Soccer has so many positions and roles on the pitch that it’s more than natural to have doubts. Sometimes, position names may not even make much sense (the same happens in other sports).
If you’re wondering: “what is a fullback in soccer” or “what is the job of a fullback” I’ve got you covered. After all, this is my number one sport, and fullback is one of my favorite positions in association football.
A fullback in soccer is a defender who plays wide on the right or left side of the defensive line — thus being called right-back or left-back. While their main job is stopping opposing wingers and forwards, in modern soccer, fullbacks are vital in the attack by supplying crosses and making assists.
The above fullback definition already says a lot, but allow me to expand on it a bit more so you can fully understand the role and responsibilities of a fullback in soccer and much more.
What Is a Fullback in Soccer?
A fullback in soccer is a wide defensive player who plays outside of the center backs on either side of the pitch.There are two fullbacks on each team, a right-back and a left-back.
Fullbacks are used in different types of player alignments, but mainly in the 4-3-3, 4-4-2, and 5-4-1 formations.
The primary focus of a fullback is the defensive duty.
They defend the outer edges of the pitch, marking the opposition winger, preventing/stopping crosses, and winning defensive duels in wide areas.
They also provide cover when the ball is on the opposite side of the field and close in the center and midfield when center backs or midfielders are beaten, overtaken or not present.
Their secondary function is to support the midfield and the attack.
Fullbacks offer attacking support to the midfielders, wingers, and forwards. They do offensive counter attacks from the wings, make overlapping/underlapping runs and deliver crosses into the box.
Being a successful fullback requires a specific set of skills: speed, stamina, endurance, strength, and being able to excel at defense and create disruption while attacking.
Over the past 15 to 20 years, the role and importance of a fullback has evolved, becoming one of the most demanding and critical positions in soccer.
In today’s game, it plays a crucial role as it contributes significantly to a team’s success. And in the future the impact of this position will become even greater.
What Are the Duties of a Fullback?
Now that we know what a fullback is, another question comes to mind: “What does a fullback do?”.
As an integral part of any football team, a fullback has plenty of roles and responsibilities in all the sectors of the field: defense, midfield, and attack.
Let’s explore what they are.
As a defender, the primary role of a fullback is to prevent the opponent from scoring.
When defending, they spend most of their time on their team’s half of the pitch.
They mark the opposing player (be it a winger, forward, midfield, or any player that moves closer to them).
While marking the opposing player, a fullback closes in and pressures them, giving them the least room to move around or dribble.
At the same time, they should be aware that a through pass or a ball push into the space behind their backline could put their team in danger.
In a 1vs1 situation, a fullback should tackle or otherwise try to steal the ball from the opponent. In that case, they should be mindful not to rush into it at the expense of getting dribbled or overtaken.
Some coaches prefer to use high pressing in the defensive phase.
That means that the backline will be very forward up the field and that both fullbacks need to be closer to the opposing midfielder, winger, or fullback.
This will leave a lot of empty room behind the defensive line.
If there’s a pass into the space over the backline, the fullbacks (and the backline) need to quickly move down and defend their goal.
While maintaining high pressure, the coach can ask the fullbacks to anticipate/steal the ball from their direct marker and initiate the offensive transition.
When in possession and with the center of the game (ball’s location) on the other side of the field, and/or when the other fullback is moving up the pitch, a fullback should close in the center to participate in an eventual defensive transition.
When the ball possession is lost while the fullback is forward up the field, they need a speedy possession-lost reaction.
In that scenario, a fullback needs to pressure/move down the field as fast as possible to stop the opponent from taking advantage of their advanced position and the space left behind their backline.
Supporting Midfielders and Attackers
Another crucial responsibility of a fullback is to support midfielders and attackers.
This entails covering spaces left behind by attacking players and being available for a pass when needed.
Proper positioning and anticipation are essential for effectively providing this support, allowing the player to quickly close down opponents and maintain possession.
Fullbacks also contribute to their team’s attack.
A key aspect of this attack-support role is to use the ball effectively by creating width, pushing higher up the field, and delivering crosses into the penalty area.
The goal is to create scoring opportunities for the fowards and offensive midfielders by providing accurate passes and crosses.
In the construction phase, a fullback should be a passing option for center-backs and midfielders.
To do so, their position on the field may vary:
- They can be the player on the sideline in a three-at-the-back construction play.
- They can move inside and provide an interior passing line.
- They act as a winger, moving closer to the opposing team’s last line of defense and giving the winger freedom to receive a pass in the center.
When possible, the fullback should try to create 2vs1 situations close to the sideline.
This is achievable with:
- Overlapping forward runs: going behind the winger or wide midfielder.
- Underlapping forward runs: going in front the winger or wide midfielder in a breakthrough movement between the opposing fullback and center-back.
In possesion while inside the opponent’s half of the field, fullbacks can be asked to:
Act as a pure winger, positioning themselves by the sidelines in the last third of the attacking half of the pitch.
The real winger will move inside and the fullback will wait for the ball to start an offensive 1vs1.
More and more coaches are positioning one of the fullbacks in the center in the construction, creation, and finishing phases.
The fullback in the inside acts as a midfielder helping the team build up their attacking play.
If the possession is lost in the central channel (middle of the pitch), this fullback works an extra defensive midfielder.
In this type of offensive strategy, the other fullback will be positioned by the touchline ready to explore the depth (stretch the opposition defense), battle in 1vs1 plays and cross into the box.
Communication is paramount for success in any position, especially for a fullback.
Constant communication with teammates, particularly defensive partners, is crucial to ensure solidarity and coordination on the field.
This helps maintaining a strong and cohesive defensive unit, as well as make sure everyone is prepared to transition between attacking and defending phases effectively.
Are Fullbacks Important in Soccer?
You migh have asked yourself before:
“How important are fullbacks in soccer?” and “How big is their impact on the defense and attack?”
Fullbacks are paramount tactically and strategically for any soccer team due to their versatility between different roles and movements on the pitch.
When you have a player whose primary defensive responsibility is to:
- Block shots.
- Intercept balls.
- Prevent crosses.
- Tackle opponents.
- Regain possession.
- Mark the opposition winger.
- Win defensive duels in wide areas.
- Cover for center backs and midfielders out of position.
… you know you have a fundamental element in keeping your team’s defense stable and cohesive.
If this position can also do the following offensively:
- Attack from the flanks.
- Initiate a counter-attack.
- Be comfortable on the ball.
- Support the midfields in the center of the field.
- Overlap with their wingers.
- Drible past opponent’s fullbacks.
- Cross into the box.
- Assist forwards.
- Track back quickly (they need to possess great stamina).
Then you know fullbacks are crucial for your attacking strategy, too, as it gives the team more offensive options and additional pressure on the opposing defense.
The Tactical and Strategic Impact of a Fullback
Fullbacks are versatile and multipurpose players. They easily to adapt to different formations, playing styles or circumstances.
A good fullback is able to read the game well and make quick and smart decisions, knowing when to hold back and when to push forward.
They are able to turn the center of the game around with insightful long passes and potentially starta counter-attack.
Their game knowledge, adaptability, and versatiliy allows the team to switch between formations during the match — one formation when defending, another one while attacking.
In possession, their support midfielders and wingers in the build-up offering an additional passing option and/or widening the opposing team’s defense.
When possession is lost, they close in in the center of the midfield or touchline or run back to strengthen the backline.
All of this provides the coach with more strategic options and tactical solutions to quickly react to the flow of the game.
All in all, the contribuition of the fullback position is huge and their impact is crucial to a soccer team’s defensive and offensive performance.
What Skills Do You Need to Be a Full Back?/Skills and Qualities Needed to Play as a Fullback
Due to its versatility between defensive and offensive roles, the fullback position requires various skills and qualities.
The list includes:
- Technical skills
- Tactical Awareness
- Physical Fitness
- Psychological Attributes
A solid foundation of technical skills are needed to do well in the fullback position.
For the defensive duties, it’s essential to develop a good tackling or ball steal technique without commiting faults.
When it comes to supporting the midfield, good reception, ball control, and passing skills are super important.
For the offensive duties, having the proper technique to interplay with wingers and forwards and deliver accurate crosses to the box is a must-have.
And if you know how to shoot, head the ball, and take free kicks, then you’ll hold a pretty solid set of technical skills to succeed as a fullback.
Being tactically aware as a fullback means being able to read the game and make informed decisions based on the situation.
This involves knowing when to commit to a challenge, cover your center-backs, or make an overlapping run.
An excellent sense of positioning on the field is necessary to prevent the opposing team’s forwards from finding gaps and creating scoring opportunities.
As a fullback, you’ll be expected to have exceptional physical fitness.
This position requires agility, stamina, and speed, allowing you to track back during counterattacks and quickly recover after battles for the ball.
Maintaining a high level of endurance and short bursts of acceleration is crucial to keep up with the dynamic movements of attackers along the sidelines.
In addition to technical and physical aptitude, the fullback role demands strong mental fortitude.
You must display determination, concentration, and resilience during 90 minutes of intense gameplay.
Good decision-making, adaptability to changing situations, and effective communication with your teammates are essential psychological attributes that contribute to your success as a fullback in soccer.
Fullbacks and Wingbacks: What’s the Difference?
Top Fullbacks in Soccer
In this section, we will discuss some of the top fullbacks in soccer history who have excelled in their roles and responsibilities.
João Cancelo, a Portuguese player who currently plays for Bayern Munich (on loan from Manchester City), is one of the top fullbacks in the game today.
With his exceptional speed and technical skills, he is able to both defend effectively and contribute to his team’s offensive efforts.
His versatility also allows him to play on either side of the field, making him a valuable asset to any team.
Philipp Lahm was one of the most prolific fullbacks of the last decades.
The former German international and Bayern Munich captain contributed greatly to his team’s success throughout his distinguished career.
Renowned for his precise tackling, exceptional positional awareness, and leadership capabilities, Lahm was equally adept at playing as a left or right back.
His soccer intelligence and ability to read the game made him a formidable defensive force on the field.
Roberto Carlos is a legendary Brazilian fullback who gained fame for his powerful free kicks, long shots and exceptional crossing skills.
Playing primarily as a left back, Carlos was known for his speed, stamina, and ability to join the attack at just the right moment.
During their time playing for their country’s national team, Roberto Carlos and Cafu formed one of the most powerfull fullback duos in soccer history.
They helped Brazil win the FIFA World Cup for the fifth time, reaching the ultimate glory as soccer players in the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan.
As one of the most successful and admired right backs in soccer history, Cafu was a key figure for both his club and the Brazilian national team.
With his incredible work-rate, speed, and technical skills, Cafu solidified his reputation as a top-class defender who was also comfortable going forward.
Throughout his illustrious career, he consistently demonstrated his passion, leadership, and commitment to the sport, making him a true icon in the world of soccer.
FAQs about Fullbacks in Soccer
When you’re watching a soccer match, you’ll come across various positions with players having different roles and responsibilities.
One such important and often misunderstood position is the fullback.
Here, we will delve into the fullback position, its importance, and the challenges it presents.
We’ll also answer some frequently asked questions on how to play this position and how to improve as a fullback.
Do Fullbacks Score Goals?
How to Play the Position of a Fullback?
Your primary responsibility as a fullback is to defend your quadrant, mark opposition wingers, and prevent crosses.
However, in modern soccer, fullbacks are expected to contribute offensively as well.
This means you will be supporting your team’s attackers by making overlapping runs, providing crosses, and maintaining width in the attack.
- Defensive duties: Mark opposition wingers, win duels in wide areas, and prevent crosses.
- Attacking duties: Support offensive players with overlapping runs, provide crosses, and maintain width in attack.
How Can One Improve As a Fullback?
To improve as a fullback in soccer, you need to work on several skills that will enable you to perform well both defensively and offensively.
Here are some key areas to focus on:
1. Speed and Stamina: As a fullback, you will often be faced with fast and skillful opposition wingers, so improving your speed will help you keep up with them.
Additionally, since your position demands you to run up and down the flanks, building your stamina is crucial.
2. Positioning and Awareness: Developing your positional sense and understanding of the game will make you a better defender.
You should be aware of both the ball and the players around you to make the right decisions in various situations.
3. Tackling and Intercepting: As a defender, it’s essential to master the art of tackling and intercepting passes to prevent the opposition from creating goal-scoring opportunities.
Practice your timing and technique to win the ball cleanly and avoid conceding unnecessary fouls.
4. Crossing and Passing: Enhancing your technical abilities, such as crossing and passing, will help you contribute offensively.
Work on your accuracy and decision-making to provide your team with quality balls in attack.
Remember, being a successful fullback in soccer is challenging, but with hard work, dedication, and consistent practice, you can master the role and become a valuable asset to your team.