It always frustrates me whenever I ask kids: “What position do you play?” and they reply “Striker” or “Full-back”.
Why at such an early age are parents and coaches pigeon holling certain positions to kids?
This is where the English game at grassroots level has to change in my opinion.
I often watch the English national team play and watch matches in the Premier League and think to myself could certain players slot into other positions with ease?
I know for a fact that players such as Dani Alves could fill in and do an effective job as a right winger. I never once doubted whether Philipp Lahm or Cafu could play higher up the field or whether Gerard Pique or Thiago Silva could fit comfortably into the centre of midfield. The reason is because they were developed as great football players before they were assigned to specific positions.
I believe as a nation we concentrating too much on developing players to play certain positions or roles at too young of an age.
How often do you hear coaches or parents on the sidelines coming out with dated cliches such as “you’re tall, you should be a central defender” or “you’re quick, you should be a striker.”
Players, and in particular young players should be encouraged to develop different skills that are required in the game, so they are flexible when it comes to playing in any area of the field.
Forcing young players into playing specific positions too early narrows the skill sets and restricts them into playing certain roles for the rest of their careers.
Players changing positions early in their professional careers is a popular trend.
Examples include former players’ such as ex- Sunderland striker Kevin Phillips. He started his career as a right full back and then moved to become a striker. He won the European Golden Boot in 2000.
Carlos Puyol was another who started as a winger and then converted to become one of the worlds finest central defenders.
All of these players were able to make the transition because their technical skill level and game understanding for different positions was developed at a young age.
I will always remember the time when I was in the youth team at Manchester United and Rio Ferdinand came to train with us.
He was just coming back from injury and on this particular day we played a small-sided game, the area was so tight you barely had the chance to take more than two-touches before getting tackled.
He played in central midfield and made the game look so simple, other people who were playing were rushing when they received the ball and they kept on giving the ball away because they were getting pressured so quickly. He was the complete opposite, every time he got the ball he was so calm and he passed it with so much composure.
The reason he was like this is because he was developed as a great football player in his early years before he was developed as a great central defender. In his early days he played as an attacking midfielder and the technical ability he practiced from his childhood stayed with him during his career. It was later in his teenage years when he was moved back to become a central defender and that’s when he adapted his position.
Aside from pigeon holing young players into positions too early there is also the limitations it can place on the style of football they play.
Sometimes in game, you are required to rotate and overloads may happen which is when you need players to cover and fill in a variety of different positions.
When your centre back is carrying to ball forward into midfield, the midfielder must be comfortable to drop back into defence to fill the defender’s position.
Likewise, if a left full back is going on a run forward then one of his team mates in a deeper position must be comfortable in filling into his position.
The great players are able to adapt very quickly to different demands in the game. They are able to do parts of the game very well with high amounts of quality.
I believe our next generation of coaches should focus on developing all technical and tactical areas with young players.
Coaches should prepare players with different skills and awareness that each position brings in order to create great all round players. This gives players an understanding of the game as a whole so they can adapt to different positional and tactical styles.
It will also enable players to adapt quickly and intelligently with the skills they have practiced whenever it is required of them.