Lack of utility hurts players and their team
As ridiculous as it may sound, do footballers lack flexibility and are they typecast to execute only specialized roles?
I’ve often wondered why coaches don’t assign a slightly modified or underplayed role to a specialist player to throw in an element of surprise and catch the opponent off-guard.
Footballers capable of playing in different positions is a rarity in the sport, unlike cricket where the batting order of a team chasing a huge total is tinkered with depending on the situation of the match, which gives a new responsibility to the batsmen.
However, ‘utility’ players in football such as Pablo Zabaleta (Argentina/City), Javier Zanetti (Argentina/Inter Milan), Zambrotta (Italy), Philip Lahm (Germany/Bayern Munich) and Carles Puyol (Spain/Barcelona) do shuffle between defensive positions but that’s only a very small number.
Footballers are groomed from a very early age to develop into players occupying specialist positions on the field. Typically a player will stay within his type of position be it offense or defense, throughout his entire career.
I don’t mean to imply that a defender should play as a striker or vice versa, but the minor tactical switches can have a huge bearing on the outcome of a match.
This season’s Champions’ League competition began in gobsmacking fashion with a thrilling encounter between Real Madrid and Manchester City with the Spanish giants edging the Citizens 3-2.
For Madrid, it is an inescapable fact that most of their attacking prowess comes from Portuguese whiz Ronaldo who predominantly plays on the right wing. Occasionally, however, he will slip into forward, making the task of the player marking the superstar more demanding.
In this particular match, City’s right wing-back Maicon, who was handed the responsibility of marking Ronaldo down the flank, was much slower than his opponent, allowing the Portuguese whiz to skip past him with ease time and again.
Now, this got me thinking as to whether left-back Gael Clichy, who is much quicker than Maicon, might have posed a greater challenge to Ronaldo had he swapped positions with Maicon. After all, footballers are professionals and should be able to handle slightly varied duties.
While I thought it was ridiculous to write about this presumed limitation, I was glad to realize that I’m not the only one. Ace coach Jose Mourinho says, “I can’t believe that in England they don’t teach young players to be multifunctional,” In Gianluca Vialli’s book, The Italian Job. He goes on to add, “For them, it’s just about knowing one position and playing in that position”.
Well, the Special One’s views are debatable because in the England squad, Joleon Lescott and Phil Jagielka can play as fullbacks or centrebacks spread out wide along with Owen Hargreaves who is also quite versatile but his comments do give us something to ponder.
The fact that I haven’t played football on a professional level might be the reason behind my ignorance in this regard. Having said that, I still believe team managements should spring a surprise or two on their opponents rather than being predictable in formation and player positions.