I am, of course, not a football manager. However, as a fan I can imagine that a utility player in any squad is a dream feature. Behind your stars of the team and the players that do the nice looking bits, you inevitably have to have the grafters. The players that’ll muck in and do any job for the team with little remonstration toward the gaffer.
Historically, players like Irishman Bill Lacey set the bar for this at the turn of the 20th century. Lacey, a man who represented both Everton and (more famously) Liverpool during pre and inter-war periods, prolifically played in all 11 positions in his career. England’s 1966 World Cup winner Martin Peters was another fine example of a utility player. Notoriously over 302 league appearances for his beloved West Ham, he played in every outfield position. These days, a slightly grizzled 37-year-old James Milner keeps the tradition alive as he plays anywhere a meticulous Jürgen Klopp desires.
However, as impressive as playing across different positions on the pitch is, some players like applying all round ability toward different disciplines. That’s right, utility player or not, some footballers move on from the beautiful game – whether that’s through retirement or just tapping into an all round love for sport. This article will chart several examples of footballing ‘jack of all trades’.
From association to American football
‘Football’, ‘Soccer’? ‘American football’, ‘Hand egg’? Whatever the take – football and its US distant relative often share a mutual tumultuous relationship. Yet, there have been some intriguing figures that have negotiated the divide of both sports and the Atlantic.
The first of two examples is German striker Manfred Burgsmüller. Now, Burgsmüller’s career of over 20 years in and around the Bundesliga is nothing to be sniffed at. 447 league appearances reaped an excellent 213 goals with the Essen native most notable at Borussia Dortmund and Werder Bremen. At Dortmund in the 1980-81 season, “Manni” hit the most eye catching goal scoring term in his career. BVB actually finished in a somewhat stagnant seventh, but Burgsmüller came second in the scoring charts with 27 goals – a frustrating two behind Karl-Heinz Rummenigge at league-winning Bayern.
Once his goal laden career wound down in 1990, Die Borussen’s great former striker was still active and the tempting new development of the NFL’s Europe League scratched the itch. Forming in 1989, the NFL’s European project only lasted on and off until 2007, yet back around its formation, the league was an interesting new test. Burgsmüller made his comeback with Rhein Fire – fittingly taking up the role of kicker from 1996 to 2002. In that spell, he became the oldest professional American football player in history at 52 years old.
Such was the pull of the European spin, Clive Allen even turned out as a placekicker for the London Monarchs. With the former Spurs man – again, a former (proper) football pro utilised their skills for quick grid-iron money earner.
There’s regularly a common understanding within football, that it helps to be a bit nuts if you’re going to play in goal. Flying about the goal and diving into challenges with lumbering forwards are seemingly the perfect catalysts for eccentricity. With these next two, that eccentricity shifted focus over to motorsport. For Jerzy Dudek and Santiago Cañizares, seemingly the adrenaline rush that comes from a big stop could only be matched by hurtling down roads at brain shaking speeds.
After drawing a line under an excellent playing career that included Feyenoord, Liverpool and Real Madrid – Jerzy Dudek took to a previous passion upon retirement. Since 2014, Dudek’s attention turned to endurance racing. That year saw his first season in the Volkswagen Castrol Cup, an Eastern European racing championship held in the summer months.
“Motor racing was my passion before football. I raced go-karts but of course that stopped when I became a professional footballer. When I quit football I also missed the adrenaline you got from playing. (…) Motor racing gives me a lot of joy and I’m loving it.” –
Dudek via LFC TV.
Dudek’s Spanish fellow GK union member, Santiago Cañizares also enjoyed racing after hanging up his gloves. The bright, agile stopper made his mark on football with a loyal ten years at Valencia but ultimately opted to cover his trademark white burst of hair with a racing helmet. Since 2010, Cañizares has taken part in the Spanish Rally Championship and in 2017 he earned his first victory as he was crowned Valencian Community champion.
Title race? No, title belt
What is it with keepers, eh? If you thought rallying was mad enough, how about wrestling? Tim Wiese amassed over 300 league games between the sticks for most notably 1.FC Kaiserslautern and Werder Bremen but stepped away from football and stepped into the gym. Even while playing for Hoffenheim in his final club stint, it was clear Wiese was putting on muscle. Like, a lot of muscle.
It seemed to be one of the drivers behind the goalie’s contract being mutually terminated in 2014. His body was more suited to a bodybuilder than that of a professional footballer. Wiese was likely downtrodden, but with a parting statement it was clear something else was in the pipeline.
“I am not a dreamer, but a realist and I assume that I have my best years behind me. I will no longer play (football) as a professional.”
Inside a year of his contract being up, Wiese kept pumping iron and trying his hand at wrestling. His 15 minutes of fame saw him receive a development contract with the WWE and even train with Triple H in 2016. The highlight of the former stopper’s WWE career came with a live event in Munich, yet unfortunately the in-ring exploits came to an end in 2017.
Wiese isn’t the only one who has given wrestling a try, oh no. Up the other end of the pitch – Norwich City’s Grant Holt made his debut in 2018. Like smashing home a dropping ball in a crowded penalty area, somehow he came out the champion in a 40-man Royal Rumble event.
Game, set, match
Like that sub-titular phrase announced at the end of play on the court, it also ends this article. This one’s a bit of a technicality, but did you know that Stanley Matthews had a slight influence on British tennis?
It’s true. Although not an actual player of the game, the Stoke City and Blackpool legend’s son enjoyed a solid career. Before Stanley Jr saw appearances at the French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open – he was more successful as a youngster. In 1962, he became the Wimbledon Boys’, the last English player to do so. So technically, as there is one in the football history books, there’s a Stanley Matthews bookmarked in tennis too.