Full Backs

On this week’s main report we continue our look at the various positions on the pitch by focusing on the full back. You can listen to the report by clicking on the link below, while vocabulary support (in bold) appears at the foot of the report.

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In a previous post on tactics I wrote that when a teacher used to pick a school team, he would assign a number to each position. Number 1 for the goalkeeper and 2 and 3 for the full backs who formed part of the defensive back four. Simple. The full backs were probably seen as not being as good as other players on the team, for example, the centre forward or the star midfielder but instead they were expected to steadily defend their side of the pitch.

How things have changed. Now full backs are seen as an important part of the game as they tend to have more time and space than other players on the pitch and are expected to both defend and attack. Whereas in the past a full back needed to be ‘tough tackling‘ and ‘hard’ now they are expected to ‘bomb forward‘ and ‘overlap‘. They push back the opposing wingers and aim to get around the back of the opposition’s defence and reach the by-line in order to centre to the awaiting forwards. Indeed, when the side is playing a 3-5-2 system with three centre backs then the full backs are seen as wing backs rather than full backs as they play much further forward than a traditional full back.

So, who are the greatest ever full backs of all time? With apologies to Ashley Cole, George Cohen, Paul Breitner and Philip Lahm we have chosen 5 of what we think are the best ever. Of course this is always a subjective decision so let us know who you think could be included in the list of best ever full backs by posting your choices below.


Twice a World Cup winner, indeed he captained the Brazil side that lifted the 2002 trophy, Cafu is also the most capped player for Seleção with over 140 appearances. Impressive numbers for the Roma and AC Milan player whose play was characterised by his tireless running and desire to reach the by-line.

Carlos Alberto

Another World Cup winning Brazilian captain who will always feature in the best ever lists is Carlos Alberto who not only lifted the trophy in 1970 but scored what is often viewed as one of the greatest ever team goals in World Cup finals when he rifled home the fourth goal in the final against Italy. The Santos star was an attacking right back that loved to score goals – he managed 8 in just over 50 appearances for Brazil – not bad for a defender.

Andreas Brehme

The German left back also scored in a World Cup final for the winning team – this time in 1990 when his penalty secured the trophy for Germany against Argentina. Brehme played a total of more than 500 club games and over 80 times for the national team and had a knack of scoring important goals and was regarded as a dead-ball specialist.

Paolo Maldini

Not a World Cup winner but a true legend of the game. Maldini played for AC Milan a remarkable 647 times and represented the Azzurri on 126 occasions. Maldidni’s style of play was one of positioning and understanding of the game rather than being a tough tackler. He won the Champions League five times and won seven Serie A titles.

Lilian Thuran

Right back Lilian Thuran has won more caps than any other Frenchman: 142. He played in two World Cup finals – winning one in 1998 – as well as a European Championship title in 2000 and played at the top level with Juventus, Barcelona, Monaco and Parma. A true great of the game.

Vocabulary support

assign a number to: Decide which number each player would wear in the game

tough tackling: A hard defender

bomb forward: To constantly attack

overlap: When a defender moves ahead of his attacking team mate so that they can centre.

by-line: The goal line – the end of the pitch

Seleção: The nickname for the Brazilian national side

rifled home: Scored (a very hard shot)

a dead-ball specialist: Someone who can take free-kicks and corners very well.

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