon a player through necessity rather than choice.

For a winger who has relied on their pace, the loss of speed may see them seek more central roles or a move to playing full-back, just as some full-backs who lose their ability to overlap may opt to capitalise upon their defensive capabilities and switch to centre-half.

Another factor in the reasons for players changing their preferred positions on the field is the changes in the demands of playing certain positions to what was previously required.

Full-backs are now expected to offer just as much, if not more going forward, as they are defensively.

The willingness of more teams to commit both full-backs forward at the same time has seen the creation of the sitting protective midfielder.

And the increased popularity of the use of the lone striker has been the catalyst for the increased number of players "in the hole" or just off the main attacker.

Personally, I am and probably always will be a frustrated midfielder. I played most of my early career in this area of the pitch, and while a fair percentage of my senior appearances have been as a full-back or wing-back I would still love to return to a midfield role at some point.

As things stand, having been suffering the frustration of absence through injury over the last three games, I would happily take a return to fitness in any position!


  • Comment number 1.

    great 18th reading the blog in the sunshine :))))

  • Comment number 2.

    ok - now to read your blog Robbo

  • Comment number 3.

    Hope you get fit soon Jack! Got my fingers crossed for you making your return at the final!! :D :D

  • Comment number 4.

    This could have been a very interesting article due to my lack of knowledge about the SPL. But it seemed to be a very boring article, almost just waffle.

    the article could have also drawn comparisons with successful players who had become such versatile players and those who had become cursed.

    I hope this feed back is appreciated, as I respect the author and his intentions

  • Comment number 5.

    Hello Sir

    You use Lee McCullough as your example, well... I see his story of the real reason to why players are switched about, and it is usually strikers.

    McCulloghh was a striker, always had been.However he joined Wigan, and they realised he wasn't able to score goals at Division 1 (Championship) Level. They therefore found a place for him on the wing. Still able to get forward, but now with a ready made excuse for not scoring goals. The same happened with 3 Liverpool and 3 of their more expensive flops. Heskey, Diouf and Kuyt were all signed as strikers. (Englands brightest young striking talent from leicester, The "Serial Killer" Senegalese striker El Hadji-Diouf and top eredivisie marksman Kuyt) It materialised for all of them (Barring Heskey for 2000/2001) that they were incapable of hitting the 20 goals as a centre forward as they were predicted. All subsequently appeared on the right and left wing for Liverpool prior to their inevitable departure - yes I include Kuyt in this, when Benitez goes...he will follow.

    Alan Smith is another example at Newcastle where I'm sure he still hasn't scored a league goal?? The real reason...because the club spent so much money on the player, nobody else will buy back for that amount...managers are forced to justify the signing by starting him as much as possible.Albeit in a different position, and a position that ius up for grabs.

    Alexander is an average player, but one who yes has played in a different position for poor clubs. The only viable option you may have chosen was that of Thierry Henry, who was never solely a winger at Monaco, was used there at Juventus due to the fact he wasn't scoring goals and it took the realisation of Wenger...who knew all about Henry to switch him back

  • Comment number 6.

    I find it very interesting how players are moved around the pitch.
    And as you say Jack - versatility is often a curse, with players being labelled 'a jack of all trades, and master of none.'

    Lee Mcculloch has of course played in defence as well this season, when Rangers were short of cover. There are not that many players I can think of that have played up front, in midfield, and in defence... I wonder what he's like in goal?!

    Mark Hughes is another example of a player who moved positions as his career progressed. Playing as a defensive midfielder for Chelsea when he was too old to play up top. Often big centre forwards move to defence late on in their career as they can still use their height and physicality. Flamini at Arsenal was originally a centre midfielder but ended up playing a number of games at full back before he left.

    The worst example I can think of is when injuries meant Mourinho played Essien at centre back rather than a reserve central defender - that must be a hard pill to swallow if you are the one sat on the bench!

  • Comment number 7.

    big lee has scored a few important goals this season , but i wouldn't use him as an example , i watched him playing centre half for rangers at european level and to be honest , he wasn't man of the match ..i'm being extremely kind there, you might find rangers haven't signed a player since edu and that was a few full moons ago so there's a fair chance he could get a play anywhere on the park depending on injuries .
    i thought that just being a talented player got you through a game no matter where your played on the field , some guys just look comfortable on the ball , take wayne rooney , he could play left back or right back and sometimes does just to help his defence, he has just so much energy and can track his runners anywhere on the park but the best example of versatility is gerard at liverpool . the champions league final, he started at midfield and finished at left back after extra time , energy , energy and ability.
    left back and right back are the new wingers but you certainly don't see many quality balls into the box from them , there are very few people who play football in this country who are blessed with natural ability and technically gifted , it's far too technical .
    whats the point of being technical when football is played on such poor playing surfaces and under so much pressure , all the pitches are guff , very few players express themselves now , the price of failure is too great . whats the point of being versatile when it's 1 up front , 5 in mid field and fingers crossed and a point is better than not getting beat .
    take all the spl goals last weekend , 13 goals scored , 7 were free kicks and corners , 6 were from open play and only about 2 goals were not the result of a mistake from defender or goalie . so thats the sum of our entertainment .
    being versatile in scotland doesn't mean much .

  • Comment number 8.

    The example of Lee McCulloch is not the best currently available - as one poster says his 'versatility' was forced due to his inadequacy when at Wigan. The best SPL example currently is Eggert Jonnson at Hearts who is a true example of versatility and has been tried, and not been found wanting, in every position except goalie.

  • Comment number 9.

    Good article, Jack, agree with much of it although if you converted to a midfielder, we'd be left with 4 defenders :P

  • Comment number 10.

    I see you make reference to Graham Alexander and the defensive midfield position, what are you thoughts on this role? Personally I think it is one of the easiest roles to fill in any formation. As long as you stay alert, have decent fitness (which any professional should have) and are willing to get stuck in then it should be a fairly straightforward job to carry out.

  • Comment number 11.

    Thanks again for the comments.

    Re comment 6, it is fair to say that being overlooked in favour of another player being played out of position is one of the most difficult things for a player to accept. If it happens, then a player will realise that his manager has little faith in his ability to perform in the first team, and would be best looking for a new challenge.

    Comment 10, it is interesting that you have the view of the defensive midfield position being easier than others to play. If you went around our dressing room you would find so many differing opinions on the most difficult position to play. I personally think that you could make a case for every position but being a successful striker is probably toughest-and the reason every team desires the 20/30 goal a season striker.

    Comment 3, thanks to you and other St Mirren fans for recent best wishes. I was delighted to return on Tuesday night well ahead of schedule, although disappointed not to be part of a winning side. Looking forward to the huge two matches we have ahead of us!

  • Comment number 12.

    jack this will get all the boys dancin.


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