A manager loves a versatile player. Someone who can play in several different positions and maintain a good enough performance in any of them can be very useful, especially during a 38 game season, as well as domestic and European cup duties.
Good examples of versatile players in the Premier League at the moment are Manchester United’s Phil Jones and Chris Smalling, Tottenham’s Clint Dempsey and Chelsea’s Daniel Sturridge. But we have also seen managers appearing to force versatility upon some top-flight players, insisting that they have what it takes to play out of position and still perform effectively.
The most notable is Theo Walcott at Arsenal. He is effective on the wing, but has admitted he’s better as a striker, although manager Arsene Wenger doesn’t seem to feel the same way, which is strange because whenever Walcott is moved into a striker’s role he seems to score.
Wenger’s determination for Walcott to remain a wide player at Arsenal looks like it could cost him dearly, what with Walcott not having yet signed a new contract and rumours suggest he wants assurances that he’ll play as a striker more often in order to secure his Arsenal future.
Last week, Liverpool’s on-loan midfielder Nuri Sahin claimed manager Brendan Rodgers is playing him out of position, with him being preferred in a No.10 role rather than his more accustomed holding midfield position. Sahin claims he’d much prefer to play as a holding midfielder because that’s where he feels he can be more effective, while Rodgers might argue there isn’t any need for him to have a holding midfielder in the tactics or formations that he uses.
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That raises the question why Rodgers brought him to Anfield in the first place, knowing he was going to play him out of position, thus not getting the best out of a player who has performed well in a Real Madrid shirt in recent years.
James Tomkins at West Ham is another player who seems to have fallen victim of a manager’s belief that he is versatile and can do a job in midfield, despite being a centre-back.
Against Liverpool on Sunday, midfielder Mohamed Diame was carried off and needed replacing in the centre of midfield. Allardyce had Gary O’Neil on the bench, a player who has impressed in the middle of the park for West Ham in the past, but he chose to bring on Tomkins, a decision that many would argue cost the Hammers the game.
Liverpool scored twice with Tomkins in midfield and went on to win 3-2. A manager as experienced as Allardyce should have learned by now that Tomkins, who seems to be regularly cover in midfield for West Ham, looks out of place when he’s not in the back four.
The three examples above are examples of how not to push versatility on to a player, playing them out of position to suit their own ideas of how they want the game to be played. Arsenal could have more goals in them if Walcott played up front more often, Liverpool seem to be missing the best of an obvious talent in Sahin and Tomkins being played in midfield for West Ham pretty much cost them three points against Liverpool at the weekend.
We are always hearing players insisting they will help out in anyway possible for the manager and the team, but managers are responsible for getting the best out of their players and, unless it is proven that these players can play out of their comfort zone, it should be left to the players more suitable for the role being experimented with.
There are, of course, occasions when a manager appears to be forced into playing a player out of position because of injuries or suspensions leaving them with no other option. One option could be to tinker with their tactics or formation a little to ensure the player playing out of position can be as comfortable and effective as possible.
Managers know best, right? Well, when it comes to playing players out of position, some of them appear to be shooting themselves in the foot. Whether it’s goals or points at stake, some bosses can’t seem to see the difference between a versatile player and a player who just isn’t up to the job they are being asked to do.
Are managers shooting themselves in the foot by playing players out of position? Should more players be asked to be more versatile to strengthen their team?