“Stick him on the right; he’ll do a job there.”
Few things are as comforting to a manager (real or virtual) as casting an eye to the bench and seeing an absolute Swiss Army knife of a footballer, a one size fits all utility man willing and able to come on and adapt to the game in a just about any position without so much as a shrug.
But who exactly are these versatile heroes? Well, here’s nine of them…
Atlético’s Spanish star is capable of playing all over the place. He played centre back earlier in his career at Rayo Vallecano, before becoming a creative midfielder in his natural role for Atléti. However, he has been known to fill in out wide and even at left back, whenever Diego Simeone needs a gap plugged.
There are regular utility players, and then there are those who can play at the top level in a variety of positions. Saúl is very much the latter.
Imagine being a world-class full back and a world-class midfielder. Joshua Kimmich doesn’t have to.
The Bayern Munich man has dominated opponents in both positions since joining Germany’s best club side from Leipzig in 2015.
It’s frightening to consider quite how good he could become if he continues what has already been a seismic rise to the top of world football… in whatever position he wants.
Like a fine Ribena, James Milner has only got better with age.
At 16, the Leeds United winger became the youngest Premier League scorer in history (a record that’s since been taken by James Vaughan). He then matured into an Aston Villa and Manchester City mainstay, mostly featuring as a box-to-box central midfielder.
Since heading to Liverpool in 2015, Milner played a full season at left back, filled in on occasion at right back and done defensive and attacking jobs in midfield.
There’s nothing boring about versatility kids.
Just as stylish on the ball as his good looks suggest, Blind has (somehow) often been underrated and overlooked in his career, but his adaptability can hardly be called into question.
Now back at Ajax, the 30-year-old Dutch international is now known as a centre-back, but he’s equally as competent in midfield and at full back.
Bayern Munich academy graduate Emre Can follows Kimmich as the second German inclusion in this list.
Touted as Michael Ballack-lite for his dynamism and ability to both attack and defend, the Borussia Dortmund star can be deployed as a midfielder, full back, and even at centre back if you really need.
He also pops up with the odd worldie (as Watford might remember).
Austria’s star player David Alaba is not only a world-class left back but one of the most versatile footballers on the planet.
His country played him as a ‘number ten’ at Euro 2016, utilising his creative talents, while his speed , passing and dynamism have seen him star as an ‘eight’ and also as a winger.
This season (in what may be his last for Bayern Munich) he has mostly featured at centre back. And guess what… he’s been pretty great at that too.
Known as a tricky, speedy winger on either side for Watford and then Aston Villa in his early years, Young even earned comparisons to Lionel Messi from his manager Martin O’Neill…really.
After a move to Manchester United in 2011, he was also tried out as a makeshift striker and in the ‘number ten’ role.
But in more recent years, Young established himself as a hard-working and well-disciplined full-back. His success as a right-footed left-back even earned him a starting spot in England’s 2018 World Cup side, before Inter came calling for the now 34-year-old this January.
Roma’s experienced Italian, currently on loan at Valencia, originally showed promise as a central midfielder, adopting the box-to-box role later in his career.
Yet some of his best displays have come while playing out wide as a winger — he lobbed Marc-André ter Stegen from the halfway line in the Champions League while playing there.
Although defensive midfield is about as far back as the 29-year-old can play, he has also been known to fit into the right wing-back role if needed. Handy.