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The false number nine, playing in the hole and of course the good old wing-back. If you were ever in any doubt that football was an evolving game, the evidence is there for us to see every Saturday (and Sunday, Monday, Tuesday…).
But for fans of a certain vintage it’s hard to shake off the shackles of the past when it comes to these recently created positions and it’s often easier to harp back to the more traditional roles that players would perform out on the field.
So, what of those players that were once the linchpin of any successful side? Have they simply become surplus to requirements or have they just morphed into the modern day equivalent like something out of a David Attenborough documentary?
Here are five footballing positions that seem to have gone out of favour, along with curly perms and black boots.
The Defensive Full-Back
Jamie Carragher once joked at Gary Neville’s expense that no kid growing up wanted to be a full-back. But can that be said of kids today? Once-upon-a-time a full-back’s role was to mark the opposition’s tricky winger out of the game, and if he couldn't manage that – then boot him into the stands. Ironically it’s probably due to the likes of Neville himself and his attacking contributions that the full-back is now seen as a second-string, attacking winger who provides assists and scores goals, with defending actually being seen as a distraction at times.
The Goal Poacher
Originating on the school playing fields up and down the country, the “poacher” or “goal hanger,” as they were often referred to would go on to ply his trade at clubs around the world to huge acclaim. However, it now appears that banging in 40 goals a season like Clive Allen and Ian Rush used to just doesn't cut it and a centre forward is expected to come back and actually help out in other areas of the field in order to justify their huge price tag.
The sweeper system was once one of the most coveted formations in global football. It seemed most of the great teams around Europe were conquering all before them and the flat back-four was most definitely yesterday’s news. Players like Franz Beckenbauer and Ronald Koeman were calmly running rings around their opponents and everybody wanted a piece of the action. Even top players of the time like Bryan Robson and Des Walker were touted around as England’s next sweeper. Just as well they didn't give up their day job; as the formation was rarely seen after 1992.
A manager on the pitch, telling his players exactly what he thought they should be doing – what a revelation. The greatest examples of this now scarcely seen role have to be Kenny Dalglish at Liverpool and Graeme Souness at Rangers, who dominated both on and off the pitch in the late 80s and early 90s – accumulating an impressive stash of trophies along the way. Although Chelsea tried to keep the player/manager role going back in the mid 1990s; a boss donning the boots has only been seen once in the Premier League this millennium, and that was Stuart McCall, who took charge for two games as player /manager of Bradford in November 2000.
Sitting on the bench may not be the place for today’s highly-paid superstars, but the role of the super-sub was once one of the most deadly weapons a team could possess. David Fairclough at Javier Hernandez are as happy to perform such a bit-part role is open to debate.