From timing their runs to knowing their team-mates, the role of a full back is not seen as a glory one.
What kid wants to play full-back? Most want to be a striker as a boy and love the glory that goes with scoring goals. The modern full-back now though is very much an attacking outlet: as midfields get narrower it’s the full backs who have to get up and down and offer width. They are so much more than just a defender.
The relationship between a winger and his full-back is always a complicated one; with one brought up to torment the other, it’s hardly a recipe for perfect harmony. But when on the same wavelength, the two can form a deadly effective double-act.
It’s important for a full back to understand how the midfielders around him like to play. If they’re playing with a Stuani or a Downing, the full back can bomb on all the time because they will work hard and cut inside, leaving space. If you’re playing with Adama Traore, well, he likes to dribble and use the wing so the full backs job is more about backing him up. Having said that, if there is space to exploit, they need to do it, then it’s up to team-mates behind to cover. Full backs have to be familiar with how their fellow midfielders play.
As a defender it is hard to face an attacker who might go either way. When full backs are pushing forward, it’s too easy to show a them onto their weak side, so they have to make the opponent think twice, confidence to cut in and cross or strike the ball with both feet is vital if they want to increase the team’s attacking options.
Fitness is everything, being fit is being able to make a sprint back from the opposition goal-line back to their position in the 85th minute and not feel it. Full-backs’ runs are longer than any other position: it’s literally box-to-box all the time so their bodies need to be conditioned for that. Once it is, it isn’t an issue and they can concentrate on their game.
A full back needs to anticipate what their team-mates will do. There’s no point getting forward and not receiving the ball. A full back needs to be in the right place at the right time and making himself available.
He is the natural outlet and needs to be on his toes as basically every player – from the keeper to the striker – can use him and utilise the space he runs into. This means a lot of ‘unselfish running’ to try and create space by pulling the direct opponents out of position. They may not get the ball, but it’ll make space for the winger to run into, which could lead to a goal.
Friend, Fabio, Baptiste, Connor Roberts and Cyrus Christie are the capable full backs for the upcoming campaign, but who’s going to make their mark this season?
Fabio (R) and Friend (L) seem to be the majority choice, but Cyrus Christie was one of the Championships best rated in a full back position last season along with Alex Baptiste (who prefers a more central role).
Technically proficient, Cyrus Christie also possesses speed. As a youngster at Coventry City he initially did a job as a striker before Carsley relocated him to defence.
“I like getting on the ball to do things with it, having played up front and on the wing for most of my younger days.”
“So I like getting on the ball in tight areas. And the teams that I’ve been at with Coventry and Derby have allowed me to play out from the back, to be expressive.
“The position of full-back is changing all the time and becoming more and more attacking. People are looking for attacking right-backs and changing their system to fit them in… which suits me.
“And I have to thank Lee Carsley for seeing that in me. It is not as glamorous as being a forward but it has been great for me personally.
“I’m always willing to learn. I used to sit down with Lee all the time and analyse my game. Then we’d write down a plan and obviously improve on what we needed to improve on.”
Christie will continue his learning curve at Middlesbrough, with international football for Ireland, and the Premier League a realistic destination.