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World Cup Analysis - Wing Backs

Updated on June 11, 2014

Left back in the changing rooms

As a child, the full back position was unheralded. If you had to play full back you were either considered crap at football or you had pissed off the coach. Luckily I was a midfielder and was never played in a full back position so my confidence remained in tact.

It's crazy to think now that from the tender age of ten we were expected to play 11 a side games - in dedicated positions with no rotation and sometimes on full sized pitches. No wonder our youth system is so far behind other nations who prefer to develop their young talent via small, futsal style games where the focus is on technique rather than winning at all costs.

I digress however, as the main crux of this article is about the emergence of the full back as being the most important position on the pitch. Gone are the days (unless your name is Sam Allardyce) where a slightly Ikea sounding 'flat back four' system was the desirable choice for coaches and tacticians alike. Now a full back (or wing backs as they are more commonly known now) has to be solid in defence, but more importantly, like a coiled spring, be ready to lead the cavalry charge. With your 'traditional' attacking wing man opting to cut inside more and more to support the lone striker, the wing back has to produce lung busting runs to provide width and support. Then their creativity is called into question. 'No final product' is the most overused phrase when it comes to pundits discussing wide men. Aaron Lennon is a prime example of a wing man player who can run all day, beat players for fun but is considered to have 'no final product.' Therefore these wing backs now have the added pressure of producing that final ball as well as defending, taking players on, be the out ball for the goalkeeper etc etc! The humble full back has now become the most technically gifted and rounded individual on the pitch!

It's all about Pab Zab

Man City are a great example of a club that use the wing back system effectively and ultimately that is what won them the premier league title this season. The roles in which the likes of Clichy, Kolarov et al played were vital cogs in the Man City machine as their attacking support on the wings allowed the likes of Nasri, Silva, Jovetic, Aguero etc. to have more of a central influence.

The most important and consistent player for Man City last season was Pablo Zabaleta. A fantastically fit and powerful athlete that doesn't look especially fit or powerful (particularly highlighted when stood next to Kompany!). His performances last season were breathtakingly good on a consistent basis. He is a work horse, constantly looking to break forward at speed whilst being confident, strong and robust at the back. He is for me the best full back in the world right now.

England's hopes

So, back onto the World Cup. Writing this on 'World Cup Eve' as it's affectionately known (and harbours more excitement than the festive alternative for many) - I'm convinced the national squad with the best wing backs will have the best chance of winning the World Cup. This helps narrow down the contenders quite a bit!

Ol' Blighty's squad boasts a couple of very good left backs in Baines and Shaw who will run all day, create chances and overall be fairly solid at the back (bar a few mistakes - every full back in the world has a mistake in their locker, it comes with having so much to concentrate on!) However our right side of defence looks desperately weak. Glen Johnson should not be at the World Cup as a right back, right winger or waterboy. He can't defend, mark, pass, or concentrate for long periods. He is good going forward but has very little in the way of the afore mention 'end product.' He is just not good enough. I congratulated Roy on trying Milner at right back against Equador but he didn't exactly cover himself in glory either. So Johnson gets the nod more out of necessity than being the best man for the job. Everyone knows it. I think even he knows it.

This might be a biased opinion considering my club loyalties but I believe the next England right back will come from Southampton FC in the form of Clyne or Chambers. Pochettino was very clever last season, ensuring neither of these two got too tired and consequently they ended up making similar amounts of appearances. Clyne is rapid and can cross a ball but again is a bit dodgy at the back. Chambers however is very similar to Luke Shaw in terms of build, ability and temperament. At 19 obviously he is still very young but has very similar potential to Shaw, hence why Arsenal have been sniffing around him this summer!

I firmly believe that if the World Cup was next summer, Clyne, Chambers or both would've been included in the squad.

And the winner is...

Sorry I digressed again. Focus. World Cup. Potential winners. Right. Got it!

With my full back theory, this leaves only two teams for me and yes, I'm discounting Brazil! You read that correctly, I don't think the hosts will win. In Dani Alves and Marcelo, Brazil have two of the best attacking full backs in the world, proven by the honours they have achieved at club level. I worry that they are too attacking though and will leave them vulnerable at the back where they have never really been strong. Don't get me wrong, I think they will reach the semis but I don't think they will win it.

The two teams I believe have the best full backs in the world and have the best chances of winning the world cup are current holders Spain and a resurgent Argentina.

One of Chelsea's key performers this season has been Cesar Azpilicueta, but he will have to fight it out for a position at either left back or right back with Jordi Alba and Juanfran. Juanfran has had a cracking season with Atletico Madrid, winning La Liga and reaching the final of the Champions League. But for me a fit Jordi Alba is the pick of the three. He does not tire. He is the Duracell Bunny personified and he will do as much work at the back as he does going forward. On paper Spain have the best full backs in the world and therefore have every chance of retaining the copa mundial.

But no one wants to see me sit on the fence so therefore I will stick my neck out and side with my pal Zabaleta! With Pablo on the right and the powerful and reliable Marcos Rojo on the left, I believe the Argies have got a great platform to win the World Cup. Like the Premier League, Zabaleta will be pivotal in Argentina's campaign and linking up with a fit Aguero could be key.

Gone are the days when the 'left back in the changing room' gags would float around Sunday morning meet ups, the 'full back' is now the most pivotal position in the modern game and could be the basis of a World Cup win.


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      4 years ago

      Great piece and I am with you all the way on the rise and rise of the full back in the modern game. However, although you are correct in stating these wing flyers have so much to think about you do miss the case for the commanding centre half and their ability to assist-think for their wing back partners! The reason Zabaleta is so good is that half of his tactical thinking is done by Vincent Kompany. Azpilicueta had a great season because John Terry was with him. Glenda Johnson would be a far better player if the England centre backs were mentally stronger and exuded confidence. Cahill is getting there but still spends so much time thinking about his own game rather than worry about all three of his defensive colleagues. Tony Adams made Lee Dixon and Nigel Winterburn into solidly consistent full-backs, neither had great talent. The controlling influence of the lead centre back has never been so important as it is today. For Luke Shaw to progress at Manchester United they must buy class in the middle! I also think that Calum Chambers will play on the left and begin the next revolution in English football, two footed defenders!!


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