If the Romans knew the game of football in the 6th century, Gladiators would have been out of business long ago, and Colosseum would be a historic stadium by now. Pity, they didn’t. But not to worry, destiny somehow brings us what we need, sooner or later. Football is one such gift sent directly from the high heavens. We have seen it all, yet it feels like just the beginning. That’s the beauty of this game. From Super Strikers to Dashing Defenders, Magnetic Midfielders to Gutsy Goalkeepers, all have etched their names in the history books. Yet, there still exists a position that defines the team much more than the aforementioned ones. That position is of a playmaker.
Playmakers are the soul of a play. Goals are the most important aspect of football, and strikers are the beings who take the credit most of the time. But there is no way that playmakers are underrated. They attract attention more than anyone else. In the early 1990s, Playmakers were of utmost importance. They were usually the hottest properties on the market. In contrast, fullbacks were the most undesirable position back then. Their role was only limited to providing defensive cover. Sounds boring? So did Roberto Carlos back in 1996.
A young and exuberant Carlos was under impulse by his enigmatic Brazilian instinct to attack, but the Serie-A giant Inter wanted a defence-minded player in that position. This caused friction between Carlos and Inter, which led to Carlos forcing his way out of Inter in 1996 to join La Liga side Real Madrid. In Madrid, then manager Fabio Capello allowed Roberto Carlos to play his natural game, which worked its magic. RC3 is still the most capped foreign player of Real Madrid. Roberto Carlos’ time in Real Madrid inspired a new generation of fullbacks, who actively participate in the build-up and often provide key passes to the final third.
While RC3 impressed on the left flank for Real Madrid and Brazil, Cafu made the right side impenetrable. While showing defensive excellence for Milan and the National team, Cafu also ran across the pitch for complete 90 minutes, assisting the attack whenever possible.
There’s another set of Brazilian fullbacks who slightly overshadow the iconic duo of RC3 and Cafu. Marcelo and Dani Alves take their place as the best-attacking fullbacks. Both Marcelo and Dani Alves have been stalwarts for Real Madrid and FC Barcelona. They assisted and created uncountable chances for their teams and also constructed formidable partnerships with the GOATs Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi respectively.
Marcelo and CR7 were a sight to watch on the left side of Madrid’s side. Marcelo assisted most of Cristiano’s goals. He very well complimented Cristiano’s off-the-ball running and gave him passes where he needed it. Similarly, Dani Alves made Messi shine brighter with his extraordinary panache. Alves and Messi were inseparable on the pitch with 43 assists. If this isn’t an iconic duo, then what is?
Ask Jurgen Klopp, and he will say, you haven’t even counted the best ones in the list, and he is 100% right, at least when he speaks about another set being undescribed. Andrew Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold’s heroics in Liverpool’s 2019 UCL campaign and 19-20 Premier League conquest are overshadowed by Salah-Mane and VVD’s performances. The pair supported the winger duo very well. Robertson mastered the art of versatility and efficiently switched between offence and defence. While TAA didn’t display such versatility, he did more than enough while defending, considering his primary purpose was to assist the wingers.
While all the duos mentioned above acted as partners either for their clubs or nations, there are still some fullbacks who have excelled in this particular art. Achraf Hakimi has been excelling at the right side of Dortmund, Inter, and PSG. His performances at Inter earned him a move to PSG, just a season after he completed his move to Inter. Hakimi’s pace and excellent crossing ability make him a reliable option for wingers worldwide.
His potential looks real high, considering his current prowess. Alphonso Davies is another bullet in the left flank who overpowers opponents with his pace. Jordi Alba has been a stalwart for Spain and Barcelona for years now. His excellence at attack has been appreciated by many pundits. Alba, in his prime, was akin to one of the greatest attacking threats, finding Leo Messi’s left foot even in the crowded places. Chelsea legend Ashley Cole is often considered the best fullback in his time at Stamford Bridge.
Modern-day football has changed a lot. Defensive duties have been shared evenly, and even the defenders are expected to contribute in attacks. One of the positive effects was immense growth in fullback positions which made careers of many greats. Imagine restricting Dani Alves only to defend. A Nightmare, we would have missed all that samba fun we had. Full-Back is no longer a position where you slot the team’s worst player. It is of utmost importance of now. With every new generation, there is a new wave of talent flooding in to make their name and in-process leave behind some quirky but unique ideas that change the face of this game forever. Johan Cruyff rightly said, “Football is simple, but it is difficult to play simple Football”.