5 United players who rejuvenated their careers by changing position
Versatility is a trait in football that can get any player into a manager’s good books.
So often, we’ve seen players who have struggled to regularly feature in their team’s starting 11 not be offloaded to other clubs purely for the fact they make ‘great squad players.’
Take Daley Blind for example. The Dutchman has failed to make an impact under Jose Mourinho despite being regularly picked by Louis Van Gaal during his tenure, whether it be in midfield, at full-back, or the centre of the defence.
Why hasn’t Blind been sold yet? Because Jose Mourinho knows he is a player he can trust when crisis strikes.
Sadly, however, Blind does not make my list. But here are some United players – even legends in some cases – who rejuvenated their careers by changing positions.
5. Ashley Young
— Manchester United (@MUFCScoop) December 1, 2017
The most recent entry in this list, Ashley Young this season has enjoyed in my opinion his most promising season in a United shirt so far.
Young arrived at Old Trafford in the summer of 2011, having impressed punters as a winger for Aston Villa.
In his debut season, Young tallied a respectable six goals and seven assists in 25 league games, with another goal coming in the Champions League.
As Young got older, and United’s tendency to splurge on incoming players following Sir Alex’s retirement grew, the England international found himself running down the pecking order.
It was under Louis Van Gaal that Young began his transition to full-back, often being picked as a left wing-back during United’s phase of playing three in defence.
This season, Young has finally made the left-back position his own, despite Luke Shaw’s impressive performances in the same role.
Making 30 appearances in all competitions in the United defence this season, Young has shown maturity with age, resulting in the Red Devils activating the one-year extension clause in his contract.
4. Antonio Valencia
?? Antonio Valencia
? 32 Years Old
But over time he’s adapted to be one of the most reliable right-backs in the Premier League. Nothing too fussy, nothing spectacular, just steady consistency. pic.twitter.com/ik6Y3WKRHs
— FourFourTwo ⚽️ (@FourFourTwo) April 26, 2018
Following a similar path to Ashley Young – only doing it much, much better – Antonio Valencia’s transition from winger to full-back has been seamless.
The Ecuadorian arrived from Wigan Athletic in 2009, replacing Cristiano Ronaldo in the iconic number seven jersey.
However, Valencia couldn’t live up to the pressure, instead opting to change to number 25 to relieve the massive weight on his shoulders.
Tony V’s style of football in a more advanced role was very no-nonsense. No faff, no frills, just electric pace and bullet crosses.
Like Ashley Young, however, Valencia was victimised by United’s post-Fergie panic buying. The arrivals of players such as Angel Di Maria, Shinji Kagawa, and Juan Mata didn’t favour the likes of Valencia.
Under Van Gaal, Valencia also made the transition to full-back, though this decision was questioned by fans given that the Dutchman had recruited Matteo Darmian during his second season.
It was under Mourinho where Valencia came into his own, earning himself the United Player’s Player of the Year award in the 2016/17 season.
Even to this day, Valencia has become one of United’s most reliable players. And at the ripe old age of 32, his transition to defender has only prolonged his career.
3. Ryan Giggs
Ryan Giggs epitomises everything a Manchester United legend should be.
A well-known graduate of the class of ’92, Giggs’ loyalty to the club and his performances throughout the decades has rightfully earned him the title of ‘Club Legend’.
During his prime, Giggs terrorised defenders as he ran at them down the left-wing, with either of David Beckham or Cristiano Ronaldo on the opposite flank complimenting his play nicely.
One area of his game that troubled Giggs in the mid-late 90s, however, was his delivery. However, this improved with age.
Giggs’ football had improved in direct correlation in which his pace and agility dwindled, causing him to change his style of play.
Giggsy’s attacking prowess was far too good to be wasted by transitioning to defence like Young or Valencia, so the Welshman looked to become United’s orchestrator in midfield.
Instead of beating his opposition by dribbling into space beyond them, Giggs now used incisive passes to cut through defences.
Blossoming under Fergie’s introduction of a 4-3-3 formation, Giggs even kept Paul Scholes out of the squad in the 2009 and 2011 Champions League finals.
2. Paul Scholes
We tried hard to sign Paul Scholes, we gave @ManUtd a blank cheque, we spoke to him but his reply was simple, "If you want me to play for you, you'd have to buy this club."
-Inter President, Massimo Moratti
— KheloMore (@KheloMore) April 22, 2018
You’ll struggle to find a player who is more committed to the club of Manchester United than Paul Scholes.
Younger fans may know Scholes as one of the greatest midfielders to ever put on a United shirt. What might surprise them, however, is that he started his career in a much more advanced role.
Before cementing himself in the debate for ‘best England midfielder ever’, Scholesy was banging in 20+ goals a season in 1995/96 and 2002/03 campaigns, playing alongside Andy Cole and Ruud van Nistelrooy.
However, looking at some of the goals he’s scored for United in the past, there’s no surprise that Scholes once utilised his finishing capabilities up front.
Scholes’ unmatched passing range and composure in the tackle made him the complete midfielder for United in the 21st century. Sir Alex missed his presence so much he asked him to come out of retirement in January 2012.
Scholesy got another Premier League winners medal out of it though, so I think it was worth it – despite having to fork out £50 on a new pair of boots.
1. Wayne Rooney
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) April 24, 2018
With 253 goals for the club, Wayne Rooney became United’s all-time leading goalscorer last season.
As a striker, Wazza lit up the Premier League, helping the Red Devils to win every trophy you can imagine. However, there was always more to his game.
Playing alongside attackers such as Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Cristiano Ronaldo, Carlos Tevez, and more, Rooney’s contributions in creating goals as well as scoring them worked wonders in helping his side to success.
Perhaps the watershed moment in Rooney’s transition to midfield came when United secured the signature of Robin Van Persie in summer 2012.
At that point, Sir Alex had long ditched the out-dated 4-4-2 system, so many questioned how both players would fit into the team.
Thankfully, Rooney was deployed behind Van Persie in a number 10 – and it worked wonders. That season, United captured their 20th Premier League title, the perfect send-off for Fergie.
In his last few seasons for Manchester United, Rooney’s transition into a more deep-lying playmaker/number 10 was complete, mimicking the path of Paul Scholes.
The signings of Radamel Falcao, Anthony Martial, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic only sunk Rooney deeper into this role – quite literally.
However, Wazza excelled in his new-found position, and still showed glimpses of class throughout. Just look at his goal against Bournemouth last season and you’ll realise he can still work magic with the ball.