Versatility; Adaptability; Flexibility – not always the first words or attributes we look for when scouting in Football Manager, however over the years we have seen a number of successful teams benefit hugely from having an effective Utility Man in their squad who can play in multiple positions and cover a number of roles when called upon. Any names come to mind?
More and more games to play each season combined with squad registrations and injuries mean that the Utility Man has become an extremely important addition to the squad, and in the modern game we see an increased need for players to be far more versatile and adaptable than in previous years where player positions were more structured and defined. This is not only the case in real life, but also in Football Manager where it is vital to have players that can suit multiple positions especially when budgets are tight and FM can at times take pleasure in inflicting various levels of injury crises at crucial points in a season.
In this article we will look at the role of the Utility Man and look back on the more successful advocates of the position in recent years; we will analyse how to approach scouting for a utility man as well as on implementing them successfully in the game – we will then use this to look at who are the most effective utility men in the modern era and identify the best Utility Players & prospects in FM20 at both elite and lower league level.
“There was a period in the late-’80s when Ruud Gullit rivalled Diego Maradona as the world’s best player, and in virtually any position – centre half, winger, centre-midfield or up front. But for injuries, Ruud would’ve achieved even more than he did.” — Ronald Koeman, Holland Manager.
Younger readers might recall Ruud Gullit as a Sky Sports pundit, or that guy with the dreadlocks who used to manage Chelsea and Newcastle for a while. As a Newcastle fan I still remember the notion of “sexy football” that Ruud brought to the North East for a brief period, While this couldn’t quite be maintained as a Manager, Ruud Gullit was an absolute gem of a football player and although different from the traditional Utility Man in that he was often the first name on the teamsheet at the majority of his ex-clubs (Milan, PSV, Sampdoria and Chelsea among his ex employers), he was outstanding in almost every area of the pitch short of being a goalkeeper and this earns him first honorable mention in our Utility Man story.
Slightly older readers will remember that Ruud Gullit was known to play almost anyhere through the middle of the pitch, often switching from Centre Half to Centre Forward during the same 90 minute period while regularly playing as a Sweeper, Defensive Midfielder, Attacking Midfielder and Powerhouse Striker from one week to the next. He featured mostly as a Striker or Attacking Midfielder during his best years having started out as a Central Defender, and again reverted back towards being a Sweeper / Centre Half towards the end of his career when he joined Chelsea and kickstarted the club towards becoming the team it is today. After becoming the most expensive player in the world when he joined Milan from PSV for close to €7 million in 1987 (replacing the late Ray Wilkins who had left for PSG), he picked up back to back European Cups and won the Ballon D’Or for his efforts – widely accepted as the best player in the world at the time; not bad for a Utility Man.
And now for the important question…how good was he in FM? Back when it was Championship Manager – well, see for yourself…..
This is not the first time we have observed Strikers moonlighting as Centre Halves in the past, both in real life and again reflected in CM/FM. Before Chris Sutton was partnered with Alan Shearer which led to Blackburn famously winning the Premier League in 1995, he was signed by Norwich as a Centre Half which thankfully didn’t take long to correct from the perspective of Blackburn fans. He was swiftly converted to Centre Forward at Norwich and scored 25 goals in the 94/95 season which lead to him being signed by Blackburn – the rest as we know is history, he went on to form the prolific SAS partership with Alan Shearer and later found success at both Chelsea and Celtic. Another ex-Norwich Defender/Striker also emerged in the 1990’s by the name of Irishman Gary Doherty, who although not blessed with pace or skill was powerful and strong in the air making him equally effective at either Centre Back or Centre Forward. His career never flourished, but he was a perfect example of a reliable Utility Player that could come on and cover multiple positions when needed.
It’s hard to talk about hybrid defenders/strikers without mentioning one of CM9798’s finest. When one first loaded up this legendary game, you would normally see Manchester United re-signing Dion Dublin from Coventry for at least 5 or 6 million pounds and it rarely took long before he was featuring in the England squad both at Centre Half and at Centre Forward. Though known and remembered by most as a Striker during his time at Man United, Coventry and Aston Villa, Dion Dublin was frequently deployed successfully as a Central Defender, so much so that according to Dublin himself: “I remember when I was marking Wayne Rooney, playing centre-back for Villa, and he told me I was the best centre-back he’d played against.” Whether this is true or not we will never know, however there is no doubt that the likes of Ron Atkinson, Alex Ferguson and Gordon Strachan all rated Dublin highly both for his versatility as well as his strength and goal-scoring ability – there are still those that feel Dublin should have been included in England’s 1998 World Cup squad after finishing joint top scorer in the Premier League alongside Michael Owen and the aforementioned Chris Sutton. If you are one of those, I highly recommend reading “The World According to Championship Manager 97/98” by Dave Black (@CM9798 on Twitter) which brings absolute justice for Dion Dublin on the international stage.
Sticking with CM9798 – this version of the greatest set of games ever played brought to life arguably the most versatile and adaptable Utility Man of all…
Seriously – this guy was the ultimate all rounder and could literally play anywhere outfield on the park…why would you not sign him?
Utility Man Royalty
Brace yourselves for (in this writer’s opinion) the best Utility Man of all time both in terms of versatility, skill, technique, leadership and all round footballing pedigree. Luis Enrique was everything you would want from a footballer – he could defend, tackle, pass, dribble, score, assist – it’s little wonder that Barcelona moved quickly to sign him after his contract wasn’t renewed at Real Madrid in 1996, making him part of an exclusive list of players to play for both Spanish giants that also includes Ronaldo, Figo, Hagi and Eto’o to name a few. He went on to become part of title winning sides alongside the likes of Figo, Guardiola, Rivaldo, and Kluivert and eventually captained the Catalan giants from 2001 to 2004 – during his time he went from scoring 18 goals a season to being utilised at full-back, right wing, left wing and in central midfield and so much was his influence and footballing ability that he was named by Pele in his list of the 125 Greatest Living Footballers.
It’s fair to say that Sir Alex Ferguson was a clear advocate of the Utility Player and left a legacy in place at Man United whereby players have frequently been deployed in multiple areas outside of their natural position. The likes of Phil Neville, John O’Shea, Quinton Fortune, Alan Smith and even Wayne Rooney all found themselves playing in multiple positions under SAF, while even recently we have seen players such as Daley Blind, Ashley Young and Phil Jones all deployed at multiple positions throughout the season. Other clubs appear to have followed suit where we have seen the likes of Fabian Delph (Man City), James Milner (Liverpool), Victor Moses (Chelsea), Oleksandr Zinchenko (Man CIty), Ainsley Maitland-Niles (Arsenal) and Matt Ritchie (Newcastle) all evolving into more versatile Utility Players initially to cover injuries but subsequently continuing to operate in multiple positions depending on needs must for their managers. It’s fair to say that this benefits the club in that they are able to maximise their squad usage and ensure they have cover for all positions, however would you say that the “positionless” names above have all had successful international careers? One might argue that being a Utility Man is detrimental to one’s international ambitions as these players don’t often get to prove themselves in specific positions when under the spotlight from International Managers. Would you agree?
What good is all of this in FM? As mentioned above – if you are managing on a tight budget, have to operate under certain constraints / squad restrictions or are going through the common FM affliction that is the annual injury crisis, then having a decent Utility Man in your squad offers a number of useful avenues. Not only do you ensure sufficient cover for multiple positions, it also enables you to maximise how you use your bench for games, facilitates squad rotation during a long season, enables you to bring versatility, adaptability and experience to the squad which is important for squad balance, development and mentoring – and finally it usually means you can be smart and efficient from a transfer market perspective as often these kinds of players can command a slightly lower transfer fee than a player specific to one position.
Scouting a Utility Man in FM
Using the Player Search function, it’s pretty easy to identify the more versatile utility type players by searching for those who are competent in multiple areas of the pitch. There are many variations of this and by tweaking these between the various playing positions, you can quickly get a gauge on the best Utility Players in the game regardless of what level you are managing at.
Below are my Top 5 Utility Players at the start of Football Manager 2020.
1. Saul Niguez
World-class player who can play at Centre Half or Right Wing, what more could you want?
2. Daniel Wass
Even more versatile in FM19, this lad can basically play anywhere across the defence or midfield line, solid as a rock.
3. Christian Kabasele
Ever been losing on 89 mins and thrown a Centre Back up top in a desperate attempt to score? Now you can as this man can do both..
4. Kristoffer Ajer
A natural at Centre Back, Defensive Midfielder and Central Midfield – he basically is worth three players in any squad. Echoes of Paul McGrath, Lothar Mattheus, Javier Mascherano and Fernandinho all rolled in to one 💪💪💪💪.
5. David Alaba
Another player who was even more versatile in earlier versions of FM, David Alaba is the ultimate utility man in that he can do a job almost anywhere on the pitch. His outrageous attributes combined with his ability to play either in central or wide roles mean we can’t not include him in this list.
|Top 5 Youth Prospects 🔥||Top 5 Lower League 💰|
|Konrad Laimer (RBL)||Joe Rankin Costello (Blackburn)|
|Dwight McNeil (Burnley)||Marcus McGuane (Barcelona B)|
|Pedro Porro (Man City)||Henry Lawrence (Chelsea U18)|
|Dejan Kulusevski (Juventus)||Wolke Janssens (Sint Truidense)|
|Jacob Bruun Larsen (Hoffenheim)||Dujan Sterling (Chelsea U18)|
It it worthwhile splashing out on one of the above? Does a Utility Player really contribute positively in Football Manager? (Writer’s note: “I wouldn’t expect him to turn games around single-handedly” comes to mind). The simplest way to find out is to look at some live examples after a season in FM 20 which is exactly what we have done – let’s look at three Utility Players in FM20 after one season completed to see how they contributed in their roles as Utility Men for their teams:
1. James Milner (Liverpool)
Played in 5 different positions during Liverpool’s title winning campaign albeit not regularly starting, however with Liverpool playing close to 50 games in the season he was a highly effective member of their squad in all competitions.
Utility Man Verdict: 8/10
2. Daniel Wass (Valencia)
Deployed mostly as a midfielder, Wass covered 4 different positions in a season which saw Valencia finish 4th in La Liga – probably would have featured more had Valencia not completed the signing of Right-Back Alessandro Florenzi on loan from Roma.
Utility Man Verdict: 7/10
3. Matt Ritchie (Newcastle)
Equally utilised at both Left Wing Back and Left Winger, Ritchie operated in 4 different roles in a season which saw Steve Bruce miraculously lead Newcastle to 17th position, narrowly avoiding the drop on the last day of the season.
Utility Man Verdict: 6/10
Convinced? Whatever way you look at it, we can see that certain clubs and players have reaped the fruits of the Utility Player function, and depending on your club and save in FM then it might be worth putting a small portion of your transfer budget aside with which to pick up the perfect Utility Man to add to and compliment your squad. Honorable mentions also go out to the likes of Joshua Kimmich (DR/MC), Hasan Salihamidzic (DRL/MRL/SC), Paul Warhurst (DC/SC)…have we missed anyone?
Thanks for reading,