Its Mathieu Flamini’s birthday today and what an odd career he has had. From Arsene Wenger’s Swiss army knife, Scudetto winner with AC Milan to bit part midfielder at Crystal Palace, the Frenchman has had a career with injury lay-offs, criticism and a fair bit of variety. As he turns 33, he has cofounded GF Biochemicals, played for his country and been runner-up in a Champions League final.
A player bemoaned regularly while at Arsenal by the Gunners’ fans and outsiders alike, Flamini’s versatility has kept his career alive even through the hardest times. He played as a full-back for Arsenal on their route to the 2006 Champions League final and for Milan in 2008/09, even playing in different roles as a central midfielder throughout his career. Screening the defence or given more license to attack the opposition box, Flamini is the sort of player managers love to have at their disposal.
He is a jack of all trades. The type of player fans may not be drawn to nor who will get themselves on Match of the Day too often, but the type of player that strengthens a squad. Their presence gives extra depth for injury loss, it allows rotation to be a smoother process and can save outgoings on signings to pool on other areas of the squad. While it may mean you sometimes play non-specialists in certain positions, it gives managers a flexibility they need.
John O’Shea, Michael Essien, Fernandinho and many others have joined Flamini in the role of utility man. Some do it with more skill and expertise than others, but it does not undermine the importance of their job in the team. Arsenal cherished Flamini’s adaptability, his skillset making it comfortable for him to change role without batting an eyelid.
However, changing position frequently is not just about the physical changes you must make, your new positional sense or responsibilities. Psychologically it presents its own challenges. A player must be open-minded to changing, not see it as a rejection of their abilities elsewhere and be able to learn quickly. While combative in the tackle and aggressive on the pitch, Flamini is a fierce, yet calm competitor.
Obsession with versatility can weaken a squad when misused. It is not a case of throwing square pegs at misshapen holes, it is about finding the players who can – at the very least – play a competent level in a number of different roles or positions. Flamini, like many others, was good enough to play as a full-back or a midfielder for Arsenal for much of his career, just as he was for Milan. Regardless of a players’ ‘best’ position, if they are needed in a different area and can do it to a satisfactory level it must be a positive thing for the managers.