By Asaph Mwebaze
On Tuesday I was lucky to be admitted for the StarTimes Uganda premier league game between Police FC and BUL FC at the MTN Omondi stadium at Lugogo.
On the field was a right back Denis Rukundo that I discovered and was greatly pleased on how far he has improved in the position.
This position has been a problem to the national team setup since the retirement of Simeon Masaba. We have gone to the point of fielding central defenders in that position over time.
The fullback position in soccer is one of the toughest on the pitch. They are expected to cover the entire flank while supporting the team in attack and remaining solid at the back. During a game, that’s a long list of responsibilities.
Understanding when to push up and support the team out wide and when to sit back and provide support to the centre backs is a key component of playing the fullback position.
They can easily let the team down if they’re caught in the wrong position.
For these reasons, the modern-day fullback needs to be one of the fittest players on the pitch as they’ll be required to sprint back and forth all match.
It’s no longer enough for them to simply defend, and that’s why they are becoming the most exciting players in football.
In world football the rise of Cafu, Roberto Carlos, Ashley Cole and David Alaba, pushed football to a different level. In Uganda in the 90s we had Adam Semugabi, Paul Hasule, John Latigo then to Masaba, Nestroy Kizito and of late Mustpha Kizza, Paul Willa and Rukundo.
Below, I will share with you the important traits a fullback needs to possess, I will dive deeper into their roles and responsibilities, and also share a few important fullback tips.
With so much to think about and the game moving at 100 km/hr, it’s easy to get overwhelmed in this specialised position.
Let’s talk about the key qualities every great fullback must possess to maximise their contribution to the team.
Incredibly high level of fitness
Fullbacks need to have incredible stamina to be run up and down their flank for the full duration of the match.
Though their primary objective is to help the team keep a clean sheet, the modern game increasingly asks fullbacks to contribute in the attacking third as well.
This means they must support their winger out wide while making sure they can drop back into position at any moment’s notice. That’s 90 minutes of hard work.
Also, having a great turn of pace helps in these situations is crucial as it allows the fullback to get back into position quicker or to be an option out wide when the team is attacking.
Great awareness and decision making
Since they’re required to both attack and defend (as we’ve talked about), fullbacks can easily get caught out of position if they’re not careful.
Playing far up the field leaves a large chunk of space behind them which they need to be aware of at all times.
They need to understand exactly when to play the ball to the winger or midfielder inside and also if they should attempt an overlap or not.
Making the wrong decision in this situation will leave the team wide open at the back.
Disciplined and fantastic positioning
Being in the right position at exactly the right time is more important for fullbacks than probably other position on the pitch.
The positions they take up defensively are crucial for keeping the team’s defense solid.
While it can be tempting to sprint forward and join the attack, they must remain disciplined and do what’s best for the team at all times.
Outstanding technical ability
This attribute is akin to prior mentioned attributes. Unfortunately, being in the correct position is largely irrelevant if a player doesn’t have the technical skills to put in a great cross or keep the ball moving within the team.
A modern fullback needs great ball control skills and they must be able to play one touch passes with their teammates.
Also, they should be able to run with the ball at speed and have the dribbling skills to get out of a sticky situation when they find themselves in one.
Calm and composed under pressure
A fullback needs to be calm and confident when they have the ball. This is the best way to ensure they’ll help the team keep possession and advance up field when the time is right to do so.
With the opposition’s winger constantly looking to test them with their speed and bag of tricks, the fullback needs to be alert and refrain from diving and committing a silly foul.
Instead, they must remain calm and look to dispossess the winger or force them out wide away from goal.
Clear communication with teammates
Being such an important position, the fullback must remain in constant communication with the teammates around them.
This alerts the others as to when the fullback is going to push forward and helps the midfielders know if they should stay back and drop into the space vacated.
Communication is especially important with the winger.
They need to understand each other’s game inside and out as well as communicate clearly with each other whether they’re defending together or attacking down the wing.
No wonder the best fullbacks are commanding such mammoth transfer fees.
The author is a CAF B licensed coach he also holds a Bachelor’s of Commerce in Accounting and Finance degree and a Master of Arts in Public Administration.