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the new kings

How full-back became football’s most fashionable position

With Kyle Walker and Benjamin Mendy both joining Man City for a combined £100million it's time we analysed how full-backs became football's top dogs

No kid dreams of being a full-back.

It’s arguably the only position in football that doesn’t breed naturals.

Full-backs are often converted centre-backs or frustrated wingers who would rather play elsewhere but are happy to do the job if it means a shot at the big time.

Danny Rose is Tottenham's longest-serving player after making his debut in 2007

PA:Press Association
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Bear with us, Danny. It gets better

Gianluca Vialli famously thought that the right-back was the worst player on the pitch.

He reasoned that left-footers are rarer and so left-backs often had more about them but right-backs were common right-footers not good enough to make it in another position.

For years full-back was football’s black sheep, its weird reclusive uncle.

But not anymore.

Kyle Walker has joined Man City on a five-year deal for a £50m fee

PA:Press Association Images
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Ready for your close up?

These days full-back is the most fashionable position in the game.

Man City have just made Kyle Walker and Benjamin Mendy the two most expensive defenders in history.

Not content with forking out over £100million for his first-choice full-backs, Pep Guardiola also demanded £26.5million to recruit Danilo as Walker’s understudy.

Rumours suggest his pursuit of Ryan Bertrand isn’t over either.

City’s overhaul in defence this summer proves how much Guardiola values full-back as a position.

Pep Guardiola was keen to reunite with former Barcelona star Dani Alves

AP:Associated Press
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Dani Alves made attacking full-backs properly cool again

At Barcelona he was spoiled with Dani Alves, who did as much as anyone to redefine what it expected from the No2’s and No3’s of this world.

Then at Bayern Munich he converted made David Alaba play left-back, simply so he could fit a tremendously talented player in his starting XI.

Let’s not forget, Alaba regularly plays No10 for Austria.

David Alaba opened the scoring for Bayern Munich in win over Wolfsburg

Reuters
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If you’re good enough for midfield you’re good enough for full-back

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The deployment of full-backs as auxiliary wingers was as much a feature of Guardiola’s attacking philosophy as tika-taka or pressing.

He stressed how much he likes his wide defenders to get up and down in a none-too-veiled attack at his ageing stars last season.

He told Sky Sports after the goalless draw with Man United at the Etihad in April: “I don’t like too much to go to the forwards today in attack, I like to attack in other ways.”

“Last games we played with Jesus [Navas] and we attack a lot with the full-back, but Pablo [Zabaleta], [Bacary] Sagna, [Aleksandar Kolarov[ and [Gael] Clichy – all of them they are more than 33 years old and they don’t have the legs to go up and down.

“That’s why I prefer they play in other positions.”

He effectively blames City’s failures last season on ageing full-backs.

These are also evidence of the increased importance of speed and fitness for defenders, perhaps in place of defensive know-how.

Marceloa was the hero for Los Blancos, who lead Barca by three points

Getty Images
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Marcelo was arguably Real Madrid’s best player in the title run-in

After the 1994 World Cup, Jack Charlton said that the full-back was the most important attacking players on the pitch.

It’s taken a while, but this theory is now considered a wise observation.

As the game has evolved more emphasis has been placed on dynamic attack and using every player on the pitch as a weapon when going forward.

Gone are the days of sturdy, reliable, play-it-safe full-backs like Lee Dixon and Nigel Winterburn.

Gary Neville and Denis Irwin provided plenty support for David Beckham and Ryan Giggs but nothing compared to the daring runs of Alves.

What a player though

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What a player though

As is so often the case when discussing progressive football, it was the Brazilians at the forefront.

Cafu and Roberto Carlos were well ahead of their time and likes of Alves, Maicon and Marcelo have followed their lead and forced other countries to play catch up.

The samba kings have used attacking full-backs for as long as they’ve played football but it’s only in recent years this tactic has been seen as the norm rather than a risk.

Europe’s big clubs were also ahead of the curve but nowadays the marauding, eternally overlapping full-back is a more common sight in lower leagues.

This is not just a mark of exclusivity for the elite, it’s a widespread revolution.

This legend was doing it years ago of course

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This legend was doing it years ago of course

With every season that passes football is played at a quicker pace, a higher intensity.

More than ever pace is seen as a necessary attribute for a full-back.

That makes lightning fast players a premium – hence Walker and Mendy’s transfer fees.

Dani Carvajal and Marcelo were key to Real Madrid’s success last season with the mop-haired Brazilian racking up ten assists in La Liga – only Neymar, Toni Kroos and Luis Suarez provided more.

Antonio Conte’s 3-4-3 formation blew away Chelsea’s opponents in the Premier League last term.

Wing-backs Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso, two of Chelsea’s most low-profile players this time last year, proved to be decisive figures in the title race.

In a way their success was a victory for full-back/wing-backs everywhere.

Marcos Alonso could find himself out in the cold at Chelsea if Alex Sandro arrives

Rex Features
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An unexpected hero for the champions last season

No longer will people allow their eyes to pass over shy and retiring full-backs.

This is the age of the full-back and we better get used to it.


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