Dries Mertens and five other players who rescued their careers with a position change

Since switching positions early last season, Dries Mertens career has taken off. Jon Mackenzie looks at five other players who enjoyed a similar transformation.

Napoli manager Maurizio Sarri has gone on record saying that his only regret over his decision to field Dries Mertens as a striker is that he did not think of it earlier.

Since the Belgian made the switch from a wide position into a more central striker’s role at the beginning of the 2016/17, he has been pulling numbers that many aficionados of the game would have thought impossible for the diminutive forward. Having made 48 appearances in this position, Mertens has scored an incredible 40 goals whilst providing his teammates with 19 assists.

Jon Mackenzie lists five other players whose careers took off once they made a positional change.

  1. 1 Gianluca Zambrotta

    When Juventus signed a 22-year-old Gianluca Zambrotta in 1999, they had thought they were signing one of the most promising wingers in world football. It wasn't long, however, before his manager Marcelo Lippi had reinvented the youngster as a more dynamic full back player who was as comfortable preventing chances as creating them.

    With the capacity to play on either side of the field, Zambrotta thrived in the position and went on to have an illustrious career with Juventus until moves took him to Barcelona and Milan towards the twilight of his career. The Italian also enjoyed another stint under Lippi when the former Juventus coach took the Azzurri to a World Cup triumph in 2006.

    With his shift into a deeper wide position, Zambrotta presaged the rise of the modern full back who was required to be as integral to a team's attacking phase as their defending phase. In fact, a case could be made that the Italian was the first player to fulfill the requirements for the recently rejuvenated wing back position.

  2. 2 Vincent Kompany

    Vincent Kompany was playing in the Bundesliga when Manchester City first spotted him in 2008. At that point in his career, he was an established defensive midfielder and he came to City to play in a midfield role. Roberto Mancini, though had different ideas and pushed the Belgian into the middle of his back four.

    The position suited the former Anderlecht player who soon became captain at the Manchester club where he would eventually lead them to their first Premier League title in 2012. By the time he was 26, Kompany was being spoken about in conversations about the best centre backs in the world, going on to captain one of the best Belgium teams of all time from the heart of a defensive line that he made his own.

  3. 3 Thierry Henry

    In many respect, Thierry Henry typifies a failed position change rather than a successful one. Whilst playing at Monaco, the young Henry was deployed by Arsene Wenger as a striker. However, as time went on, Wenger gradually shifted him out to the flanks of his league-winning side.

    Fast forward a few years, though, and Henry - reunited with Wenger at Arsenal - made the return switch from winger to striker. According to Wenger, Henry did have to be 're-taught the art of striking', it clearly suited him in the long run, scoring 226 goals for Arsenal in 369 appearances.

    Although he was less successful on the international stage, Henry was still a member of the World Cup winning squad in 1998 and a runner-up in 2006, scoring 51 goals over the course of a 123 game international career.

  4. 4 Andrea Pirlo

    In 1998, Andrea Pirlo was playing for Brescia with no inkling as to his future rise to prominence as hipster football's iconic poster boy. He was also playing as a classic number 10 when he first came onto Inter's radar. With then-manager Carlo Mazzone suitably impressed, the youngster was brought to the famous San Siro where he would stay for three years before making the short move across the city to Milan where he became a household name.

    This short period at Inter, though, was enough for Mazzone to reinvent the Italian youngster as a 'quarterback'. Throughout his career, Pirlo would gradually move deeper and deeper in the field and is now considered the walking-talking instantiation of the 'deep-lying playmaker'.

  5. 5 Gareth Bale

    A breakout season at left back for Southampton at the age of 17 was enough to get Gareth Bale noticed at Tottenham who signed the Welshman in 2007. Once there, though, Bale struggled to break into the side, playing 24 games before he could muster a win for his new team. So disappointing did the young left back prove to be that Spurs considered sending him to Nottingham Forest for a loan spell the following season.

    Turning down this offer, Bale was redeployed by manager Harry Redknapp as a left winger in 2010 and the result was astonishing. Playing against Inter Milan in the group stages of the Champions League that year, Bale scored a second-half hat-trick after Spurs had given away an early 4-0 lead. 

    From this point onwards, Bale never looked back and, with three Champions League medals to his name, a case can be made that Bale's was the greatest position switch of all time.

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Jon Mackenzie

Jon Mackenzie is the Football Editor at RealSport.

Regularly appearing on talkSPORT radio, his work has also featured in The Economist, The Blizzard, Tifo Football and on the Futbolgrad Network.

A UEFA and Premier League-accredited journalist, Jon also founded A Team of John O'Sheas podcast and hosts it every week.

Follow him on Twitter @Jon_Mackenzie