Sep 30, 2010

Importance of Fullbacks in the Modern Game

By Lorenzo Scala

If Douglas Maicon is the footballing version of Xerxes, then Marcos Cafu was Darius the Mede before him. The King among fullbacks.

As King, Xerxes conquered over the nations and expanded his Persian empire inherited from Darius before him. So too, in footballing terms, Maicon has dominance over his realm, the full back position, for which he is widely regarded as the best in the world and a visionary for his interpretation of its role in the modern game, much like Cafu before him.

Maicon has all of the characteristics required to dominate. Direct, powerful and at times, unplayable, he is physically strong, mentally enduring and possesses the determination and desire to transform every defensive intervention into a resulting counter-attack, at blistering pace. Like Cafu before him, he thrives on receiving the ball to feet and driving towards the final third before either delivering a precision cross to an attacker, or attempting one of his trademark pile drives across the face of goal, which frequently find the back of the net. His all-powerful vision of football from the flanks provides an added dimension to the attacking potential for his club and country.

There are of course other top players who possess many of these qualities in abundance: Ashley Cole at Chelsea, Sergio Ramos at Real Madrid, Dani Alves at Barcelona, Patrice Evra at Manchester Utd, to name but a few. Maicon however, stands apart from the others in that his attacking and counter-attacking potential can become so damaging to the opposition, and hence such a focal outlet to his team, that opposing managers must devise a tactical solution specifically tailored to deal with his considerable threat.

Ignore his threat at your peril, or contain him by asking your players to sacrifice themselves to double up on him, risking the balance in your own team’s tactical approach and leaving exploitable gaps in other areas of the field.

Having Maicon in your team does not in itself come without sacrifice. As often, at Inter and for Brazil, one of his midfield team mates (for example, Cambiasso at Inter or Gilberto Silva with Brazil, for example) must display self-sacrifice and discipline, by filling the gap in defence during Maicon's marauding forward runs. This requires a strong tactical understanding of which ever system the team is using (last season it was typically the counter-attacking system of Mourinho) and a solid team spirit if it is to be achieved successfully. Like-wise, for Maicon to utilise his attacking potential to its full, he requires confidence in his team mates, not only to cover him in defence when he attacks, but to assist him in defending against opposition attacks. This requires those in front of him to track back when his team are on the defence. The last thing Maicon wants is to be faced directly in a 1 v 1 against a winger of quality. He will quickly feel isolated and exposed, and very soon his confidence will begin to take a knock and he will think twice about advancing out of his defensive position.

Of course, this is a tactical tussle which his manager must assist him with. But with such potential going forward, any manager with Maicon in his side will want to ensure he gets the most of out that potential.

The fullback position has evolved to become a key position in the tactical progression of football formations over the past decade. It is recognised nowadays as far more than a defensive postion, but a key one in the development of attacking and counter-attacking plays. Like Xerxes dominance over the Persian Empire, Maicon at his peak over the past couple of years, has done a fine job in conquering his opposition and is arguably the best in the world at it. Like Cafu was before him, Maicon will be to those in his position in years to come, a standard bearer with which to aspire to, replicate and succeed. Football managers of many of the top teams appreciate just how important players like Maicon are to success at the highest level, and are redefining their tactical formations accordingly.


Anonymous said...

Maicon is good, but Glen Johnson is better because he can also play as winger and Maicon can only play one position.

Lorenzo said...

Hi, thanks for your comment. While I won't deny Johnson has 'some' of the attacking qualities of Maicon. I think it is not unfair to suggest he struggles a little with his defensive duties for club and country. He also lacks the physical and mental toughness of Maicon and to claim Maicon can only play one position is incorrect. Inter played him in wide midfield a number of occassions last season. Besides, even from fullback, he is more effective as a 'winger' than a great number of midfielders.

The Gaffer said...

Lol at comparing Glen Johnson with Maicon..

Only Dani Alves deserves the same mention as Maicon, both are a world apart from any other fullback..

Bluenine said...

I would agree with Lorenzo and the Gaffer... Maicon and Alves are a class apart among the right backs... some other LB's deserve a mention, like Evra, Lahm, Cole, etc... Glen Johnson is talented, but has some way to go to reach Maicon's level.

MattPeterC said...

Great read. I like the way you think and I really like your analysis of Maicon. Think we have a similar-ish train of thought in terms of full-backs but I maybe come down on a slightly different side of the fence to you: