Wednesday, 24 Jul 2024

The Evolution of Full-Backs in Modern Football

full back

What makes a modern full-back? Well, the answer is not as simple as it may seem. The modern full-back is not only a defender but also an integral part of the team’s attacking force. They are responsible for creating chances, joining attacks, and defending the wide areas of the field. In this article, we will delve into the origins of the term “modern full-back,” their roles on and off the ball, and highlight some of the best modern full-backs in the game today.

Origins of the Modern Full-Back

Full-backs have come a long way from their defensive roots. In the early 20th century, full-backs were the deepest players in the 2-3-5 formation. However, as the game evolved and formations changed, full-backs moved out to the sides. While traditionally known for their defensive capabilities, there have been exceptions like Brazil’s Nílton and Djalma Santos, who played attack-minded roles in the 1958 World Cup-winning team. The term “modern full-back” emerged to emphasize their all-round contribution to the game.

In-Possession Responsibilities

Modern full-backs are versatile players with a wide range of responsibilities. They constantly make overlapping and underlapping runs, providing width in attack. Their duties include delivering crosses, cut-backs, through balls, and switches of play. Dribbling, beating opponents in one-on-one situations, and creating chances are also crucial aspects of their game. By taking up positions to receive switches of play, full-backs create space and draw opponents away from their wide-midfield teammates, who are usually more dangerous in possession.

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Out-of-Possession Responsibilities

Off the ball, modern full-backs play a crucial role in pressing and defensive positioning. They support the team’s high press by moving into advanced areas, particularly out wide. After pushing up, they aim to cut off direct balls down the touchline, forcing play into more congested areas. Fitness, work rate, and defensive positioning are essential qualities for modern full-backs. They need to cover large distances, chase back after a loss of possession, and defend effectively in one-on-one situations.

The Best Modern Full-Backs

Several full-backs have made a name for themselves with their exceptional skills and contributions to their teams. Here are a few standout examples:

  • Trent Alexander-Arnold: Known for his world-class crossing and ability to make accurate switches of play, Alexander-Arnold has been a key figure in Liverpool’s attacking plays.
  • Andy Robertson: An energetic and penetrative full-back, Robertson combines speed with the ability to beat opponents in one-on-one situations, making him a threat in attack.
  • Jordi Alba: Alba’s overlapping runs and precise crosses have made him a valuable asset for Barcelona and Spain. His vision and awareness of teammates’ runs are standout traits.

Playing with a Modern Full-Back

Playing with an attack-minded full-back offers numerous benefits. It allows the winger or wide midfielder to move inside and attack more directly towards the opposition’s goal. It creates overloads in central areas, which can be more threatening than wide areas. Additionally, modern full-backs stretch the opposition’s back line, creating space in central areas and limiting the opponent’s attacking threat.

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However, there are also disadvantages to consider. Playing with an attacking full-back can leave gaps in wide areas that opponents can exploit on the counter-attack. If the full-back is not capable of fulfilling defensive responsibilities, it can expose the center-backs to speedy attackers.


Q: Who are some other examples of modern full-backs?
A: Some notable modern full-backs include Ashley Cole, Dani Alves, Kyle Walker, Danny Rose, Dani Carvajal, and Marcelo.

Q: What are the benefits of playing with a modern full-back?
A: Playing with an attack-minded full-back allows for increased attacking options, overloads in central areas, and stretching the opposition’s defense.

Q: What are the disadvantages of playing with a modern full-back?
A: The potential disadvantages include vulnerability to counter-attacks and the need for the full-back to excel in both attacking and defensive phases of the game.


The role of full-backs in modern football has evolved significantly. They are no longer limited to defensive duties but play a crucial role in both attacking and defensive phases of the game. With their overlapping runs, precise crosses, and defensive contributions, modern full-backs have become key assets for their teams. As the game continues to evolve, the role of the full-back will undoubtedly keep on transforming, adapting to the ever-changing demands of the beautiful game.

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Author: Tony Hodson