Football Friends Online – When 90 Mins Is Not EnoughWhatever happened to…centre forwards playing at centre half - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough Whatever happened to…centre forwards playing at centre half - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough

Whatever happened to…centre forwards playing at centre half

Tactical innovation happens all the time without one even noticing it as it is all about organic growth; refinement and tinkering to come up with the optimum set-up for a team.

Thus, certain types of player tend to fade away from existence. The goal-hanging centre forward became extinct with the advent of the offside law. The inside half disappeared as the game become more defence and less gung-ho and so on.

Bringing the idea to the modern era, one positional quirk that appears to have left the world of football is the centre forward that could also play at centre back.

In my younger days, playing on Championship Manager 97/98 (surely the 21st century equivalent of being really good at pool to define a misspent youth), I was always intrigued to see a player with the letters “D/S C” next to them but, when you think about it, it makes sense.

A certain type of centre forward has the same attributes that a centre back has; physicality, above average heading ability and an element of controlled aggression. Furthermore, they would have the added bonus of knowing what runs a fellow member of the striker’s union would be making and what kind of things they don’t like (such as being kicked ten feet up in the air).

The two main examples of this dual ability I always remember are Dion Dublin and Chris Sutton, both of whom started out as centre halfs but became centre forwards by accident after putting in a decent shift up top.

Both were strikers with a physical presence that gave them the necessary natural tools to fit either role and both were very good in both positions. For example, In the 1997/98 season, they finished joint top scorers (along with Michael Owen) in the Premier League and both finished with over 150 career league goals.

And in the defensive side of their game, Sutton was touted for the England squad for the 1998 World Cup on account of his versatility and a quick Google search can find a Celtic forum discussing what is his best position…in 2006. Meanwhile, Dublin ended his career at centre back before (tangent alert) bizarrely inventing an instrument called “the Dube”

The reference to Michael Owen earlier is not merely a for-the-record fact but his emergence probably accounts for why the “D/S C” disappeared from the game. As the game in England became more reliant on pace rather than physicality and the related emergence of the lone striker systems, the big, cumbersome centre forward became a thing of the past with even the biggest strikers (the Drogbas, Adebayors and Dzekos of this world) having a deceptive turn of pace.

Whilst these players could probably make half-decent centre backs out of themselves, the money swirling around the Premier League now also means the “he’ll do a job” kind of player that could put in a shift in another area of the pitch is now obsolete.

Indeed, the trend even begun to go the other way at one point with defenders being utilised as makeshift target men. Think Robert Huth in the Jose Mourinho days at Chelsea or John O’Shea for Man United, tactical regression rather than evolution for sure.

However, perhaps further down the league system, there are some strikers keeping this fine tradition going. For example, Dave Kitson used to play centre back for Arelsey Town at the start of his career before becoming a centre forward of distinction.

Dan Whiteway @Dan_Whiteway

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