The era of full-backs has approached. As the importance of first-defense and counter attack has been shown in the professional football games, the clubs are continuing to emphasize the role of full-backs. In modern football, full-backs require high understanding of the game as well as flexible attack and defense positioning. In the transfer window 17-18, the majority of the high price tags has been dominated by the full back players such as Dani Alves, Benjamin Mendy, Kyle Walker, Serge Aurier, Danilo, Manuel Diego Tello, Ricardo Rodriguez, Andrea Conti and so on. In fact, Manchester City -football club in English Premier League- has spent over 300 million in reforming the back line. As the modern football adapted to the new roles of full-backs, the prices of the full-back players rose sharply. The success of the football teams depend on whether they obtained an excellent full-back combination or not.
What is a full-back?
From its name, full-back refers to the last man, the last defender to protect the goal from the opponent. They used to refer to the players who stand ‘fully’ at the ‘back’. Since tactics used to be much simpler back then, positions had different names; for example, midfielders were called as “half-backs” and strikers as “forwards.”
Football in the beginning of 19th century was very simple and put emphasis on attack. For example, most of the teams played with only 2 players at the back, with the majority of the players on the pitch focusing on attack. As the “off-side” rule was not applied, the positioning were often 1-2-7 (1 defense, 2 mid, 7 forwards) and the number 1 referred to the full-backs. As time progressed, teams started coming up with 2-2-6 in order to defend technical forwards and as the balance of defense and attack came to importance, english teams mainly used 2-3-5. As time passed and football evolved, the importance of tactics transferred from attack to defense. The number of forwards decreased and was added onto defense and midfield.
Thus, the application of offside trap limited the movements of forwards to stay close to the goals. One of the most significant that greatly attributed to the history of football was Chapman’s “W-M” formation. The amendment to the offside rule in 1925 allowed the attacking players to make advance passes more often, increasing the value of “passes” in the football world. Consequently, there were a lot of spaces at the back of defense line, as the players couldn’t make use of offside traps. Therefore, if a defender gets passed by the opponent, than the goalkeeper faces a 1 on 1 situation with the attacker. In response to this situation, several managers and tactic players contemplated and figured a way out, which was the W-M formation by Herbert Chapman. By splitting the roles of 3 defenders as centre back and two full-backs, the team were able to defend against the space penetration of wingers.
The combination of sidebacks and full backs
It became less of an issue nowadays, but when the formation and position titles weren’t permanently defined, there was a different way of interpreting the roles of full backs in Europe and Latin American countries, especially Brazil. In Europe, the teams categorized full-backs as defenders. On the other hand, Brazil categorized them as midfielders. This phenomenon originates from their fundamental principles of football, in which full backs of Europe shows the importance of defense and last men, while Brazil full backs show the importance of flexibility in switching positions and play makers. Moreover, while Europe concentrated on the efficacy of passing between players, Latin countries concentrated on the individual skills, disregarding the positions of the players. This can be seen until today, in which full backs or defenders from Brazil possesses better dribble skills than strikers. (David Luiz, Alex Sandro, Roberto Carlos)
As the transfer of players became more prominent in the professional football world, managers began to constantly change the roles of full-backs. When they were mostly used as defenders in the past, they now have a multiplayer role, in which they have to possess both attacking and defending skills. Players from different culture and different learnings of football convened in Europe, altered the traditional form of European football. In the 21st century, the legendary full backs—Roberto Carlos, Philippe Lahm, Dani Alves, Cafu, Marcelo Vieira, John Arne Rise—cannot be defined just as “defenders” but also are “wingers, advanced play makers, inside forwards,” and so on.
Thanks to these changes, football is evolving every second and entertaining the audience around the world. World’s best football managers— Pep Guardiola, Jürgen Klopp, Jose Mourinho, Joachim Löw— continue to find the best role for full-backs to make use of their full potential. The more football changes, the more managers experiment, the more fun for the football fans.