Running up and down the flank is not easy, especially with both defensive and attacking duties to look after.
Before starting off with our observation regarding the full-back position and the players that play in it, here is a list of the most prolific attack-minded wingers in modern football:
- Marcelo (Real Madrid)
- Joshua Kimmich (FC Bayern Munich)
- Dani Alves (PSG)
- Hector Bellerin (Arsenal)
- Thomas Meunier (PSG)
- Marcos Alonso (Chelsea)
- Jordi Alba (FC Barcelona)
Right off the bat one would react and say that the above-mentioned players are defenders (full-backs in essence) and not attack-minded wingers. Let us look at their stats for the 2017-18 season for more clarity:
- Marcelo – 5 Goals, 7 Assists
- Joshua Kimmich – 6 Goals, 13 Assists
- Dani Alves – 4 Goals, 7 Assists
- Hector Bellerin – 3 Goals, 5 Assists
- Thomas Meunier – 4 Goals, 4 Assists
- Marcos Alonso – 7 Goals, 3 Assists
- Jordi Alba – 3 Goals, 8 Assists
They say stats never lie and the above stats indicate that a modern full-back contributes more to the team than ever. The full-back position has unfortunately been a position where even a centre-back was stationed acting as a makeshift left-back or a right-back.
Players like John O’Shea and Wes Brown played extensively as full-backs for Manchester United back in the day. The teams back then lacked players that specialized in that position and moreover there were not enough signings made specifically to fill that position. Hence, one never read any news headline about a transfer record being broken for a full-back. Thankfully, those days have passed.
Ask a young, up and coming player today and more and more would tell you that they want to be like a famous full-back, like Marcelo or David Alaba. The popularity of full-backs has started to rival that of attacking wingers.
Fans have reacted to this new trend and the shirt sales of these players have increased more than ever. Moreover, an interesting observation tells us that an outright winger like Willian (Chelsea) has only 3.1m Twitter followers compared to an outright full-back in Marcelo (Real Madrid), who has a massive following of 10.3m, even after Willian having had a sensational season for Chelsea, scoring 14 and assisting eight goals for his team.
There was a time when a beginner or a professional player did not want to be put in the full-back position as the way the game was played, the role of the full-back was less and they also saw the least of the ball through the match.
However, since the transformation of the position, the very essence of how a player looks at the full-back position has changed. Be it at a professional club or just a friendly community match, or at a kick-about between friends, more and more individuals want to play in that position, since they now see more of the ball and get more room to go on darting runs into the opponent box, contributing more to their team’s attack in the process.
The sands of time have eroded the shadowy cloak that the full-back position reeled under. The position, as a matter of fact, has undergone a huge change as far as individual roles are concerned. The players have done remarkably well to adapt to the new, growing demands the full-back position comes with.
Since the widespread use of a three-man defense, the full-back role has subtly transitioned into that of a wing-back. In such a system, the full-back or the wing-back has a dual role to play in the team. Providing extra width and an extra attacking option while on the front foot and also providing support to the three centre-backs when without the ball. This change has led to a faster and smoother transition from defence to attack and vice-versa.
It demands to be understood that this dual role requires top of the line fitness from the players and it’s safe to conclude that full-backs are more often than not the fittest players in a team. Sprinting up and down the wings constantly is no easy feat and these players seldom get the deserved appreciation for their contribution.
The full-back position has now transitioned into a more attack-minded role. Most teams focus largely on playing through the middle of the field, by using their central midfielders to receive the extra width from their wing-backs, who charge down the wings, putting in crucial crosses into the opponent’s box and also track back marking the wingers of the opposition during defending. This dual role has compelled teams to spend large sums of money to bring the cream of the crop of full-backs into their ranks.
This brings into question the value of a top full-back in the transfer market. Recently, the going rate for a top full-back has increased ten fold and a few instances prove this. In June 2014, Luke Shaw was signed by Manchester United from Southampton for a fee of £30m, which was the world record transfer fee for a teenager back then. In 2017, their cross-town rivals Manchester City bought the services of Kyle Walker for an estimated £50m, which became the world record fee for a defender, before Virgil van Djik switched clubs to join Liverpool in the last winter window.
The amount of hefty fees paid for full-backs goes to show that teams have realized the importance of having at least two efficient ones in their ranks and are ready to break the bank for them. The modern times have brought upon a trend where full-backs are becoming a vital part of any team, that intends to achieve success and win trophies. The tables have turned and the once overlooked position of full-back is now becoming the centre of attention.