Utility players have the ability to play in several positions naturally. However, the phrase is used most often by managers trying to excuse the signature of a sub-par player.
The recent history of football has seen a number of decent utility players – men who fly in the face of convention and perform adequately in two different areas of a football pitch. The most common form of utility player is the defender-turned-striker.
Solid 1990s professional Paul Warhurst switched from stopper to scorer when he was at Sheffield Wednesday due to an injury crisis and later would also do a job in the midfield.
Dion Dublin was able to play a part in Cambridge United’s dour Route One success after he mutated from a brick shithouse of a defender into a brick shithouse of a striker.
At the 2006 World Cup, Dwight Yorke demonstrated the role of extreme utility man for Trinidad & Tobago. It became clear from an early stage in the competition that Yorke could play any position better than any other man in the squad and so he would be seen doing six or seven men’s jobs at any one time as they stood and gawped. Needless to say Yorke did so with a smile on his face.
Players are sometimes misleadingly labelled utility men less accurately when they can play two pretty similar positions such as left wing and left-back or forward and deep-lying forward.
Utility as a byword for shit
Sadly, these days referring to a player as a ‘utility man’ heavily implies that he is a bit shit in every position. This is due to years of managers introducing a dubious new signing as ‘a utility player’ and desperately enthusing that ‘he’ll give us options’.
Most of the time a lower league utility player will be handed a start up front and look completely lost, fill in for an injured winger and look lost, come on as a sub in defence and commit a series of clumsy fouls and end up selling programmes.