Swiss Army Knives: Top 15 Most Versatile Players in Football

Josip Brajkovic
Josip Brajkovic
Published: 29.1.2024.

Mastering the game of football at just one position is difficult enough. So when players are equally adept at playing on different spots throughout the pitch, it’s truly a different level of accomplishment in itself. All the managers and the sporting directors would love their squad to include at least one of these top 15 most versatile players in football.

We’re looking at positional versatility with a bigger weight given to less common switches. Central midfielders often push down or up to attacking or defensive midfield spots. But that doesn’t warrant a spot amongst the top 15 most versatile players in football.

James Milner (Brighton & Hove Albion) - CM, RM, LM, LB, RB

James Milner

Silently, James Milner has created a career that stands out from his peers. Not just because most of his peers are long retired, while he is going strong at 38, but because during those 20 years of playing, he has been utilized across the pitch.

Milner played most of his games at centre midfield, 235 of them, with 183 games as a right midfielder, and 86 as a left midfielder. But it was after his move to Liverpool that the right-footed veteran became a provisional left-back and collected 72 matches! Additionally, Milner also played 34 games as a right-back and performed in other positions like AM and CF on a handful of occasions.

Joshua Kimmich (Bayern Munich) - DM, RB

Joshua Kimmich

It's one to be a versatile football player, it's completely a different level to be a world-class player at two very distinct positions. Joshua Kimmich started his career as a defensive midfielder, and that is where he played the most games, 234, scoring 26 times and making 59 assists. But the 28-year-old German was one of the very best right-backs in the game when playing for Jupp Heynckes, Carlo Ancelotti, and Hansi Flick between 2015 and 2019. Playing 111 games at this position, scoring 10 times and making 40 assists.

Kimmich also played 63 matches as a central midfielder, but he is no stranger to defence, where he played 22 games.

David Alaba (Real Madrid) - LB, CB, CM

David Alaba

David Alaba isn't just versatile, he almost completely made a switch up in his career. He started as a left-back who would venture into the left midfield position (24 appearances), but he then almost entirely transitioned into a centre-back. Now he has 261 appearances at LB, and 204 as a CB. So he might finish his career with more games as a centre-back.

Additionally, Alaba also played 51 games as a central midfielder, 27 as a defensive midfielder, and even played some games at right midfield.

Lionel Messi (Inter Miami) - RW, CF, SS

Lionel Messi

The reality is that Leo Messi has the freedom to roam across the attacking third wherever he wants. With all the managers. Yet he did play the most games in his career as a right-wing, 454, with a centre-forward position a close second at 328 games. But Messi also did play as an attacking midfielder 28 times, a secondary striker 68 times, and even on the left wing in 10 games.

As we established in our article on the best passers in football, it's hard to exclude Lionel from any of the top 10 rankings in football. Lionel also became a great leader late in his career, showing adaptability in that manner too.

Joao Cancelo (Barcelona) - RB, LB, RM

Joao Cancelo

For a few seasons while he was in Italy, an argument that Joao Cancelo is the world's best right-back and left-back could've been made. The Portuguese footballer started as a RB and played the most games there, 217, but he also played 93 matches as a LB, and 53 as a right midfield player! Providing goals and assists from wherever he was positioned.

Antoine Griezmann (Atletico Madrid) - CF, LW, RW, SS

Antoine Griezmann

Overall, not just positionally, Antoine Griezmann is probably the most versatile player in the world. The Frenchman does it all, he scores, assists, presses, and tackles. But he is also useful as the manager can place him anywhere in the final third and he'll more than manage.

Griezmann played the most as a second striker, scoring 92 goals and making 42 assists in his 198 games there. Followed closely by his output from the left wing: 191 games, 62 goals and 30 assists. Griezmann also played as a full-fledged forward, scoring 84 goals and making 35 assists in 173 games. The veteran also played on the right wing 37 times, with 12 exploits in the attacking midfield position. But realistically, he can be found and found useful anywhere on the pitch.

Adam Marusic (Lazio) - RB, RM, RW, LB, LM, LW

Adam Marusic

A lesser-known name than the other top 15 most versatile players, yet Adam Marusic is underrated, not underserving. The 31-year-old managed to play 247 games for Lazio and he served the club's needs any way he could. Overall in his career, he played as a right wing-back, full-back, midfielder, and winger. Mostly collecting the games in the midfield, 97, with 66 as an RB, and 43 as an RW.

But the right-footed pacey player also made a massive switch as he played on the left flank as well. Also as a wing-back, left-back, left midfielder, and left winger! Collecting 82 games as a LB, 29 in midfield on the left, and 33 as a winger. The Serbian-born Montenegro international also played 12 games as a CB!

Marcos Llorente (Atletico Madrid) - DM, CM, RM

Marcos Llorente

Another player who is making Diego Simeone's life easier. Marcos Llorente, like Antoine Griezmann, is an A-tier athlete, which makes his transitions from position to position easier. Still, this versatility primarily proves his undermentioned tactical prowess. A defensive midfielder by trade, the Spaniard played 106 games there. But he also played 86 matches a bit up the field, in central midfield. His breakout season arguably came when he played as a right midfielder in Cholo's 4-4-2.

Llorente had expeditions into other positions, 20 matches as a SS, 18 as an AM, 12 as a right-back, and even six games covering up for missing centre-backs.

Bernardo Silva (Bernardo Silva) - AM, RW, RM, CM

Bernardo Silva

When you’re playing for Pep Guardiola, you have to be versatile. But Bernardo Silva still stands out in the Manchester City squad and the Premier League too. Due to his stature, before the arrival of David Silva to England, the younger player would've been dismissed as too small to play in the big, bad PL. Yet not only has Bernardo excelled as an attacking midfielder, winning five titles, but he has played successfully across the pitch.

Cementing his place as one of the most versatile football players in the world, the 29-year-old has 134 games as an AM, 129 as an RW, 69 games a little down the pitch at right midfield, 11 games at LW, and 17 matches as the most forward player. The most impressive is that Bernardo got to 109 games as a central midfielder.

Ivan Perisic (Hajduk Split) - LM, LW, RW

Ivan Perisic

The tireless Croatian’s other key weapon that made managers across many clubs employ him is his versatility. Working equally well with both feet, Perisic is still primarily a left wing player with 244 games there and a return of 66 goals and 61 assists. The former Spurs man also played closer to his goal at left midfield, with 131 games. But the veteran was used on the right wing as well, with 43 games coming from that side.

Due to using both his feet, Perisic found himself across the pitch in smaller portions too, 18 games as an AM, and fewer than 10 at each of CF, SS, and CM.

Thomas Muller (Bayern Munich) - SS, RW, AM, CF

Thomas Muller

While all of these players are versatile, none so much that they had to invent a new role for him. Raumdauter, or "space explorer" in German is Thomas Muller's primary profession, football is just in the way. But the German's ability to play football from all points of attack truly helped in making him a world-class player.

Perhaps there isn't a more notable secondary striker in the 21st century, with 322 games played from this spot. But Muller also had to play as the main centre-forward often, 53 times to be exact. Muller's longevity is on display as well, as he played 217 games at right-wing too, with 83 matches as an attacking midfielder. Bayern changed throughout the years and with managers, Muller adapted. Lastly, the lanky German also played a season's worth of games at left wing - 32.

All in all, it's not surprising how high Muller is on the list of players with the most assists in the 21st century.

Dusan Tadic (Fenerbahce) - LW, RW, AM, CF

Dusan Tadic

For his clubs and for his country, Dusan Tadic offered a lot of tactical flexibility on the count of his competence to play anywhere in attack. Which led to discussions as to where he is the best. Those are still ongoing, but the numbers say he was mostly utilized on the left-wing, 288 times. Followed by 113 outings on the right wing, then 76 games as an attacking midfielder, and 70 as a centre-forward. Although, in fairness, Tadic usually played the role of a false nine, not that of a proper number nine.

Daley Blind (Girona) - LB, CB, DM

Daley Blind

A player with a deceptively long career, a part of the reason Daley Blind has lasted so long is that he was able to adapt. Both on career-long trajectory, and when the tactics of the game required it. While he started as a left-back player, he has now more games as a centre-back (219), than as LB (189). Additionally, the Dutch player managed to get 69 games as a defensive midfielder.

Marcel Sabitzer (Borussia Dortmund) - RW, CM, LW, AM, SS, CF

Marcel Sabitzer

Arguably the king of versatile players, Marcel Sabitzer didn't just play at various positions, he has a season's worth of games at six different positions! His biography might single out his central midfield position, but he played the most games at right wing - 135. Followed then by his CM outings, the 113 of them. But Sabitzer also played on the left wing, 57 times, as an attacking midfielder 47 times, as an SS 44, and as a centre-forward 39 times!

The Austrian has been utilized at right midfield and as a DM as well!

Alessandro Florenzi (Milan) - RB, CM, RM

Alessandro Florenzi

Through times in which Milan wasn't the economical powerhouse it used to be, Alessandro Florenzi was invaluable to the squad as his versatility meant the squad size didn't require additional expensive bodies. The right-back covered even positions diagonally opposed to his original one - right-back. There, he did play the bulk of his club matches - 201!

But the Italian also performed at central midfield a lot, in 113 games. With 55 and 25 games at right midfield and right win positions. Florenzi filled up leaks at LB, AM, and LM, but also at left wing!

Honourable mentions for the most versatile players in football go out to Raphael Guerreiro (LB, LM, CM), Cesar Azpilicueta (RB, LB, CB, RM), and Emre Can (DM, CM, CB).


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