Solving England's Fullback Conundrum
The fullback position is one that is tightly linked with reliability, stability, and consistency. In the case of English fullbacks in recent years this has also been the case, with the likes of Ashley Cole and Gary Neville becoming synonymous with the thought of an English defence. However, in recent years it has become clear that the fullback position is changing. It has changed into a position that requires huge reserves of stamina, a calm defensive mind as well as a willingness to get forward whenever you can. The nature of the position is undeniably changing. With two international fixtures arriving at the end of this month, why is it that England cannot seem to find a standout performer to claim the fullback positions for his own?
The right back position for England has become something of a merry-go-round, with many individuals trying their hand at becoming Roy Hodgson’s go to man. Left back doesn’t see much of an improvement – ever since the retirement from international duty of Ashley Cole, Leighton Baines has been the preferred choice on the left side of the defence, but with the Everton man having turned 30 this season – who is the next player to make the position his own?
The issue with the full back position for England is not that there is no one staking a claim to be the first choice, but that there is such an abundance of promising players looking ever-increasingly impressive for their club sides right through the Premier League. This leaves Roy Hodgson in the rather unenviable position of having to find his first choice fullbacks through the use of trial and error and endless tinkering.
Perhaps the most pressing cases for the left back slot are Danny Rose, whose recent form has been praised publicly by Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino, and Ryan Bertrand, who at one stage looked like the long term successor to Ashley Cole at Chelsea and has now gone on to draw widespread praise for his excellent performances following his now permanent move to Southampton. Picking between these two is enough of a challenge, but when you throw the likes of Luke Shaw, Kieran Gibbs, and of course Leighton Baines into the mix, it becomes a much more daunting prospect. Aaron Cresswell is also staking a claim to be in Roy Hodgson’s plans. Perhaps an outsider for the position, Cresswell was rather quietly signed in the summer by Sam Allardyce from Ipswich Town and has drawn the plaudits ever since. He is now in line to be a contender for the West Ham player of the year award and is rumoured to have interest in his services from Manchester City and Arsenal. At the moment however, it appears that Leighton Baines remains the current first choice for Roy Hodgson at the left side of his defence.
The right back position however, has proven itself to be a whole other animal for Roy Hodgson and his back room staff. To put this into perspective, Roy Hodgson has named 11 different players in the right back slot in his 37 games in charge of England. A further 4 have appeared in the position since England’s swift exit from Brazil last summer. Whichever way you choose to look at that statistic, it is a clear indication of just how much of an issue the right back role has become for England. Glen Johnson appeared to be the man who the responsibility was placed upon, but he has not made a single appearance for England since the disastrous World Cup campaign in Brazil. The stand out performers to take over the reins from Johnson are Nathaniel Clyne, who has been in phenomenal form for Southampton this season and playing the two most recent England fixtures. Calum Chambers, who has drawn the plaudits since his £15M move to Arsenal last summer – and has also gained invaluable experience playing a key role in Arsenal’s European campaign. Carl Jenkinson is another name that has emerged, he has a whole host of appearances for the England under 21 side and has clearly impressed Gareth Southgate. The possible exposure to first team football at West Ham following the new contract for Héctor Bellerín certainly can’t hurt Jenkinson’s chances, as he will be a key man for the Hammers if he was to sign on permanent terms.
This becomes an even more complex issue when you consider the impending return of Jon Flanagan for Liverpool. Having missed all this season through injury, Flanagan has recently declared himself 100% fit and raring to go. He has even done some work with top sport psychologist Steve Peters to ensure that the mental side of his game has remained in optimal condition during his nightmarishly long lay-off. You can also add Joel Ward to this never-ending list of potential suitors for the right back position. Ward has been an ever-present this season for Crystal Palace and has won acclaim from many fans for his reliable and steady performances for the Eagles.
In terms of a partnership moving forward for England, it is very difficult to look past the Southampton pairing of Clyne and Bertrand. In addition to the fact that they have formed a rock solid partnership this season, both have been in exceptional form this season. Not to mention that they both fit with the changing dynamics of how a modern fullback operates – they both have positioning beyond their years, tackle admirably, and are relentless in their overlapping runs up the wings. This is certainly an exciting prospect for England fans, and could well be a weapon that Roy Hodgson chooses to use in the remainder of his qualifying campaign for Euro 2016.
Feel free to weigh in with your opinions in the comments, as well as our polls to determine who you think should be the starting fullbacks for England moving forward.
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