6 Footballers Who Changed Playing Positions to Become World Class Players

6 Footballers Who Changed Playing Positions to Become World Class Players

Rene Otinga
November 20, 2023 at 11:09 AM
  • One of the marks of being a great football player is the ability to excel in a certain position
  • Many world-class players are considered so because they show skill in a specific position
  • However, there exists an elite group of football stars who managed to successfully switch

When you think of a world-class footballer, a lot of things tend to come in play - such as a player’s ability to win titles and their overall abilities as a player.

Of course, it would be a bit of a stretch to expect a player to be good at everything: a great defender, for example, will likely be a poor finisher, while a great striker will likely not have the defensive qualities to aid his team.

Players who are masters in midfield battles are unlikely to be effective on the flanks, while central defenders tend to be brilliant in the air, even in attack.

Yaya Toure, Messi
Yaya Toure of Manchester City and Lionel Messi of Barcelona compete for the ball during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16, second leg match between FC Barcelona and Manchester City at Camp Nou on March 12, 2014. Photo by Alex Livesey.
Source: Getty Images

With all this in mind, it is safe to say many footballers the fans know and love mostly utilise their strengths in their respective positions.

But what happens when a player eventually shifts places to take up completely different roles?

Arsenal attacker Kai Havertz was recently named as a left back as Germany boss Julian Nagelsmann decided to experiment against Turkey.

While the 24-year old found the net, it was not necessarily a solid performance overall from him, and perhaps he is better off further up the field.

Sports Brief looks at some football stars who switched positions either early on or later on in their career, with that tweak working wonders.

1. Gianluigi Buffon - defender to goalkeeper

It is surreal to imagine one of the best goalkeepers in footballing history started out as a defender.

Gianluigi Buffon for Parma in 1999. Photo by Henri Szwarc
Source: Getty Images

Yet according to, Buffon initially played in the outfield when he started out in football. His father eventually talked him into trying his luck between the sticks and the rest is history.

2. Cristiano Ronaldo - winger to striker

Fans with long memories will remember the skinny Sporting Lisbon winger from 2002, who attracted interest from Sir Alex Ferguson after that fateful match against Manchester United.

Cristiano, Premier League, Manchester United
Cristiano Ronaldo of Manchester United in action during the UEFA Champions League Group E match between Panathinaikos and Manchester United on November 26, 2003. Photo by Ross Kinnaird.
Source: Getty Images

Ronaldo was brilliant on the flanks earlier in his career and was a winger for years, before a red card in 2007 switched his entire game around, as per

3. Gareth Bale - left-back to winger

The now-retired Gareth Bale initially began his career at Southampton, playing as a left-back who was somehow a free kick specialist. His move to Tottenham Hotspur in 2007 was the turning point of his career once his position was changedplaying position.

4. Sergio Ramos - striker to centre-back

Have you ever wondered why Sergio Ramos is so prolific from the penalty spot? Well, the Spaniard started out as a striker during his Sevilla days. He never lost his knack of scoring goals, however, and earned the nickname of 'striking defender' over time.

5. Mohamed Salah - left-back to winger/forward

An exciting story from ThisIsAnfieldcom documents how Salah was transformed from a fifth-choice left-back to become the most lethal forward in world football today.

Salah, Premier League
AS Roma player Mohamed Salah celebrates the goal during the Serie A match between AS Roma and ACF Fiorentina at Stadio Olimpico on March 4, 2016. Photo by Luciano Rossi.
Source: Getty Images

According to Said El Shishiny, who coached the Egyptian at the El Mokawloon Academy, the pacey player was initially a left-back. There was fierce competition for the position then and Salah was not favoured.

6. Victor Osimhen - defender to striker

Napoli ace, Victor Osimhen admitted he started his career as a defender who idolised Chelsea legend, Didier Drogba while growing up. The Nigerian is now one of the most sought-after strikers in Europe and will likely leave Naples for a hefty fee in the summer.

Honourable mentions

Other honourable mentions include Phillip Lahm, who started out as a right-back before transitioning to defensive midfield.

Andrea Pirlo also started out as a classic number 10 but as he grew older, he moved deeper in midfield, where he established himself as a maestro.

Former Manchester City star, Yaya Toure was also a defender earlier in his career at Barcelona but his best days as a footballer came as a master in midfield.

Declan Rice admits price tag pressure

Still on the Premier League, Arsenal midfielder Declan Rice recently admitted the pressure of having a £105 million price tag.

The Gunners broke the British transfer record by signing Rice for £105 million from West Ham, a record that was eclipsed by Chelsea, who paid £115 million for Moises Caicedo weeks later.

As Sports Brief reported, he has already scored against two big teams, in the 3-1 win over Manchester United and the 2-2 draw against his former club Chelsea.

Rene Otinga photo
Rene Otinga
Rene Otinga is a sports journalist with over eight years of working experience in digital media. Rene's experience includes working as a Copywriter at X News Kenya and
Mohamed SalahCristiano RonaldoVictor Osimhen