Most Versatile Players in World Football

Tom Sunderland@@TomSunderland_Featured ColumnistDecember 11, 2013

Most Versatile Players in World Football

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    The ability to play in multiple positions is one of the most valuable traits a footballer can possess, yet so few players can actually profess to being a Jack-of-all-trades, never mind a master of some.

    Here, we'll take a look at some of those players who some might say don't truly have a favoured role as a result of their malleability, able to play in two, three or in some cases even more areas of the pitch and still maintain a consistently high standard in each.

    For the record, we're talking more than simply a winger who, for example can play off one wing but is just as capable cutting in from an opposite flank. Instead, we're looking for the real McCoys whom a manager can field in completely different, specialist positions but feel secure in knowing nothing shall be sacrificed as a result.

    It goes without saying that the higher the level of football those included play, the more praise they'll receive for doing what they do.

    Without much more delay, read on for a breakdown of the world's most versatile players.

Honourable Mentions

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    Sergio Ramos

    Sergio Ramos' history lies at right-back, the position in which he first impressed for Sevilla as a youngster, producing the talent necessary for his 2005 move to Real Madrid, where his success would continue.

    However, recent seasons and the necessity of the squad have seen the 27-year-old move into the centre of defence yet maintain his status as one of Los Merengues' most reliable investments and indeed for the Spanish national team, too.

    Even being fielded in a deep-lying midfield role on occasion, Ramos is an athlete first and foremost, his technical proficiency with or without the ball merely lending itself to wherever he may line up. 

    Daniele De Rossi

    Arguably one of Italy's best midfield generals of all time, it's only suitable that a man regularly labelled as Il Gladiatore (work that one out) gives his all for both club and country, whether it be in midfield or at centre-back.

    Daniele De Rossi's 13-year career as a Roma star has seen him gradually migrate closer toward his own goal, although it's worth noting that his hub still lies in the middle of the pitch.

    Any concerns regarding the player's capability in the centre of defence were laid to rest when the 30-year-old led Italy from the back in a three-man defence, proving that he's extremely proficient in either area, regardless of the opposition's quality. 

    Javier Mascherano

    Brought to Barcelona having built a career as a defensive midfielder, Javier Mascherano quickly found the wealth of playmaking talent tough to break down in Catalan country.

    So, in a situation such as the one the Argentinian faced, one either sits and attempts to stand the heat, or gets out of the kitchen. Mascherano chose the latter.

    More specifically, Pep Guardiola chose to give the South American a run at centre-back as a result of some defensive absences. Mascherano has since gone on to make the position his own, albeit still competing fiercely for playing time at the Camp Nou.

    Tackling talents still being put to decent use, it hasn't been a drastic change from the game Mascherano is used to.

10. Javi Martinez

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    Marcelo Bielsa can be praised for many of the initiatives implemented during his two-year reign at Athletic Bilbao, one of which may be the nurturing of Javi Martinez into the talent he is today.

    It was the Argentinian manager who first utilised Martinez as an option at central defence, an attribute that slowly grew inside the player's repertoire and will have undoubtedly played some part in his £40 million move to Bayern Munich last year.

    At the Allianz Arena, the 24-year-old has been fortunate enough to see most of his playing time come in his more naturalised position of holding midfielder, but with so much competition in that area of the squad, it's more than likely that a fully fit squad will see the Spaniard drop back in the seasons to come.

    Thiago Alcantara, Toni Kroos, Mario Goetze and Bastian Schweinsteiger are the main stars who would see Martinez's playing time in the engine room diminish, so it's fortunate that Jupp Heynckes' big money buy is useful in other areas.

    At the start of the season, Martinez was reported by's Alec Fenn as saying that he's happy playing at centre-back for the good of the Bayern cause.

    It's no wonder why.

9. Stephan Lichtsteiner

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    Antonio Conte has turned Juventus into a tactically astute force in recent years, the squad boasting a wealth of versatile assets whose ability to adapt means their duties can change according to the needs of each game.

    Stephan Lichtsteiner's time with the Old Lady runs in tandem with Conte's time at the club, brought in as one of the helmsman's first signings upon his Turin arrival.

    Through his time at Lille and Lazio, Lichtsteiner proved himself as a valuable outlet from right-back, right midfield and even further ahead, continuing the trend during his time in Italy.

    As part of a four-man defence, the 29-year-old can play on the right side of defence or function as an effective wing-back ahead of a three-man defence.

    Injury has prevented Lichtsteiner from having his usual impact so far this season, but a tough-tackling resource in both an offensive and defensive regard is what Conte is able to rely upon when fit.

8. Branislav Ivanovic

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    Branislav Ivanovic's career path has taken him in the opposite direction to Sergio Ramos: The Serbian established himself as an elite centre-back before gradually making the move to right-back.

    It was over the course of 2011 and 2012 that the Chelsea marauder first began to utilise his skill set in a wider aspect, taking his combination of raw strength and surprising speed to the flanks.

    While not boasting the widest array of playing positions on this list, Ivanovic's inclusion is mostly due to the adeptness with which he plays in either role, providing assists and attacking guile at right-back while being a secure option in central defence.

    The 6'2" defender has always been a threat when it comes to set-pieces, but moving outside his central comfort zone has allowed Ivanovic to have a different sort of input with the ball at his feet. 

7. Jan Vertonghen

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    Despite playing in the Premier League for little over a year, Jan Vertonghen has quickly convinced that he's among the cream of the crop when it comes to the division's defensive powers.

    The Tottenham talisman has his roots at centre-back and was once upon a time made captain of Ajax for his leadership qualities in the middle, but these 18 months at White Hart Lane have proven the 26-year-old to be extremely useful at left-back, too.

    Between Danny Rose's loan spell at Sunderland and Benoit Assou-Ekotto's injury troubles, Spurs were sent a lifeline in the shape of Vertonghen last season, Andre Villas-Boas finding a more than capable stop-gap in desperate times.

    The Belgian national team is fortunate to have numerous versatile defenders in their ranks such as Toby Alderweireld and Nicolas Lombaerts, but Vertonghen's blend of pace and power often help the player moving forward as a full-back as much as stopping others when in central defence.

6. Mauricio Isla

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    Were the player not plagued by knee injuries in recent seasons, Mauricio Isla may well have found himself featuring at No. 1 on this list, but alas, his development has taken a tumble.

    Having originally made a name for himself at Udinese, the Chilean international is renowned for his ability to play just about anywhere on the pitch, whether it be right side or left, defence or in midfield.

    At his core, the Juventus man is a right-sided midfielder and although favoured on that side of the pitch, Isla has been known to play at left-back, left midfield and even more centrally in his time.

    Again, Isla's 2012 move to Turin was a sign of the player that fits Conte's system, capable in multiple facets of the game.

    While not exactly a "master" in any of those positions, Isla still finds his way up the rankings thanks to his nonchalance when it comes to positional priority.

5. Juan Cuadrado

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    Another Serie A star whose versatility has allowed him to build a sound reputation in the Italian top flight, Juan Cuadrado tends to produce grand results as long as he's somewhere on the right side of the pitch.

    One of the rising stars of this increasingly fashionable Colombia setup, the 25-year-old already has four goals and five assists to his name this season.

    Cuadrado continues to excel whether it's at right-back, right wing or somewhere in between, making it of little wonder as to why Fiorentina chose to take advantage of the purchase clause inserted in his loan contract last season, buying the player outright this summer.

4. Phil Jones

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    Though some will undoubtedly fancy a somewhat flashier player to rank so highly on this list, Phil Jones tends to get the job done and always in the same, direct fashion as before.

    Strong, tough-tackling and with a sometimes shocking amount of speed in his arsenal, the last few seasons have seen the 21-year-old occupy his centre-back spot, as well as right-back and central midfield.

    Wherever Jones is played, however, it's the same approach that tends to be taken by the youngster, defence ranking highest on his priorities even in the more advanced roles.

    That being said, the former Blackburn Rovers starlet has been a fine asset going forward and contributes a strong running outlet from full-back, only this week scoring the winner during Manchester United's 1-0 win over Shakhtar Donetsk (albeit from a set piece).

3. David Alaba

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    The second of three Bayern Munich stars to make the cut is David Alaba, Pep Guardiola's own Mr. Malleable who's been as prominent as ever for the club this season.

    Primarily a left-back, the Austrian has gathered a fine reputation as one of the more understated stars of this incredible Bayern squad, despite costing the club a pittance after moving from Austria Wien five years ago.

    The 21-year-old's ability to move upfield into a left midfield slot isn't of much significance to Alaba, but the fact that the youngster can transfer soundly into the centre of the pitch is a rarity that the 2013 treble winners will be unsurprisingly eager to keep hold of.

    This season has even seen Alaba come on against Mainz to feature at centre-back, displaying the trust that Guardiola has in his abilities.

2. Wayne Rooney

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    Wayne Rooney's professional career has seen him come up against a myriad of obstacles off the pitch, but it's when the attacker is on the field that freedom reigns paramount.

    It's no secret that the 28-year-old's career began as a budding striker with Everton, but Rooney has since matured and is open to a wide assortment of positions.

    With Robin van Persie at the club, Manchester United's hierarchy have opted to use the Merseysider as a No. 10 in behind the striker, out wide on the wings, or even plonked in the engine room to cope with certain squad absences from time to time.

    The forward's physical and mental attributes are what lend themselves so well in the scenario, superb ball control and an uncanny willingness to work without the ball being at the top of the asset list.

1. Philipp Lahm

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    The golden child of German football, a workmanlike approach and overall loyalty to the cause is what's moulded Philipp Lahm into the player he is today and he's reaping the benefits to say the least.

    Up until Guardiola's takeover as manager at the Allianz Arena, the 30-year-old's adeptness at either right or left-back would have already guaranteed him a spot as one of the sport's most versatile stars.

    Throw into the mix that, following the Spaniard's appointment as helmsman at Bayern, Lahm has displayed a very comfortable approach while playing in central midfield, too, and it simply makes the veteran that much more complete.

    In the simplest terms possible, Lahm is very, very good at football, and it seems to matter not where the player is fielded. The most critical factor is perhaps who is around that he can make look better.

    A sound understanding of how the game should be played and an even finer sense of spacial awareness make the Bayern stalwart not only one of the best in his position, but a very visceral threat in multiple.


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