TFN’s Alistair Nasmyth remembers four of his favourite utility men…
While watching the World Cup this summer I experienced a whiplash-inducing double take. The Dutch squad was being displayed on the screen in a flashy CGI formation and there, clear as day, was the former Feyenoord striker Dirk Kuyt taking up the left back position. In this day and age of specialized training and coaching, not to mention fragile egoed players who throw tantrums when played out of position, it’s surprising to see players of the utility man sort at the highest level. So here I’m going to share with you some of my favourite all-rounders…
When he arrived at Liverpool off the back of an impressive couple of seasons at Feyenoord (61 goals in 82 games over two seasons), it was his work rate and perhaps more surprisingly his dedication to defensive responsibilities that appealed to the fans. When I watched him play for the first time I was reminded of two things; (rather meanly) Sloth from The Goonies and a teacher at school who once described his role in a 5-a-side team to me: “I’m very fast so I run up and down the pitch very quickly distracting the opposition but not necessarily doing very much”.
He arrived at Liverpool in a central forward role, before moving across to the wide areas, which was especially evident at Euro 2008 where he played for Holland as a right midfielder. It made perfect sense, as that position requires someone to do exactly what my maths teacher described, although his contribution was more emphatic providing two assists as they thrashed Italy 3-0. With this perspective on his work ethic and positional history it’s not a surprise perhaps that Van Gaal found room for him at left and right back, the change of side showing another aspect of his versatility.
It’s not unusual to see a goalkeeper head up the wrong end of the pitch when trying to grab a goal for their team from a last minute corner but this guy was actually a striker too. Playing for the Pumas in Mexico he scored 14 goals in his first season because he didn’t want to warm the bench as a second-choice keeper. Even when the diminutive shot stopper/scorer moved back to the 18 yard box he couldn’t help but be dragged further up the pitch, being prone to reckless dashes from his goal.
In one of his most notable performances for Alante, the Primera División club, he actually played at both ends of the pitch in the same game, capping his performance with a match winning bicycle kick! If this wasn’t versatile enough the guy designed his own goalie kits and has a chain of tortas restaurants called Sportortas-Campos.
The Ghost, as was his nickname, started his young football career as a goalkeeper for Fanshawe Primary School, before swapping ends of the pitch to try his hand at being a striker and then later on a half back (which is the black and white name for a midfielder). The combination of dizziness he was no doubt experiencing from being moved around so much, and psychological trauma he then experienced after scoring own goals in two successive finals for Dagenham Boys, would have left most wondering if football was the path to take.
Peters, undeterred, stuck with football and was taken on by West Ham where he went on to play in every position for the Hammers during his time there, including in his third game, playing goalkeeper as he replaced the injured Rhodes. He eventually settled as a wing half (urm, attacking wide midfield?) which made it even more impressive that he made it into Alf Ramsey’s wingless wonders England team that would go on to win the World Cup.
Positionally speaking Hierro perhaps doesn’t stand out as being particularly versatile. It’s not a massive stretch of anyone’s mental capacity to play central defence and defensive midfield (despite how hard Michael Carrick has made it look on occasion), but to have the scoring record of the former Real Madrid and Spain captain takes a special kind of adaptability. There have been plenty of central midfielders who have exhibited a wonderful range of passing and a keen eye for goal, but to have that range of talent from a defender makes the modern players in that position look decidedly one dimensional.
In his third season at Real he finished with 26 goals in all competitions and he was for a while Spain’s top goal scorer with 29 and has only been surpassed by 3 players. To put that into perspective Jamie Carragher, who also played for over 15 seasons for the same club as a defender, has only scored 5 goals. Possibly my favourite facet of his versatility was his ability to play under such varying styles of manager, best illustrated by his switch to Bolton in 2004 where he became a one-season cult hero under Sam Alladyce. This must have been as opposing a style of football and management as one can imagine from his last season at Madrid under Vicente Del Bosque.