Gabriel Jesus (left) and Sadio Mane (right)
Changing positions is a tricky affair for any footballer. Players go through years of rigorous training in academies under various coaches before they are ultimately assigned to various positions. To then go ahead and negotiate a positional change in their senior career can become quite complicated.
Some of the legends of the game have successfully changed positions
However, there are plenty of examples of players who have improved and absolutely thrived following a change in position. Players like Cristiano Ronaldo, Thierry Henry, Ryan Giggs, and Gareth Bale, to name a few, are all players who have successfully negotiated positional changes.
A player has to be technically gifted and also versatile in order to be able to slot into a new position and perform well there. Without further ado, let’s take a look at five players who have successfully changed their position this season (2021-22).
#5 Jamal Musiala (Bayern Munich)
FC Bayern München v Borussia Dortmund – Bundesliga
Julian Nagelsmann took over as Bayern Munich‘s manager last summer. The early signs are very promising for the young coach as he has already found some wonderful solutions to some of the Bavarians’ niggling issues.
For example, he has successfully managed to bring out the best in Leroy Sane by tweaking the system slightly. But the most underrated of such changes that Nagelsmann has brought about is the transformation of Jamal Musiala.
As per Sport1, Bayern Munich view Jamal Musiala as a successor to Thiago Alcantara, a player who can efficiently link attack and midfield. Musiala started out as an attacker but is now being trained in the ways of a box-to-box midfielder.
Thanks to his excellent close control, footwork and ability to find the back of the net, he is becoming a very effective number eight. The 19-year-old has done an excellent job whenever he has been called upon this season.
In 38 appearances across all competitions for Bayern Munich so far this season, Musala has scored eight goals and provided six assists.
#4 Thomas Lemar (Atletico Madrid)
Atletico Madrid v AC Milan: Group B – UEFA Champions League
Thomas Lemar joined Atletico Madrid from AS Monaco in 2018 as an attacker. He was a final third player but his role has changed considerably over the last few seasons. Lemar was starting to become a peripheral figure at the club when Diego Simeone decided to have a conversation with him and work out a plan for him.
Last season, Simeone started playing Lemar in central midfield. For an attacker, slotting into midfield is always difficult. They have to improve the defensive aspects of their game like making recoveries and maintaining positional discipline.
Lemar has been slowly picking up on these things and he is starting to look extremely comfortable in Atletico Madrid’s midfield at the moment. Playing under one of the best defensive coaches in the world, the Frenchman has become adept at his work off the ball this season.
Thanks to his exceptional technical qualities in possession, Lemar is slowly starting to establish himself as a top quality central midfielder. In 34 appearances across all competitions for Atletico Madrid so far this season, Lemar has scored four goals and provided six assists.
#3 Gabriel Jesus (Manchester City)
Manchester City v Real Madrid Semi Final Leg One – UEFA Champions League
Gabriel Jesus played deputy to Sergio Aguero for the first few years of his stay in Manchester. The Brazilian international is technically gifted but he is nothing like the archetypal Premier League number nine. Pep Guardiola recognized this and has utilized him as more of a wide forward than a striker this season.
Jesus has benefitted from such a positional change as he has never really been known for his prolific goalscoring. His auxiliary skills, including link-up play and inventiveness in and around the final third, have been beneficial to Manchester City in the past.
The 25-year-old has done a very good job for the Cityzens this season, operating largely down the right side. He has very seldom started as a centre-forward as Guardiola has preferred using a false nine instead of an out-and-out number nine.
In 36 appearances across all competitions for Manchester City so far this season, Jesus has scored 12 goals and provided 12 assists.
#2 Sadio Mane (Liverpool)
FC Internazionale v Liverpool FC: Round Of Sixteen Leg One – UEFA Champions League
Under Jurgen Klopp, the trio of Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah formed one of the most intimidating attacking units of recent times at Liverpool. Mane was tasked with bombing up and down the left flank and wreaking havoc in and around the final third.
He has lost a bit of pace over the past couple of seasons and had a rather underwhelming outing in the 2020-21 season by his own lofty standards. But Mane has bounced back this season in tremendous fashion and it has been facilitated by a clever positional change.
The 30-year-old has largely played as a centre-forward since the arrival of Luis Diaz from Benfica in January. It’s a role the Senegalese international has played to perfection since. As per WhoScored.com, Mane has played nine games as a centre-forward this season and has scored seven goals and provided one assist while playing there.
#1 Joao Cancelo (Manchester City)
Manchester City v Atlético Madrid Quarter Final Leg One – UEFA Champions League
To say that Joao Cancelo has shifted positions successfully this season would be an understatement. The Portuguese right-back has been deployed at left-back at Manchester City this term. Cancelo has not only come up trumps but he has also established himself as one of the best left-backs in the game right now.
The 27-year-old is one of the most technically gifted full-backs of his generation. Additionally, his positional awareness, passing range and vision are all exemplary and Cancelo has been a menacing presence down the left wing for City.
He has been equally effective on both sides of the pitch and has played a key role in Manchester City’s exploits across all tournaments this season. Cancelo has scored three goals and provided nine assists in 46 appearances across all competitions so far this term.