13 players who thrived after changing positions: Henry, Bale, Pirlo…
Sometimes, a player can go years without realising they’re better suited to playing in another position – as these 13 found out.
As young footballers, most of us will have chosen the position of our favourite player and then stuck with it, however unsuccessfully.
Many of those who make it to a professional club find themselves moved by those who are paid to spot potential, but even then there are plenty of examples of players who make it right through to senior football before a manager sees attributes in them that are perhaps best suited to another position.
There are also several examples of players who changed positions late in their career to adapt to their new, reduced skillsets.
Here are 13 players who enjoyed successful switches at some point.
When Arsenal signed Henry from Juventus in 1999, he was a winger who had struggled to make an impact in Serie A.
But Arsene Wenger 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.
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 in 2015.
“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’.”
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 as the likes of Jens Jeremies, Niko Kovacs, Owen Hargreaves and Michael Ballack were deployed in the centre of Bayern Munich’s midfield.
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.
He 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.
Injury problems 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.
It seems strange to think that he was often used in midfield by the man who signed him, Mark Hughes, and even said himself in 2009: “My favourite position is in midfield.”
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.
Considering the number of goals Ronaldo has gone on to score, Rooney and Tevez shouldn’t feel too put out.
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 – 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.”
“There was a time when I saw players of the class of Angel Di Maria and Memphis Depay arriving and wondered if my time was reaching an end,” Valencia once said.
As a winger, the Ecuador international had initially shone after making the step up from Wigan Athletic to Manchester United, winning the Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year and Players’ Player of the Year awards in 2011-12, but his form dipped under the pressure of being handed the famous No.7 shirt at Old Trafford.
Valencia’s response to the challenge of regaining his best form for the Red Devils was simple: “I just concentrated and trained hard.”
A positional change was also key and by January 2017, Jose Mourinho had labelled Valencia “the best right-back in the world”.
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, before going on to win more fans at Everton and West Brom.
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.”
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, however, Giggs 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.
In 1999, Zambrotta joined Juventus from Bari as one of the most exciting wingers in Italy.
An injury at the 2002 World Cup, however, saw Mauro Cameronesi impress in his place on the right wing for Juve, forcing Marcello Lippi to convert Zambrotta into a full-back upon his return.
Capable of operating on either side of the defence, Zambrotta took to the role like a duck to water, winning honours with Juventus, Barcelona and Milan, plus the 2006 World Cup, as a master of the position.
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.