5 attributes every fullback must have

by Pablo M17th Aug 2021

Image by SA 3.0 GFDL, Мысякин Александр

The role of the fullback has changed considerably over the years. Fullbacks shifted from a purely defensive position to contributors in attack in modern football. Today’s fullbacks are a hybrid between defenders and wingers. In this post, we discuss the treats great fullbacks share.


The fullbacks primary role is to stop wingers. Usually, wingers as very skilful and fast players. Can you imagine a slow fullback trying to stop Ronaldo? No chance. Therefore fullbacks need speed to catch up with wingers.

Although speed is essential, it all depends on the tactics used by your team. For example, some professional fullbacks are “slow”, but they play a crucial role in their teams. These players may compensate with their defensive and positional skills. For example, Pablo Zabaleta was an outstanding fullback but often criticised for his lack of pace. However, he had a tremendous positional awareness.

Roberto Carlos is renowned for his cannonball-like shots. However, he was incredibly fast. Roberto Carlos run 100 metres in 10.9 seconds! The video below shows how he used his speed to master overlapping runs to perfection.


Every player in a team should be fit to play. However, fullbacks are close contenders to defensive midfielders regarding their work rate in the field. Good fullbacks work tirelessly, sprinting up and down for the total duration of the game. They join the midfield in attack, and they run back to a defensive position when the possession is lost. They have no time to recover their breath.

In 2009, a study on high-intensity running by English FA Premier League soccer players found that wide midfielders and fullbacks covered a greater distance when sprinting than central midfielders, attackers, and central defenders.

There was probably no better winger vs fullback matchup than Ronaldo vs Daniel Alves Da Silva. In the video below, you can appreciate the incredible speed and work rate of Dani Alves to stop Ronaldo’s attacks.

Positioning & awareness

Positioning is essential for any player in the field. However, it takes another level for the fullback since they have to switch from attacking to defending constantly.

Great fullbacks understand both the defensive and offensive aspects of the game. As a result, they switch from covering their teammates back to overlap to provide attacking options. This is only possible due to their knowledge of the game and tactical awareness.

Their knowledge comes out of necessity. Fullbacks can easily get caught out of position if they are not careful. So while it may be tempting to join the attack, they must be aware of the context and only sprint forward when the play requires it.

Lilian Thuram tactical awareness was impeccable. Although he primarily played as a fullback, due to his good understanding of the game, physique and technique, he also played centre back and midfield positions when required. He scored the 2 goals for France in the 1998 World Cup semifinal, a competition France won.


Although the role of a fullback changes a lot depending on the preferred tactics, their primary function is to defend. Fullbacks must master 1v1 situations. Therefore, they must front foot tackle, track runners from behind,  execute last-resort sliding tackles with extreme precision, and above all, be very strong.

Aggressiveness is needed to defend, but timing is vital. Understanding when to make a challenge and when to hold and wait for backup is essential. Due to these skills, many tall and strong fullbacks can also play the centre back position if required. For example, Paolo Maldini, considered one of the best fullbacks in history, played centre back later in his career.  Have a look at his incredible timing for tackling in the video below.

Outstanding Technical Skills

All the previous skills are irrelevant without excellent ball control skills. Often, when a fullback makes an interception, they immediately start the attack.  This means that while centre backs can get away with limited dribbling skills, fullbacks must be able to run with the ball at speed and dribble through the opposition.  

Because fullbacks are involved both in defence and attack,  fullbacks will often have the most touches on the team. So, they must have good first touch and passing abilities to retain possession and keep the ball for their team.

Most football fans remember Javier Zanetti for his long and consistent career. He is the player with the most appearances in the history of Inter Milan and the foreign player with the most appearances in Seria A (the Italian premier league). However, he was also a gifted player.  He was able to play left-back or right-back. His dribbling skills and strength allowed him to score some fantastic goals, have a look at some of them in the video below.