Where Have All the Fullbacks Gone?

BARCELONA SPAIN - OCTOBER 20: Eric Abidal of Barcelona runs to catch the ball during the UEFA Champions League group D match between Barcelona and FC Copenhagen at the Camp nou stadium on October 20 2010 in Barcelona Spain. Barcelona won the match 2-0. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

Ask anyone which is the hardest type of player to find in all of football and you're in for a litany of answers. Some will say a goal-scoring midfielder, others will say a complete striker, others might mention a competent goalkeeper. The truth is, though, that the hardest players to find are fullbacks.

In recent years the winger position has changed. No longer are these players simply asked to provide width, get to the byline and cross the ball into the box. Now there are inverted wingers who play from the inside out. We have players like Cristiano Ronaldo playing on the wing and then cutting inside to score goals.

With these "wide-men" becoming more an more important to the game of football, one would think the people generally assigned to mark them would have undergone a revolution as well. Not so much.

In essence, there are two (three if you believe in the happy medium) types of fullbacks. There are the marauding attacking "wing backs" like Patrice Evra, Ashley Cole, and Maicon. The weakness of these types of players is obvious, against a quality attacking winger they leave the defense vulnerable because of their constant forward runs. We saw Gareth Bale demolish Maicon on two separate occaisions this year, which certainly helps prove this point. Evra and Cole benefit from having midfields that provide enough cover to allow them to make their forward runs.

The advantage of these wing backs is that in a system in which the wingers cut inside the wing back can provide the width and crossing that inverted winger does not provide. This has the additional benefit of overloading the defense on one side of the pitch, hopefully leading to someone being unmarked.

The other type of fullback is the "defense first" fullback. This is somewhat of a dying breed.  Think Vedran Corluka, but perhaps even more defensive minded.  Perhaps the best example is Eric Abidal at Barcelona. The player gets forward on rare occasions and doesn't provide much of an attacking threat, but is defensively solid.

What do we have at Tottenham Hotspur? Well, at right back we don't have much. With the injuries to Corluka and Younes Kaboul (both defense first fullbacks) and the general disgust with Alan Hutton (a wing-back) our best right back is probably Kyle Walker, who is, unfortunately, on loan at Aston Villa. At left back we have the enigmatic Benoit Assou-Ekotto (a wing back) and either Sebastian Bassong (defense first) or Gareth Bale (wing back).

It's been quite some time since Spurs have had two solid fullbacks, which is also something that is also true of most teams in modern football. BAE is certainly good on his day. While I, personally, would like to see more consistency from him, I much prefer him to some of our previous left backs. Right back seems to be a position we have been unable to consistently fill since the departure of Stephen Carr back in 2004. Ideally, Walker would be playing there come next season, but we still don't really know how good he is.

All of football needs better quality at the fullback position. Spurs should consider themselves lucky that they have several above average options at the position. Above-average may not always cut it though. Certainly one world-class fullback wouldn't hurt, especially if it means less Alan Hutton.

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