Footballers who switched positions: Cristiano Ronaldo, Thierry Henry and stars Trent Alexander-Arnold could follow
Not sure if you’ve heard, but Trent Alexander-Arnold has been playing in a bit of a new position recently. Having established himself as one of the best and most successful right-backs in the game, the Liverpool star is undergoing something of a reinvention, with Jurgen Klopp beginning to deploy him in a hybrid full-back/central midfield role.
It’s going quite well, too, with Alexander-Arnold’s skill and passing range allowing him to flourish centrally, while simultaneously helping mask some of his defensive shortcomings. Never was that more evident than in his side’s 6-1 win at Leeds last week, where the 24-year-old delivered a performance Kevin De Bruyne or Joshua Kimmich would have been proud of.
Alexander-Arnold, in fairness, started out as a midfielder in Liverpool’s academy, switching to full-back only when he reached Under-16 level, and he is clearly relishing the chance to go back to his roots.
But he’s far from the first player to go through a mid-career position-change. GOAL takes a look at a few more that he will (mostly) be looking to replicate…
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Where else could we start than with one of the greatest ever to do it?
We all know Ronaldo as the most prolific goalscorer of this or indeed any era, a ruthless, single-minded finisher, for whom no game was complete without his name on the scoresheet.
But in his early career at Sporting CP and Manchester United, we saw a very different player. Ronaldo emerged as a fleet-footed, stepover-obsessed winger who would stay wide and who could dazzle and infuriate in equal measure. "A show pony," according to plenty who witnessed his opening months in the Premier League.
It was not until his fourth season at United - 2006-07 - that we started to see a shift. Ronaldo scored 23 goals that year, and never looked back. By the time he reached Real Madrid in 2009, he was ready to establish himself as one of the most complete and consistent No.9s of all-time.
One of the greatest British exports ever, Bale became one of the world’s best players during his time at Real Madrid, winning five Champions League crowns and scoring, in 2018, perhaps the greatest European Cup final goal of all time.
He did all that as a devastating, free-roaming wide attacker, but it was at left-back where he came through the ranks at Southampton, and it wasn’t until he was moved further forward by Tottenham boss Harry Redknapp, after a difficult start to life at White Hart Lane, that we began to see the real Bale.
The 2010-11 season, in particular, was a breakthrough, including that hat-trick against Inter at San Siro. From there, Bale never looked back.
You’ll be familiar with the Henry story by now, right? Signed as a talented-but-inconsistent left-winger by Arsenal in 1999, the Frenchman was moulded by Arsene Wenger into one of the Premier League’s greatest ever strikers, becoming the Gunners’ all-time record goalscorer in the process.
Henry still, in fairness, did much of his damage as a centre-forward by drifting left, and he would subsequently return to the left wing during his time at Barcelona.
But that shift of position, and of mentality, at Arsenal remains one of the most successful in English football history.
One of the great underrated players of the modern era, Lahm won just about everything there was to win with club and country, including the World Cup, the Champions League and eight Bundesliga titles.
He did so mainly as a full-back, operating either on the right or the left, but he also had a spell under Pep Guardiola playing as a controlling central midfielder, a role he said he enjoyed immensely as Bayern won a league and cup double.
That summer, Lahm captained Germany to World Cup glory in Brazil, playing as both a full-back and midfielder during the tournament. A supreme footballer.
A more subtle change, this one, but Pirlo’s switch from a classic No.10 to a cerebral, deep-lying No.6 may well have changed the course of Italian football history.
He is regarded by many as one of the great registas of the modern game, his languid style, awareness and passing range allowing him to dictate matches for AC Milan, Juventus and Italy throughout a glittering 22-year career.
The 'Pirlo role' is one that many have sought to replicate since.
A star of the 1980s and 90s, Matthaus’ reputation was built as a dominant, physically-imposing midfield player, with his peak arriving as he powered West Germany to glory at the 1990 World Cup, beating Diego Maradona’s Argentina in the final.
He was 29 then, but he would continue to play at the highest level for another decade, thanks in no small part to his decision to drop back into a sweeper/central defensive role during his second stint at Bayern Munich. It was there that he played against Manchester United in the 1999 Champions League final, aged 38.
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Another midfielder-turned-centre-back, Mascherano was part of perhaps the greatest club side of all-time, Guardiola’s 2010-11 Champions League winning Barcelona team.
Despite standing at just 5'7 (170cm), the Argentine made up for his lack of height with brilliant anticipation and a relentless desire to win.
He would win another Champions League in 2015, as well as four La Liga titles and two Club World Cups. That he was able to do so as a centre-half speaks both to Guardiola’s tactical foresight, and to Mascherano’s sheer talent and mentality.
Much like Ronaldo, his great peer and rival, Messi’s switch from wide player to central hub helped change the history of football.
The Argentine was always a mega talent when emerging on the right for Barcelona, but it was his switch into a centre forward role under Guardiola in 2009 that really ignited things.
Messi’s interpretation of the ‘false nine’ role was magical, and he would go on to score at least 40 goals in each of his next 10 seasons, all while retaining his remarkable creativity and style.
Another Guardiola success story, in a list full of them.
Some positional changes, of course, do not work out as planned, and Rooney’s late-career switch into a central midfield role is one of those.
The England star, in truth, played in plenty of different forward positions during his time at Manchester United, often sacrificing himself to play wide or deep as the likes of Ruud van Nistelrooy, Cristiano Ronaldo and Dimitar Berbatov operated as the focal point.
But though his technique and passing range felt like they would be ideally-suited to the middle of midfield, the reality was rather different.
Rooney looked like a fish out of water during the 2016 European Championship, his United career ended unsatisfactorily, and a romantic return to Everton never worked out despite the odd flash of magic.
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When you have an entire position named after you, you must be some player.
For years, teams across the world have looked for someone to play 'the Makelele role', breaking up play, winning tackles and keeping the centre of midfield locked down. Few have ever done it as well as the Frenchman did for Real Madrid and Chelsea.
But Makelele wasn't always a holding midfielder. In his early career at Nantes, he played more as an industrious wide player. It wasn't until a move to Celta Vigo, in 1998, that he began to really establish himself in the position which would eventually take his name.
One of Liverpool’s greatest-ever servants, Carragher ranks second on the club’s all-time appearance list, and owes that as much to his ability to accept and adapt to new positions as he does his talent.
He started his footballing life as a centre-forward, and a good one at that, but he was a midfielder by the time he reached the Reds’ first-team in 1997.
Soon, though, he was switched into defence, flitting between centre-back and full-back as he established himself in the senior side.
He won a treble under Gerard Houllier as a left-back in 2000-01, before settling into a centre-back role under Rafa Benitez from 2004 onwards, when he became one of the most consistent around.
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One of the great centre-backs of the modern era, Ramos actually spent a decent portion of his career as a right-back.
He was pretty good at it, too. He played there for Spain in the 2010 World Cup final, and performed well on more than one occasion for Real Madrid.
The centre of defence, though, became his home, and remains so to this day, with his competitive instincts still on full display at Paris Saint-Germain.
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Manchester City’s captain for their first four Premier League triumphs is one of the best centre-backs in English football's recent past.
But Kompany was actually a central midfielder when he signed for the club under Mark Hughes in 2008. Quickly, though, it was realised that his qualities - his height, his reading of the game and his leadership - would be better utilised at the back.
What a good call that proved to be.
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Another Bayern youth product who benefitted from a shift infield is Schweinsteiger, whose early days in Munich were as a creative wide player, but who later became one of the most dominant, controlling midfielders in world football.
He won a World Cup with Germany in 2014 playing that way, and though he is remembered in England for a rather miserable spell with Manchester United late in his career, his legend at Bayern, and for his country, is well and truly secured.
For many, Scholes is one of the great English footballers of all-time, a midfielder of unique touch, skill and awareness who would help Manchester United dominate games from a deep-lying role.
But he was never that as a youngster. In fact, his days in United’s youth team were spent as a centre-forward, and much of his early career in the first team was spent in similar fashion.
In his mid-20s, however, he was moved into a more conventional midfield role, achieving huge success alongside Roy Keane, and after Keane left United in 2005, Scholes was redesigned again, this time as a Pirlo-style No.6, able to spray passes and dictate the tempo of the game from deep.