11 players who thrived after changing positions: Henry, Bale, Pirlo & more

Quick Reads

On the birthday of one of the great examples of a player who reinvented himself after a change of positions, we look back at the Arsenal, Manchester United and Tottenham heroes who benefited from similar transformations.

Thierry Henry turns 40 years old today and to celebrate we paid tribute to Arsenal’s record goalscorer – but it’s important to remember how different his career could have been were it not for the influence of a certain manager.

Thierry Henry

Arsenal signed Henry in a club-record deal from Juventus in 1999, with the France international arriving as a tricky winger who had struggled to make an impact in Serie A. Arsene Wenger, however, had other ideas.

“At a certain point, I wanted to go to Wenger and tell him to put me back out wide,” Henry once said, reflecting on a period when he failed to score in his first seven Premier League appearances. “Then, I said to myself that I had to react, that I couldn’t fail a second time, only a few months after a negative experience in Turin.”

The perfect lesson in perseverance, Henry went on to score 228 goals in 376 games for the Gunners. Wenger can feel pretty smug about this one.

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READ: A glowing tribute to Thierry Henry on his 40th birthday

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Gareth Bale

It is often forgotten that when putting in the performance which introduced Bale to the world, the astonishing hat-trick in the San Siro in Tottenham’s 4-3 defeat in 2010, the unstoppable Welshman flying down the wing was wearing the No.3 shirt, having largely being considered a left-back until that moment.

“The most amazing thing ever was that when we played them at home, they left Maicon at right‑back, one against one, against Gareth,” recalled Harry Redknapp in the Daily Telegraph two years ago.

“He destroyed him again. It was the end of Maicon. He went from being the best right back in the world to hearing chants of ‘Taxi for Maicon’.”

Bastian Schweinsteiger

With Sami Khedira injured in the warm-up, Christoph Kramer concussed early doors and Toni Kroos struggling on the biggest stage, Schweinsteiger produced the definitive performance of his career in the final of the 2014 World Cup.

From central midfield, Schweinsteiger almost single-handedly battled with the whole Argentina XI, leaving the Maracana with a black eye, bloodied face and, most importantly, a World Cup winner’s medal.

It was a far cry from the first eight years of his senior career, which he spent playing out wide, watching on with envy as the likes of Jens Jeremies, Niko Kovacs, Owen Hargreaves and Michael Ballack were deployed in the centre of Bayern Munich’s midfield.

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READ: Bastian Schweinsteiger and 11 legends who came to the Premier League too late

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Vincent Kompany

Injury problems over the last few seasons aside, there is a strong argument that Kompany has been Manchester City’s best pound-for-pound signing in their era of new money, joining the club in a £6million deal from Hamburg.

Despite establishing himself as a talisman at centre-back for the club, Kompany was often used in midfield by Mark Hughes, and even said himself in 2009: “My favourite position is in midfield.”


Javier Mascherano

There’s no shame in not being able to break into a Barcelona midfield of Sergio Busquets, Xavi and Andres Iniesta, so Mascherano instead reinvented himself as a centre-back at Camp Nou.

The Argentinian has relished the role so much that at the 2014 World Cup his bravery and commitment to last-ditch defending saw him literally tear his anus in the semi-final against the Netherlands.

How very f*cking hell.

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Cristiano Ronaldo

It is quite fitting that due to the presence of Raul, Ronaldo was unable to take his favoured No.7 shirt when he joined Real Madrid and instead spent his debut campaign at the Bernabeu wearing the No.9.

After first coming to prominence on the wing, Sir Alex Ferguson was eventually left with no choice but to push Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez out wide to accommodate Ronaldo as a central striker.

The duo shouldn’t look back in anger given Ronaldo has now scored 605 career goals for club and country.

Andrea Pirlo

Everyone’s favourite bearded maestro has defined a generation of deep-lying playmakers and inspired fans across the world to learn what the word ‘regista’ means.

But Pirlo actually started out as a No.10 – or trequartista to me and you – at Brescia, Inter and Reggina.

Carlo Ancelotti eventually deployed Pirlo in a deeper role at AC Milan, with the player himself saying: “He changed my career, putting me in front of the defence. We shared some unforgettable moments. We had a magnificent past together.”

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READ: ‘He speaks with his feet’ – 16 of the best quotes on Andrea Pirlo

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Gareth Barry

From one handsome, cultured midfielder to another, Barry established himself as a first-team player at Aston Villa due to his versatility, operating at centre-back, left-back and left midfield before Martin O’Neill deployed him in central midfield.

The move saw Barry become an England regular and attract interest from Liverpool. Eventually he left for Manchester City, where he played a valuable role in winning the FA Cup and Premier League, and became a favourite at Goodison Park after joining Everton.

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READ: A tribute to Gareth Barry, one of the Premier League’s most underrated stars

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Philipp Lahm

Lahm already had a number of strings to his bow with his ability to be able to play in either full-back role to a world class standard.

But the arrival of Pep Guardiola as Bayern Munich manager saw Lahm move into midfield, followed by typically world-class performances.

“Philipp Lahm is perhaps the most intelligent player I have ever trained in my career,” Guardiola said. “He is at another level.”

Ryan Giggs

Giggs was the archetypal winger for the majority of his Manchester United career: direct, quick, skillful and with an eye for a goal or assist – just watch his famous goal against Arsenal in the 1999 FA Cup semi-final for an example of everything you could want in a left winger.

In his later years Giggs then displayed the footballing intelligence to be the calming influence in the centre of United’s midfield, picking the passes for the more explosive attackers, to the benefit of the likes of Rooney and Ronaldo.

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READ: THAT goal against Arsenal and nine more brilliant Ryan Giggs moments

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Lothar Matthäus 

In 1990, Matthäus was named German Footballer of the Year after captaining the national team to glory at the World Cup, scoring four goals from midfield. In fact, in his first 12 seasons as a first-team footballer, he scored 168 goals as a midfielder.

In 1998, Matthäus was named German Footballer of the Year at the grand old age of 38, shining as a defender or sweeper at Bayern Munich.


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