In today’s game, the role of the full-back has become pivotal to a team’s chance of success.
Often dubbed “continental full-backs,” their role involves a much more advanced and attacking position with a focus on pace, width and the constant support, and overlapping of the right and left wingers.
Although this style of wing-back has been popularized recently, its ideologies is very evident in the iconic Carlos Alberto strike from the legendary 1970’s Brazil squad, when the right-sided defender seemed to appear from nowhere to get on the end of a seemingly aimless pass from Pele.
The great Dutch team from 1974 also seemed to pave the way for the modern full-back.
Captained by the great Johan Cruyff—the conductor of a mechanism the Dutch called “total football”—the whole team attacked and defended as a unit using the full-backs as playmakers.
Such a style is still very effective and proving timeless through the play of Barcelona today.
The duty of a full-back has changed greatly from the days of Paolo Maldini when he used to patrol the left-hand side of Milan’s defense.
Back then, the full-back read the game, focused more prominently on defending, and tended to be strong in the tackle.
Perhaps it was Maldini’s move to the centre of the back four that proved the turning point for the position with the likes of Cafu and Roberto Carlos coming to show a more progressive attitude to the position in the same league.