My experience of playing as a full-back

Full back is a very important position in modern day football.

In my opinion it’s the position that has probably evolved the most in the last 15-20 years.

In my early days in the Academy at Man United I was always a central midfielder. It wasn’t until I was 19 that I was converted into becoming a full-back.
After having discussions with my coaches who at the time felt that my attributes were better suited to being a full-back than a midfield player.

At first I used to hate playing there, all I wanted to do was just score goals from midfield and run around trying to get on the ball. It wasn’t until I was released by United and went to Derby County that my coach, Lee Glover really introduced me into the role.

news group newspapers ltd
Me (blue) playing against Motherwell’s Scott McDonald. (Picture from News Group Newspapers LTD)

When I first started playing full-back, all I wanted to do was attack.
I never really worried about the defensive duties as my game was about creating chances and scoring goals.
It took hours of coaching and analysis with Lee that I started to realise that my new position was actually more based on defending.

He always used to say to me before games “defend first, going forward becomes secondary”. At the time I would always think he was wrong, I would look at players like Cafu who was  one of the best full-backs I have seen, and think to my self “he never used to defend, he was always charging forward with the ball and attacking.”

Suddenly, it all clicked for me. When I started to deeply analyse players positions and movements when they played rather than watching the game, I would see top players defend first without the ball. They were always very reliable defensively and they made themselves hard to beat when they were defending.

On the ball, it is a different scenario.
These players would be charging forward with intent trying to score goals as well as making them. These players only attacked when the time was right, they never neglected their defensive duties.

Last season, I spent six months on loan at York City in League Two.
My manager there was former Celtic and Scotland full-back Jackie McNamara who had a very successful career up in Scotland winning domestic trophies and playing in the 1998 World Cup with Scotland.

He is probably the best one to one coaches that I have had in my career so far.
He would keep me out on the training ground once or twice a week for half an hour to improve my game.I was getting individual training from a former international player.

He broke down every part of my game from crossing, to defending. Again, a lot of his coaching was the emphasis of defending first, and attacking being a bonus.

Even now a year on from when he was my manager, I still hold onto key bits of advice that he gave to me during my time there. I owe a lot to him and how he helped improve my overall game.

One of the best modern day full-backs, Dani Alves. (Picture Sky Sports)

Perfect modern day examples of these players would be  Dani Alves and  David Alaba who can combine both defensive and attacking duties for the team.

In today’s game, the world’s best full-backs are the one’s who balance their defending and attacking with the same purpose and attitude.

You often see full-backs who are good at defending but offer very little going forward. Or full-backs who are good at going forward but are liable when it comes to defending. (Maicon).……..

I was born in 1994, and the first “complete full-backs” I can remember are players such as Paolo MaldiniRoberto Carlos and Cafu. All of these players carried a massive threat going forward in attacking positions but they were very reliable when defending.

The impact that a full-back has on their team more or less varies on the formation that they play.

For example, playing in a conventional 4-4-2 the full-back holds a more traditional role of being part of a solid back four but also being able to add support to the attacking wingers in front of them.

Meanwhile a formation that holds three or more central midfielders such as 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 relies on the full backs for all the width on the attack and any overload in the opposition area would be down to the full backs getting forward.
In this sort of formation you often see attacking wingers drifting infield which leaves more space for the full-back to attack into.

The full backs are mainly suited to a four at the back system whereas any another defensive system would be reliant on wing-backs which are less defensively minded than a full back.


6 Comments Add yours

  1. Anonymous says:

    Great insight into how a professional player actually alters position during his career


  2. Rich says:

    I think the most successful Prem league fullbacks currently are walker and Rose both of whom have a much more attacking focus than a traditional full back.

    There success seems to be based on 3 important principles

    1) bags and bags of pace
    2) overloading the midfield to dominate possession and holding midfielder(s) to provide cover
    3) acceptance of a certain amount of risk that by forcing your opponents winger /fullback to defend against you reduces their attacking threat

    The real danger comes when up against a real dominant opponent (one thinks back to Maicon being destroyed and essentially retired by Bale) even attacking fullbacks have to be able to adapt to circumstance and alter their game depending on the current state of play so a degree of game intelligence is also required.

    The other effect of the modern attacking fullback is the now prominence of holdin. Midfielders, the phasing out of wingers and change in systems. I argued (in the pub) for years that England were misusing the excellent Ashley Cole by playing a wide midfielder in front of him that often just nullified his attacking threat.

    Enjoyed the blog – best of luck for the future


  3. graham magee says:

    very interesting article,thoroughly enjoyed reading it.


  4. Ian Cunningham says:

    A good read, very well written.


  5. Carl Thompson says:

    Interesting read, good luck with your footballing career


  6. Nick Illingworth says:

    I read through each of the articles posted to date, they are informative and well constructed with balanced arguments. I agree that the prime role of a defender is to defend and be in a position to anticipate opposition attacks, but as a spectator there is nothing better than seeing wing backs progress forward, skin the opposition and put in dangerous crosses.
    I liked the piece on zonal marking, I now know what it is! The blog on formations was clear and understandable and I enjoyed the tactical reviews of some recent games. Always good to read about Utd scoring!


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