‘There’s two things for a full-back, you’re either a failed winger, or a failed centre-back. No-one wants to be a full-back as a kid, nobody wants to grow up and be a Gary Neville.’
Jamie Carragher’s brutal analysis of the right-back position on a particularly famous episode of Monday Night Football struck a chord with the nation and indeed Gary Neville back in 2013 but six years on, England’s right-back position is arguably the strongest in world football. Kids may not have wanted to grow up to become a Gary Neville, but a Trent Alexander-Arnold or Aaron Wan-Bissaka? Definitely.
Now, it has become one of the most fashionable positions on the football pitch and Gareth Southgate has a real selection dilemma when it comes to the right-back position. If Reece James comes into the Chelsea starting XI when he returns from injury, every single one of the ‘big six’ in the Premier League will be starting an English right-back, week-in, week-out.
There is simply no other position in the side that has depth like this. In the current predicted order of preference, England could suffer injuries to the first three right-backs and would still be able to call on the man who starred in the World Cup last summer, scoring in that semi-final, Kieran Trippier.
Arguably the best right-back in the world at the moment is Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold, the man who is also holding the shirt for the national team. His wand of a right foot and attacking style of play is extremely attractive to watch and kids all around the country will have tried to replicate THAT corner-kick against Barcelona, put simply, this influx of talented Englishmen are making people want to become full-backs.
Manchester United spending £50m on converted winger Aaron Wan-Bissaka this summer is a sign of the times. At Palace, Roy Hodgson had no natural right-backs in training and threw the young winger into the mix and he flourished so perhaps Jamie Carragher can still argue his case.
Kyle Walker has started the season on fire for Man City and is still a major part of Southgate's plans having featured in a back three last summer but at 29, with the amount of quality behind him, could be in danger of missing out. Every player mentioned could do a good job in that position and Kieran Trippier’s surprise move to Madrid seems to have breathed new life into his career.
Behind him, youngsters from the big six such as Reece James, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Kyle Walker-Peters will be desperate to make the jump into the senior England team from the under 21s if they can nail down their starting positions for their clubs.
It is not just the big clubs who are producing quality right-backs. Norwich’s Max Aarons is another flying full-back who is a big attacking threat in the Premier League while Burnley’s Matt Lowton has been performing at the top level for several seasons now, although at the age of 30, his best days may be behind him.
James Tavernier is still performing well for Rangers, Jack Stacey will be hoping to break into Bournemouth’s first team after an impressive season for Luton and Ryan Fredericks is another Englishman who is playing every week at West Ham. These three are unlikely to feature in Southgate’s plans but it does show the strength in depth the Three Lions have in this position.
No longer is it the position of shame on a football pitch, instead, it has become a vital place for attacking outlets to flourish and provide managers with a crucial option to stretch opposition defences. You still don’t want to grow up to be a Gary Neville, but it doesn’t get much better than becoming an all-action attacking full-back.
Potential England right-backs