Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes.

Who were the best Reds to change position?

Sunday 10 October 2021 07:00

Although some players are famed as utility men, who can operate in a variety of positions, there are others who are noted for changing their role on the pitch.

It is easy to forget some Manchester United icons who achieved superstardom started out functioning in very different positions and Cristiano Ronaldo's return has perfectly illustrated how those at the top of the sport can evolve their game. The penalty-box predator we see now is quite removed from the tricky winger who first arrived from Sporting Club in Lisbon.

Paul Scholes broke into the senior side as a centre-forward and another all-time great in Ryan Giggs matured into a central midfield orchestrator when age ensured he was less of the jet-heeled left winger than when he made his name.

Lee Sharpe operated at full-back in the early days of his United career.

Lee Sharpe made his breakthrough as a marauding left-back, after arriving from Torquay United, while others such as Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young, moved in the opposite direction by reverting to defence after being very attack-minded.

The list goes on and on; Paul Parker was a centre-back or sweeper before being converted to right-back with great success by Sir Alex Ferguson, while Brian McClair dropped into midfield after being a marksman of some repute in Scotland and the first part of his United career.

So what do the experts think? We asked Reds legends Andy Cole and Denis Irwin for their take on which players had changed position to the best effect.

Treble-winning striker Cole had a long think and replied: "Oh dear, possibly Giggsy. Scholesy is up there as well but I'd go for Giggsy.

“To transform your game from a flying winger and coming inside instead, he certainly did reinvent himself. You wouldn't believe he had been a flying left-winger. He was special."

Watch Paul Scholes discuss his debut as a striker against Port Vale, with UTD Podcast.

"Well, Scholesy changed position," explained Irwin. "When you look at him as a young lad, he was a centre-forward but then, as he progressed through his career, he went from a player up front to an attacking midfielder to, in the end, a holding midfield player, getting the ball off the back four and spraying it around.

“He even played left-midfield for England quite a few times. He had the ability to play anywhere, Scholesy, but predominantly down the middle. He was a great player and changed numerous positions. You don't get it happening as much these days as the positions are so specialised now. I don't think Scholesy could ever work up front on his own like in today's game but he could have played anywhere, which shows the ability the lad had, it really does. 

“If he'd moved back further, he would have been a centre-back and could have done that, don't worry about that, he'd have been the best ball-playing centre-back since Franz Beckenbauer," he laughed.

Watch one of Lee Sharpe's hat-trick goals at Arsenal in 1990.

Former team-mate Sharpe is also worthy of recognition, according to Irwin, who linked well with the former England international.

"Sharpey could play on the left wing or left back and sometimes in front of me, on the right-hand side," Denis added. "He scored a great hat-trick from the right wing at Arsenal and was another player who could change position.

“He is very under-rated and a bit forgotten about. Giggsy was there forever but, before he came in, Sharpey was fantastic in that position and even as a great understudy to Giggsy for quite a while. 

“So Scholesy or Sharpey, in my day, are the ones who stick to mind."