Defensively adept wide forwards such as Liverpool’s Dirk Kuyt and Manchester United’s Park Ji-Sung have evolved out of the need for attacking players to prevent opposition sides playing the ball out from the back when their teams’ own attacking moves have broken down. The pressing exerted by Thierry Henry and Lionel Messi in Barcelona’s 2008-09 quintuple success was seen as one of the key factors behind the team’s ability to keep their opponents penned inside their own half, while a robust and hard-working wide forward is a particularly useful weapon against marauding full-backs of the Maicon or Dani Alves variety.
Players like Kuyt are occasionally maligned for keeping more skillful, supposedly more talented players out of the side, but the Dutchman’s effectiveness has gradually received recognition and there now appears to be a begrudging consensus that players of his ilk do make teams more solid defensively.
However, while Kuyt has been harrying full-backs on the Liverpool right for the last three years or so, a relatively new development this season has seen full-backs moved into the kind of position where you would expect to find a conventional winger. Gareth Bale’s stellar performances for Tottenham have understandably received plenty of attention, but Everton’s Seamus Coleman and Ronnie Stam of Wigan Athletic are also full-backs who have found themselves re-deployed further up the flank.
Stam, signed as a right-back from FC Twente in the summer, has been used on the right-hand side of the attacking midfield band in Wigan’s 4-2-3-1 and when thus positioned he counter-balances the roaming tendencies of Charles N’Zogbia on the opposite side of the pitch. Coleman has also been used in an advanced position on the right-hand side and he demonstrated his attacking credentials in the early stages of Everton’s recent 2-1 defeat at home to Arsenal by leaving Cesc Fàbregas for dead and supplying a beautifully flighted cross for Tim Cahill that should have given the hosts the lead:http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xfmtfk
“Seamus has done great. He is getting games for us now, albeit probably not in his right position,” said Everton coach David Moyes earlier this month. “We have played him wide on the right when he is a right-back. But the experience he is getting – there is a similarity to Gareth Bale. Bale is playing wide left but is really a left-back. It is getting him [Coleman] the games, there is a lot of competition at right-back here. I think it has been good for his development and in time when he does step back, hopefully he will have learned from it.”
Moyes clearly views Coleman’s stint on the right wing as part of the 22-year-old’s learning curve, but having a full-back operating in such an advanced position brings with it a number of theoretical advantages. Elite modern full-backs are an attacking breed anyway (Patrice Evra and Fábio Coentrão, to name but two, both started their careers as wingers), and while they often provide the same pace and athleticism as a winger, they are necessarily more robust defensively due to the obvious fact that they have been trained as defenders.
A footballer like Coleman would therefore appear to ally the thrust and directness of a winger with the defensive discipline and tackling ability of a defender, making him the ideal player to put up against an enterprising opposition full-back. The positional experimentation with Coleman and Stam may ultimately prove to be nothing more than a tactical footnote to the 2010-11 season, but it could also come to represent the start of a significant new trend in the evolution of the wide forward.