The Modern Day Full-back

Welcome to the second part in my series of blogs, where the main focus is to discuss how football has changed in the past 20 years and how this has impacted each position across the pitch. As the title states, this piece is going to focus on how the position has changed and the subsequent alterations in coaching methods in order to produce players capable of thriving in modern-day football.

The Full-back 20 Years Ago

As I did in my previous post, I find it best to begin to look at how we thought of the full-back 20 years ago.

In my opinion, the full-back 20 years ago was a bit of a no-nonsense player who liked a tackle. I wouldn’t have said these players were the best technical players on the pitch, but they would certainly be one of the most consistent players who would deliver you a performance week in, week out.

When you go through the names of players who you would have classed as the best full-backs of their time, names such as Gary Neville, Jamie Carragher and Lee Dixon immediately spring to mind, and I believe these three players do portray the stereotypical full back mentioned above.

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Some may question the absence of the likes of Roberto Carlos or Cafu, full backs who had a bit more about them. While I agree, these players do still break from the mould somewhat, I still don’t think they are the same as modern day full-backs.

Beginning to think more in-depth about these names reinforces my opinion in that the majority of these players were your steady eddies who consistently performed well.

I would never say these individuals excelled or would win you a game, and it was very rare they would even chip in with a goal (except Carlos, who’s left foot I think anyone in the world wishes they had).

Another striking observation is that these players weren’t neessarily quick, favouring tactical intelligence and nous as opposed to raw speed.

You only have to watch Monday Night Football to find evidence of thise, as Carragher and Neville’s knowledge about the footballing game is immense, and the way they deconstruct games is incredible.

This is what made them the players they were, their ability to read the game, be one step ahead of their opponent and use that understanding and knowledge in order to gain an advantage over their opponent.

This awareness of the game is only noticeable in a few players who grace the current game, a stark contract to yesteryear when I believe it was rife through most top squads in the world.

Full-Back or Wing-Back?

Thinking how this position has changed over the years, I am sat here wondering whether there is such thing as a full back anymore.

In my opinion there is, but they are a dying breed, and today the players who play in these positions would be called wing-backs.

You look at most of the top teams in the World and more often than not these players are in the opponents’ half more than their own, due to the emergence of formations such as 3-5-2 or 5-4-1, which more and more managers are using to increase their attacking presence.

The Standard 3-5-2 Formation

You think of players who play in this position now, and names such as Marcelo, Jordi Alba and Kyle Walker come to the front of the mind. Compare these to names I mentioned in the opening paragraphs and what differences do you notice? 

Firstly, speed and pace. These players are so quick, arguably the fastest players on the pitch, and if I throw Hector Bellerin into the mix, this reinforces my point as he can run 40 metres in a time of 4.42 seconds, faster than Usain Bolt.

Players in these positions need to be this fast as the game has evolved to demand such pace. With many teams attacking down the wings, they must be able to keep up, otherwise they will be left behind.

The second point I would like to raise regarding these players is their technical ability, especially players such as Marcelo. WOW! Some of the things he can do are unbelievable, and I could never imagine players in the same position 20 years ago doing what he does. Wing backs now are so much more technical, being able to perform tricks, dribble comfortably with the ball and deliver searching crosses to name just a few.

Advancing from the technical point, these players are more likely to chip in with a goal or even better, win a game with a goal.

Marcelo has done this on numerous occasions (that name again just keeps popping up) but he truly represents the difference between the modern day player and those of the past.

To summarise the differences, to be successful in the modern game as a full back/wing back you have to be great technically; physically, be one of the best on the pitch, especially in terms of speed; and be able to attack as good as you can defend, if not better.

What Does This Mean For Coaching?

As with all players across the pitch now, more focus is on making them good technically as they have to be to meet the requirements of the current game.

With regards to the position of interest, I feel a lot of time and effort should be spent getting the individual with a ball at their feet. Drills which focus on different types of dribbling (i.e. sharp changes of direction, running with the ball or making the most of the space in front) are crucial.

Further to this, a lot of work should go into crossing from different locations across the pitch as well as drills which focus on receiving the ball, moving it out of their feet and firing a ball into good locations in the box.

The focus shouldn’t just be from one location – some should be done from a deeper location and others from the byline – as a lot of the time you will actually see so-called full-backs in these advanced positions.

Continuing on them being in advanced positions, fitness training is something which I think is extremely important to focus on.

However, this shouldn’t be your bog standard Sunday league fitness of running up hills or running until you feel sick.

The practices should aim to incorporate the ball as well, such as overlapping drills where they focus on getting up the pitch; on the flip side, the opposite could also be learned through time spent on recovery runs.

The best left back in the World?

Another point in terms of coaching these players would be the promotion of flair within them.

Now, this is something you wouldn’t normally think about with full-backs, but it’s becoming ever more useful to be creative in this position.

Many times wing backs find themselves in a tight space next to the touchline, with limited get-out options and therefore need to be creative.

Coaching a player should allow this, allowing them to express themselves, which will greatly benefit them and mean you should, in time, get more players like Marcelo, Alba et al.

In Summary

The position of a full-back I believe will die out within the next few years, with more and more becoming wing backs due to the dynamic changes within football. Full-backs are now no longer the tough-tackling, consistent players they used to be, but technical creative players who love to get forward. 

I hope you have enjoyed the second blog in this series. As always, I would love to hear your thoughts and opinions regarding the full back and how you think the position has changed over the past 20 years. Keep following this blog if you want to find out more thoughts and opinions of other positions across the pitch.

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