The Complete Player

Altan Ramadan Toffa Leave a Comment

With Guardiola’s arrival at Bayern Munich Philipp Lahm, a right back for much of his career, had to adjust to playing as the midfield pivot.

Football is a dynamic game. It requires players to work together in harmony, across all areas of the field to both attack and defend.

In order to give young players the best chance to succeed at the highest level, he or she must play in a range of positions through their junior years.

Vision, Awareness and Game Intelligence

By operating in different roles an individual better understands what other teammates in different positions require to make an impact on a match.

For example, when trying to play out from the back, midfielders need to learn that becoming a passing option for a defender on the ball is essential. Not moving off the ball and providing a good passing angle, forces the defender to either kick long or revert back to the goalkeeper.  Midfielders become better players when they understand the needs of defenders.

Likewise, fullbacks are not effective if they have only grown up facing the play in front of them. Midfielders and attackers must learn to play the game on the half turn. Delivery of a great pass out of defence is reliant on the fullback or central defender having the presence to recognise exactly where the receiving player needs the ball.

Playing young athletes in different positions is a core part of the Top Flight Football Academy game day philosophy.

It forces players to become conscious of being able to receive and pass with both feet, often in pressure situations.

Players improve awareness and game intelligence by experiencing the requirements and responsibilities of different positions.  The big picture of what the team is trying to do becomes apparent.

The Opportunity Lost

By not gaining this experience, a young player can be the victim of stereotyping which denies the opportunity to understand what their best position is.

A tall 9 year old?  Centre back or striker.

A little on the small side?  Fullback.

Strong in the tackle and a good passer?  Centre midfield.

These decisions at a young age by coaches can limit the development of an aspiring athlete to be the best that they can be.

Not only is opportunity missed at a young age it can also be detrimental to a player later in their career if they are not versatile.  Simply put, a versatile player has more opportunities than one who can only play one or two positions.


German World Cup winning captain Philip Lahm is an excellent example of a player with this sort of versatility.  A right back with Bayern Munich for much of his life the arrival of Pep Guardiola as club manager transformed him into a defensive midfielder.

Lahm had the footballing intelligence to make the switch and was a huge asset to the national team in Brazil 2014.


There is no better quote about the value of being a complete footballer than that of Joao Saldhana, manager of the brilliant 1970 Brazil national team that won the World Cup in Mexico.

“Ask me who is the best right back in Brazil and I will say Pele.  Ask me about the best left back or the best midfield man, or the best centre forward.  Always I will say Pele.   If he wishes to be the best goalkeeper he will be.”[1]

While there may be only one Pele, his ability to play across the pitch was part of his genius and allowed him to both finish and create goal-scoring opportunities.

He developed this gift through hours and hours of small-sided games in the street when he was young.


Space, the creation and subsequent exploitation of, is vital in today’s game.  The game is usually won (or lost) through the creation of player overloads (2 v 1 or 3 v 2). Creating overloads in all areas of the field are a hugely important part of the modern game. This of course requires players with the technical and tactical acumen to create and exploit these overload situations. This game intelligence and technical capacity can only be acquired by playing players in all thirds of the field during their development years.

If players have the tactical and technical skills to understand what both they and their teammates need, they will be able to make more of a difference on match day.

That is why regularly exposing young footballers to different positions is so important to player development and therefore part of Top Flight Football Academy’s approach to training and matches.

[1] Observer Sport Monthly 28 June 1970 (reproduced in Observer Sport Monthly 19 May 2002

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