New Lease of Life: 9 High Profile Stars Who Flourished After Changing Position

Quite often, players start their playing careers in one position and for one reason or another, they don’t end up staying there.

Too much competition for places in a squad, or a manager seeing potential to fulfil other roles can often lead to players permanently changing position later on in their careers, and there are or have been some prime examples of this down the years.

Here is a list of some of the most well known players to have undergone a position change for the better.

9. Javi Martinez – Midfield to Centre Back

Bayern Munich star Javi Martinez started his career as a holding midfield player, and excelled in the role for Athletic Bilbao after moving from Osasuna B.

His performance enticed German giants Bayern into signing him in the summer of 2012 to the tune of €40m, making him a club-record buy.

The 29-year-old has had a relatively injury-hit stint at the Allianz since his move, which may be a reason for his conversion into a centre-back.

A less demanding position to play in terms of running, Martinez took to it like a duck to water, especially under Pep Guardiola. His lack of pace and mobility is certainly made up for with his strength, positioning and reading of the game. 

8. Antonio Valencia – Winger to Right Back

Antonio Valencia was once a promising young winger at Wigan Athletic, and his performances for the now-League One side earned him a move to Manchester United in 2009.

The first half of his Old Trafford career was spent largely as a right winger in and out of the side, as he struggled for consistency – until Sir Alex Ferguson noticed his defensive potential towards the end of his tenure.

It wasn’t until the early days of Louis van Gaal – who had a profound impact on his transition –  though when Valencia became a truly indispensable member of United’s starting XI – he is now one of the best right-backs in the Premier League and, arguably, Europe.

7. Vincent Kompany – Midfielder to Centre Back

Vincent Kompany’s struggles with injury are well documented but one thing a lot of people still don’t know is that the Belgian captain used to be a holding midfielder.

Before his move to the Etihad in 2008, Kompany was a promising young defensive midfielder for Hamburg, a position that he has now well and truly turned his back on after being moulded into one of the Premier League’s most fearsome centre-halves of all time.

6. Cesar Azpilicueta – Right Back to Left Back to Centre Back

Chelsea’s Cesar Azpilicueta is one of the Premier League’s best and most consistent defenders – what is truly remarkable is that that rings true no matter where in the backline he plays.

The Blues signed the man affectionately known at the club as ‘Dave’ to play right-back, but actually ended up dislodging Ashley Cole from left-back.

In more recent times, Azpilicueta has transitioned into one of the league’s most assured centre-halves as part of a three at the back system.

He’s actually gone full circle, and has found himself deployed at right wing-back on occasion during the 2017/18 season. 

5. Dries Mertens – Winger to Striker

Napoli have a superstar on their hands in Dries Mertens, who has seamlessly replaced Gonzalo Higuain.

There were fears in Naples when the Argentine hitman was poached by Juventus for €90m, but fans need not have worried at all.

Belgian star Mertens was a largely dispensable winger in his early days at the club, but hit 28 league goals in 32 matches to take full opportunity of Arkadiusz Milik’s long term knee injury last season, and establish himself amongst Europe’s best strikers.  

4. Philipp Lahm – Full Back to Defensive Midfielder

Recently-retired superstar Philipp Lahm is one of the best examples of footballers flourishing after a positional change.

The man once described by Pep Guardiola as the ‘most intelligent footballer’ he’d ever worked with started out as a left-back. He then made his way across the pitch as the years went by to assume the role of right-back, where he truly made his name and is correctly regarded as one of the finest full-backs of his generation.

Just when one might have thought he’d slow down, the latter years of Lahm’s career saw him revert to a holding midfield role, where he was exceptional once more.

3. Cristiano Ronaldo – Winger to Striker

Cristiano Ronaldo, before evolving into a goalscoring machine, was once an old school out-and-out winger.


Following some exciting showings for Sporting Lisbon, Manchester United forked out £12.8m for him in 2003, and it didn’t take long for him to hit some crazy levels of goalscoring.

Remarkably, those goalscoring exploits always came from the wings, but when he moved to Real Madrid in 2009 for a then-world record £80m fee, nobody could have imagined just how much he would raise his game and stay there for years to come.

These days, Ronaldo tends to start games as more of an inside left forward, counting on his industrious teammates around him to excercise the width he used to provide. 32-year-old ‘CR7’ can often be found as Los Blancos most advanced player as games progress, with Karim Benzema sometimes playing off him as the man with better stamina.

2. Thierry Henry – Winger to Striker

Before going on to become one of the Premier League’s greatest ever players period, Thierry Henry was a left winger when he signed for Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal in 1999.

The gangly young Frenchman found life in England difficult initially, but soon showed everybody why he was worth the £11m the Gunners forked out for him.

He scored 17 league goals in each of his first two seasons as Wenger converted him into the position of his youth, and Arsenal reaped the rewards.

One thing about Henry was, one could always tell he used to play as left winger, as he’d often receive the ball in a left-of-centre position and then dribble in-field, open up his body and find the far corner with his right foot.

1. Gareth Bale – Left Back to Forward

Gareth Bale tops this list because of the sheer drastic positional changes he has undergone throughout his career.

Once upon a time, the young Welshman embarked on a 24-game personal losing streak at Tottenham, and question marks were raised whether or not he would be able to cut it at the highest level.

Bale knuckled down on the training pitch though, and seized his chance as a left winger,  hita hat-trick against Inter at San Siro in 2010 to make the world stand up and take note.

He was granted an incredible £85m move to Real Madrid in 2013, and despite his injury problems, the 28-year-old is still a world class superstar and athlete.

He has absolutely flourished since reverting from left-back to a winger or even a striker, and is an inspiration to kids everywhere who are told they aren’t good enough to play certain positions.


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