It’s one of the most famous quotes in the history of Sky Sports: “Nobody wants to grow up and be a Gary Neville.”
Naturally, when Jamie Carragher uttered the phrase he was poking fun at his colleague in the friendly manner that has come to define the pair’s on-screen chemistry.
However, the Liverpool legend also made a valid point about how full-backs came to be, at least during his era.
It’s true that few players aspired to be full-back when they were young – it was the only position on the pitch that wasn’t viewed as specialist.
The vast majority of full-backs during Carragher and Neville’s era were former centre-backs, defensive midfielders, or wingers, converted by necessity.
However, the game has evolved dramatically in recent years and there can be no doubt that full-backs (and wing-backs by extension) have become hugely influential figures.
The Brazilians have been at it for years of course, with Cafu and Roberto Carlos recognised a trailblazers in the 1990s and early 2000s.
Even Dani Alves and Marcelo were ahead of their time in the extent to which they influenced the game in the final third and the quality of their possession.
These days, the Premier League’s very best teams rely on the creative potency of their attacking full-backs.
Joao Cancelo (£6.0m) has arguably been Man City’s best player this season, alongside compatriot Bernardo Silva (£3.1m), and the extent to which he is able to impact games from left-back is truly remarkable.
In the week before the international break, he essentially affected five assists in two games against Club Bruges and Man United.
In Pep Guardiola’s system, the Portugal international often takes up space in midfield, acting as a link between the centre-backs, Rodri, and the more advanced playmakers.
Simultaneously, he frequently fulfils more traditional full-back duties by overlapping down the flank and providing crosses from the byline – see the delivery that caused Eric Bailly (£2.0m) to score an own goal as recent example.
Cancelo has registered more passes than any other player in the Premier League this season and while a certain degree can be dismissed as stale possession, his importance to City’s build-up play can not be understated.
Trent Alexander-Arnold (£5.5m) is similarly prevalent for his club – in fact, he is Liverpool’s primary playmaker.
The Reds’ homegrown hero has provided 36 assists in the last three and bit Premier League campaigns alone – any No10 in the world would be proud of his creative statistics.
Alexander-Arnold was a central midfielder in his youth and fulfilled that role right up until he was thrust into the senior side as a right-back.
Many fans believe Jurgan Klopp and Gareth Southgate should collaborate to convert him back into a midfielder in a manner that has proved successful for Joshua Kimmich with Bayern Munich and Germany.
The counterargument, one that Klopp believes wholeheartedly, is that if Alexander-Arnold is able to dictate games from right-back why would should be moved?
The 23-year-old’s crossing has been compared favourably to the likes of David Beckham and Kevin De Bruyne (£5.4m) – probably the two best crossers in Premier League history – but more and more we’re seeing he has a wide range of passes in his locker.
After an indifferent few months at the beginning of last season, Alexander-Arnold has regained his top form and is once again on course to reach double figures for league assists this term.
The third team tipped to lift the Premier League trophy come May is Chelsea – with all due respect to West Ham, who themselves owe a lot to Vladimir Coufal (£3.1m) and Aaron Cresswell (£4.0m) in recent months.
Given that Thomas Tuchel employs a 3-4-2-1 formation it is expected that the wing-backs would have more impact going forward than the average full-backs but even so, the Blues’ representatives have been almost freakishly prominent so far this season.
At the time of writing, Reece James (£5.9m) is his club’s joint-top scorer in all competitions this term alongside Romelu Lukaku (£5.8m) with four goals.
And Ben Chilwell (£4.9m) is just one goal behind after he scored in three consecutive league fixtures in October.
The current league leaders have been propelled by the relentless attacking intent of their wing-backs while all the while maintaining the best defensive record in the country.
Between them, Cancelo, Alexander-Arnold, James and Chilwell have scored 11 goals and provided 24 assists for club and country this season.
In Chelsea, Liverpool and Man City we are talking about three of the best teams in world football right now and all depend on the brilliance of their full-backs.
Nobody grew up wanting to be Gary Neville but you can bet your life that plenty of kids these days dream of being the next Trent Alexander-Arnold.
P.S – the supremacy of the best full-backs is underlined by the Dream Team Stats Centre.
Right now, James, Cancelo and Alexander-Arnold are the three best defenders and all of them have more points than the top midfielder.