08 Jun 2010
The importance of full backs in the modern game
The full backs are vitally important players in the modern game. Not only do they have their main defensive responsibility to stop the opposition attacking in wide areas and to support and cover the central defenders in general play. But, because of the lack of space on the pitch, many attacks start with the full backs. Goalkeepers will always have the chance to distribute quickly to full backs, particularly to the opposite full back when successfully claiming crosses. Centre halves can work the ball across the pitch quickly and get out on quick, keen fullbacks in wide areas.
The “out” or safe pass from central midfield players, is always the full back, particularly switching play from one side of the pitch to the other.
The team defending will try and make sure they have a defensive shape that is compact, ensuring that the dangerous central areas of the pitch are covered. They will bring their players in tighter, giving up the least dangerous areas that are deep and wide. Therefore, the full backs will generally be the players that are most available and will often be the starting point for most attacks.
The key to the full backs being real threats as attacking players is the ability of the attacking team to move the ball quickly, probing centrally in attack, to bring the defensive team in from the flanks to deal with the central attack. Or by attacking down one side of the pitch, to pull the defensive team to one side of the pitch. In both these situations, the ball needs to be transferred quickly to a full back in space.
But, the real key to the attacking threat then lies with the full backs themselves. They have to have a very strong mental attitude to want the ball in more advanced wide areas, they have to be brave, good on the ball, be quick and have very good athletic and stamina qualities.
So the key to attacking full backs, is to have full backs who have these attacking qualities and a team who can move the ball quickly to get the ball to them before the defending team can adjust their shape to keep the full back in possession in front of them.
England have two such attacking full backs in Ashley Cole and Glen Johnson. They have all the qualities, it remains to be seen if the ball can be moved quickly enough to them to utilise their attacking abilities.
The attacking team pull the defensive team to one side of the pitch. The ball is switched quickly to the opposite full back who receives it in space, high and wide in a good attacking position.