Football as we know it has always evolved and adapted to its current surrounding to remain the biggest sport in the world, we have seen legendary players leave their mark, coaches whose philosophies changed the way we looked at the game, but what remains the same is the essence of the game, the passion with which a ball is kicked over 90 minutes and how this sport still manages to amaze us with moments we’ve never seen before.
One of the finer changes which we have noticed over the period is the use of right-footed left-backs in football, for some it might still sound unusual, after all playing a right-footed defender on the left side doesn’t seem feasible to most coaches but that perception was changed by one of the greatest defenders in the game, Paolo Maldini.
A young Paolo Maldini broke into the AC Milan side under the guidance of legendary coach Arrigo Sacchi. Due to his versatility and footballing IQ, Paolo Maldini became one of the first right-footed left-backs to be recognized all over the world. He was a defender who was able to not only position himself in a way through which the weaker side was not exposed and could defend and attack efficiently. This decision by Arrigo Sacchi not only changed the career of young Paolo Maldini, but it also changed the way wide players played the game. The wide players were now no longer limited to rushing forward and crossing the ball from a given angle, they now had the opportunity to create chances more freely through the middle and as well as from wider areas of the pitch. Since then, the game has seen many inverted fullbacks, Javier Zanetti being a prime example during the 2000s, who played for AC Milan’s fierce rivals Inter. He was a player who hardly made any defensive mistakes and was effective going forward, but why has the concept of inverted fullbacks become popular? The answer is simple, Creativity.
Managers soon realized that football was going to be dominated by Goal scorers, the new era of fans wanted to see their team play with flair and to create chances all over the pitch, this is exactly what inverted fullbacks offer in the game. They offer the freedom to not only express their creativity from the wider areas of the pitch, but they can also cut in and take chances on their own, they are no longer one-footed players, they are versatile enough to use both feet for crossing an passing, in various systems, these fullbacks act as an additional midfielder while attacking, a prime example can be seen from Portuguese full-back Joao Cancelo at Manchester city, the player is versatile enough to play on both the sides of the pitch and still hold up his effectiveness for his club side. In terms of defending the game has changed because teams no longer want to play one-dimensional attacking wingers, wingers tend to cut in and take chances themselves, which makes it easier for inverted fullbacks to defend on their strong side.
Some of the other prime examples of such players are Kieran Trippier and Leonardo Spinazzola, both of whom have been playing in this position constantly throughout the ongoing European Championship and both will hope that their teams make a deep run into the competition.
It can be seen that the benefits of having an inverted left-back have its advantages if used judiciously like in the above cases, this change of style has helped in creating more importance regarding the roles of left-backs and how integral they are to the system of play in any team as nations like Denmark, Italy, Slovakia, and England all continue to make the most of such players at the EUROs.