Understated and undervalued: How The Euros made us appreciate full backs again

Often seen as a lesser position, think Jamie Carragher’s flippant comments regarding kids not dreaming about becoming the next Gary Neville, the full back spot is often taken for granted in the modern game.

Compared to a centre back or striker, the right back and left back positions aren’t seen as the most glamorous nor the most important. This opinion, however, might well change after this year’s European Championships. It really was a tournament for the often understated and undervalued position, turning this engrained logic on its head. It’s no surprise that the teams that managed to get the furthest in the competition utilised their expansive defenders the best, with the likes of Luke Shaw and Leonardo Spinazzola as proof. But further, even the average performers and the ones who failed to make a lasting impression had full-backs that caught the eye. Looking back at this tournament, therefore, it seems the full-back position will be given more appreciation and admiration from football fans and pundits alike.

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Luke Shaw

The first full-back mentioned had quite possibly the best tournament he could have imagined on a personal level, unfortunately falling at the final hurdle in the final. Still, Shaw’s stock would’ve risen after an extremely impressive tournament.

Defensively, Shaw was part of an England backline that was formidable at times and ensured the likes of Pickford was nothing more than a comfortable bystander for large periods. The full-back position and its admiration will come from the fact Shaw was also adventurous in his play, bombing forward with pace to push England up and also setting up the attackers on a plate.

At points when England needed attacking impetus, Shaw delivered. Think the Germany match, Shaw squaring it to Sterling to break the deadlock. Ukraine in the quarter-finals too, a great free-kick delivery solidifying England’s lead before his cross to Kane sealed victory in Rome. Even scoring in the final after a matter of minutes, Shaw proved to his doubters – namely his ex-boss Mourinho – that he is one of the best full-backs in the world at this current moment in time.

Leonardo Spinazzola

England’s opponents in the final also boasted an extremely exciting full-back option amidst their ranks, and from the opening game against Turkey, it was clear that Spinazzola’s contribution to the way Italy attacked and generally played could not be understated.

Not known to the masses watching at home, unless an avid watcher of Serie A, Spinazzola picked up Man of the Match against the underwhelming Turkish outfit was a sign of things to come. Watching back his personal highlights from the tournament opener in Rome, his energy from deep was crucial in Italy’s comfortable victory that set the tone for the competition itself. Leonardo’s own confidence and ability was echoed throughout the Azzuri, a team under Mancini driven to succeed.

They would win the competition without Spinazzola starting at Wembley, but in the dramatics of their semi-final penalty shootout win, Lorenzo Insigne wore a top in tribute of their injured fullback. Out with a ruptured achilles tendon, Spinazzola proved to be one of the players of the tournament in his shortened but impactful spell.

Joakim Maehle

One for the football hipsters, Atalanta’s Maehle was a standout performer for the Great Danes. Obviously performing against the odds, using the tragic events of their opener as fuel to succeed, Maehle was always a thorn in the side of opponents who tried to deal with his general play.

After two defeats, Denmark and Maehle burst into life in their final group game – beating a tired Russia 4-1, sealing progress from the jaws of a presumed early exit. Maehle’s game-clinching fourth indicative of his tournament as a whole, driving past multiple players with skill before drilling a shot past the napping goalkeeper. Alongside the previous two mentions, Maehle’s threat comes primarily through his burst of pace and energy. Further, his ability to set up the likes of Dolberg was done with excellent precision. Another goal for Joakim would come against a hapless Welsh side, curling one past Ward to solidify Danish dominance.

His assist for Dolberg in the quarter-final was a thing of beauty, an outside of the foot cross inch perfect for Dolberg to add to his impressive goal tally. With deliveries like that, alongside two goals prior, Joakim’s plaudits were very much justified. Forget the hipsters, Maehle is now a hot property.

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Denzel Dumfries

Named after famous actor Denzel Washington, Dumfries’ performances at this year’s Euros were nothing short of blockbuster even if the Netherlands exited without much of a whimper. In their opening game, after surrendering a two-goal lead, Dumfries ensured his stuttering nation would leave the Ukraine opener with three points. Popping up with a header, the 25-year-old showed great maturity and leadership even in a mismatched Netherlands team.

At points against Ukraine, Dumfries’ pace and dynamic play down the wings was key to how De Boer’s men played. With an impressive goal haunt at PSV evident, Denzel got his second of the tournament against Austria in as many games – a comfortable finish off a Malen tee, the Netherlands secured their progression to the knockout rounds.

Unfortunately for Dumfries, De Boer’s side would bow out against Czech Republic in the last 16 which saw De Boer also leave his role as boss. Regardless of collective failure, Dumfries’ excellent tournament cannot be denied. With many suitors interested in his purchase also, the likes of Serie A title winners Inter enquiring, it looks like Dumfries will be able to test himself outside of his native Holland.

Robin Gosens

Of the same ilk as Dumfries, Gosens performed brilliantly in a rather lacklustre national side. Germany’s tournament was very stop and start, and when they did perform to the best of their ability, Gosens was often the main contributor.

In Germany’s opener, the creative aspect of the side was there but a lack of conviction saw them come away from that match in Munich empty-handed. Germany’s match of the tournament, an excellent 4-2 win against competition holders Portugal, saw the best of Gosens. Utilised as a defender/midfielder for club side Atalanta, his attacking potency shone through with an assist and goal. In acres of space, his low ball into the area saw Germany’s third of the match courtesy of Kai Havertz. On the hour mark, his header from a Kimmich cross saw Germany cruise into a 3 goal lead as Portugal were swept aside to Germany’s true attacking talent.

Subbed off by Joachim Low shortly after, a standing ovation from the Allianz faithful was a sign of Robin’s sensational individual display. But, like the Netherlands, Robin’s own individual brilliance wasn’t enough to spearhead Germany to a Euro’s title. Instead, Gosens showcased his attacking ability which was commonplace to his adoring Atalanta fans back in Italy.

The Author

Kelan Sarson

Peterborough United supporter, football writer + current MA Journalism student at the Uni of Sheffield. Twitter account for football writing - @sarsonkelan

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