What makes a world-class full-back?
The full-back position is one of the most versatile positions in football. In our methodology a full-back has the most number of fundamentals, they have 17 defensive and 15 offensive fundamentals. This is because there’s expected a lot of a full-back, both defensively and offensively. This doesn’t mean that a full-back must be able to do all fundamentals, because this depends on team tactics. Based on team tactics there are several types of full-backs.
Types of full-backs
There are several different full-backs, you have the old-school full-back who is there to defend and to make sure the winger can focus as much as possible on attacking, examples of this would be Gary Neville and Dani Carvajal.
Then there’s also the offensive full-backs, they have to create chances and make it hard for opponents’ defenses by making overlaps and underlaps, examples of this would be Dani Alves and Marcelo. These full-backs are good at dribbling and 1v1 offensive situations, with these skills they create an advantage and can deliver a good cross from which an attacker can score.
In recent years a new type of full-back has come in as well, the inverted full-back, mostly because of Pep Guardiola, who in his Bayern Munchen time made Philippe Lahm come into midfield to create an extra player there, this had several pros, first of all it made them better protected against counter attacks, second of all they create an extra midfielder to play with and thus more difficult for the opponent to press, and third of all when you have a good winger one on one, you can play directly to this winger, because the attacker is most likely to be inside with the inverted full-back. Other players who have perfected this position are Zinchenko and Kimmich.
The last type of full-back that exists is the wingback, this is a player who plays on the side in a 3-5-2 or 3-4-3 formation. These players are known for being able to control the whole side space of the pitch, both defensively and attacking, they’re known for their enormous physical capacity, players in this category are Denzel Dumfries and Robin Gosens.
Another big difference between a full-back in comparison to a center-back is that he plays near the sideline. This has huge differences in terms of defensive body positioning, and how many options a full-back has on the ball.
Difference between full-back and center-back
Defensively it’s a big difference because the ball is more often in the middle or on the contra side since this is 75% of the pitch. This results in that the body positioning of the full-back is often to the ball. This can have a sleeping effect on the player, and he forgets about the winger in his back. For a long period he only ‘watches’ the game develop, he’s not in duels, the ball is not near him, and then all of a sudden the game gets switched and he’s not alert enough to deal with the situation. That’s why a full-back needs to be alert and ready to defend depth runs and give covering to his defensive line.
Offensively it limits a full-back because the sideline results in the full-back only being able to dribble straight forward or to the middle, otherwise, he goes out of the pitch. So his options are more limited, he can go back, forward, or into the middle. This asks for a different approach to supporting your teammates and making progressive actions. A lot of full-backs find this difficult, and that’s why a lot of teams choose to press the full-back. This results in a lot of full-backs playing it safe, because they don’t position themselves well in terms of position on the pitch and body orientation.
How does a FB get judged?
A full-back is part of a defense, but nowadays most full-backs get judged and scouted on their offensive qualities. Think about Trent-Alexander Arnold, he has almost been a playmaker from his right-back position at Liverpool delivering assist after assist in consecutive seasons. Only recently he has been critiqued for lacking defensive qualities. This shows that a full-back must have a certain level of defensive skills.
But a lot of scouts look at the following data points when scouting a full-back, they see how many assists he has, and how many progressive runs and/or dribbles. These two indicate how offensive a full-back is.
In the upcoming chapters, we will lay out how a full-back can be a good defensive full-back and what is needed to contribute offensively to a team. In the last chapter, we will write down how to train all of this.