We round off our Football Positions Explained series on the defensive side of football by focusing on the players who operate on the sides of the central defenders:
Wing-backs and full-backs.
The term ‘full-back’ applies to the left-back and right-back in a defensive formation – that is to the say, the players on the left and right of the centre-backs, respectively. Their job is to defend the opponent’s attacking wide players, typically pacy wingers, who will try to progress down the flanks and swing balls into the penalty area.
Traditionally, the position of the full-back prioritizes defence over attack, unlike their wing-back counterparts.
Wing-backs – also known as attacking full-backs – are a hybrid of a winger and a full-back, which is reflective of their responsibilities in attack.
They have become popular in the modern game as part of a 3-5-2 formation, in which they can be considered as two additional midfielders when a team is on the attack. As such, wing-backs can and do cover more ground than any other position on the pitch, as they are expected to push forward on the attack and recover the same ground when possession is lost. They need to have exceptional stamina, great speed, tackling instincts, and the ability to provide accurate crosses and passes to put teammates in scoring positions. In fact, wing-backs are expected to have better-than-average finishing skills, as they often find themselves in the best position to score!
The term ‘wing-back’ is gradually falling out of use as the distinction between its role and that of the full-back is becoming more blurred – especially in a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 formation.
Legendary Full-Backs & Wing-Backs
In today’s game, Liverpool pair Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson are arguably the best players in the position(s) at the moment, with both being able to ping pin-point crosses into the box and exceptional defenders in their own right – traits which helped Liverpool win the Champions League in 2019. Other notable players include Benjamin Pavard, Jordi Alba, Achraf Hakimi and Joshua Kimmich.
The all-time great(s) in the position include World Cup winner Carlos Alberto (scorer of one of the best goals in World Cup history in the 1970 final), World Cup winner Roberto Carlos, World Cup winner Cafu (yes, another Brazilian), Javier Zanetti, World Cup winner Philip Lahm and five-time Champions League winner Paolo Maldini (though the Italian also played as a centre-back, such was his versatility).