Football is constantly evolving and with data plus in-depth analysis growing exponentially in the modern game, new tactical innovations are made with increasing frequency.
As a result, formations are being manipulated in more creative ways and players of a particular skillset are being used in roles they perhaps wouldn’t be in previous decades.
Philipp Lahm was an ideal example. Renowned as one of the best right-backs around for most of his career, Pep Guardiola deployed him in midfield as the central cog in a possession-based system.
How many other players from the past would thrive in different positions in today’s game? How many more goals would Ryan Giggs score as an inverted winger in a front three? Could Fernando Redondo have been a stylish centre-back on the left side of a back three bringing the ball out and even attacking on the overlap?
In this series, we look at past legends and theorise the possible new positions within the tactics of the modern game.
This edition sees us explore a new role for an electric Michael Owen…
LEGEND: MICHAEL OWEN | STRIKER
Position in modern game: Left Wing
Point of reference: Raheem Sterling
Keep in mind, we’re talking about a teenage Michael Owen here, one who would likely leave even Raheem Sterling in his wake.
That raw pace and acceleration is key to his success as a left-sided winger, which can even be loosely classed as an inside forward in the modern game.
If you consider how Sterling has developed under Pep Guardiola, it’s easy to see why Owen would be an excellent option in a similar position.
The likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Sadio Mane and Kylian Mbappe have also racked up numbers to prove that such an attacking left-sided role can contribute significantly to the goals column.
Owen’s speed would naturally make him a threat out wide in any team on the break but he also has the qualities to thrive in a possession-based system like Manchester City’s.
In his early years, Owen was a nightmare for centre-backs with his searing pace a constant threat in behind. He ran the channels relentlessly and was devastating in the transition.
As a left winger today, he’d remain a key man on the counter-attack and may even be afforded more space to exploit given the modern full-back’s liability to being caught up the pitch during a turnover. He’d also have the chance to receive possession in the half spaces where he would have time to turn and tear into defences with direct runs.
His ability to time his movements to perfection would wreak havoc from the left by making those out-to-in diagonal runs, darting across the defender’s blindside.
And in a team like City who often find themselves camped in the opposition’s final third, Owen’s clever and sharp movement inside the box would be priceless.
When he first burst onto the scene at Liverpool everything Owen touched turned to goals, including his passes. He never earned recognition as a provider but in his first full season, he made an impressive 10 assists in the Premier League to compliment his 18 goals that won him the Golden Boot.
With his willingness to run the channels and stretch defences, he could sometimes find himself in wide positions and had the ability to find teammates in the middle. It stands to reason then that Owen would retain the capacity to do that, perhaps with even greater frequency, from a wider role in the modern game.
Of course, injuries impacted him early on in his career and he was no longer capable of being this all-action breed of centre forward. But for a brief spell in the beginning, Owen proved he could be both scorer and provider.
There’s a level of freedom that comes with operating as an attacking winger that someone like Owen would thrive on. He would have the option to take up a position inside the box during spells of possession but could even try to make late runs and arrive unmarked.
For a finisher of his calibre, the possibility of being spared relentless man-marking is an absolute gift. He would have the opportunity to ghost in at the far post or pop up around the penalty spot for the cut-back with centre-backs preoccupied with the striker.
Even when he lost his pace and mobility, Owen continued to be an elite striker owing to his anticipation and clinical finishing. His appetite for goals coupled with the freedom of a wide role would see him devour defences.
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