by Tim Simon
The position of full back has changed over the years with the modern version being a lot more attack minded than in the past. Pacing up and down the wings, today’s full backs are chosen based on their skills in the attacking third and today, it is perhaps the only position that ideally requires the player to be as good in defence as in attack. Perfect examples of the modern full back are Dani Alves, Marcelo and Ashley Cole, who are all brilliant going forward and rely heavily on a holding midfielder being employed to balance their teams when defending. David Alaba is the latest to emerge and since becoming a first team regular at Bayern Munich has developed at a phenomenal rate. The modern footballer has to be versatile as the game has become a lot more dynamic in recent years and Alaba is the perfect example of a young player with versatility.
The young Austrian can play in several different positions including central midfield, at either full back or on the wing but has truly established himself as a left back in Bayern’s defence, a position which had been very problematic for the Bavarians. It has proved to be a fantastic decision to move him to left back as he has been able to show off his amazing athletic abilities which are definitely needed to succeed as a modern full back. Alaba has great pace, acceleration and stamina, all perfect physical attributes to be a top full back and be able to run up and down the wing for 90 minutes. This pace was shown at the Emirates last week when Alaba stifled Theo Walcott, who has remarkable pace himself. His ability to quickly join attacks and supply Bayern’s midfielders with an excellent outlet on the left has seen him emerge as a left back despite it not being his natural position. The partnership he has struck with Franck Ribery in Bayern’s team is brilliant, he allows Ribery to focus fully on being creative, knowing that Alaba will always be in support of him. Alaba and Ribery’s partnership is key in enabling Bayern to dominate the wide areas. The fact Alaba began his career as a central midfielder means that he is great on the ball, meaning when he overlaps down the left he can produce devastating balls into the opposition’s box.
However, what may separate Alaba from other left backs is his ability and willingness to defend as well as attack. With the emphasis of the modern full back being switched to attacking, the art of defending has been forgotten in some full backs. He doesn’t dive into tackles and is not rash which a great asset to have and when called upon to make a tackle he almost always does, his tackle success rate of 84% this season speaks volumes. What is even more remarkable is the fact he isn’t a natural defender and there is no doubt he has contributed to Bayern’s fantastic defensive record this season as they fight on three fronts. There are times when he does get caught out whilst marauding forward but his lightning quick pace allows him to make up for this lack of positional sense. This will improve with time as he gets to grip with the left full back position and becomes more experienced because let’s not forget, he is only 20 years old.
Alaba has all the qualities to become world class one day, his great physical attributes, technique and versatility sets him aside from almost all other young full backs in the world. The fact he has been given regular first team football in such a fantastic team will no doubt only help him in his development. His versatility will only help him wherever he plays, the ability to use both feet and play in so many different positions is extremely rare in any footballer.
The fact Alaba is only 20 years old is incredible, his fine displays since breaking through at Bayern saw him win Austrian Player of the Year award in 2011. It is sometimes forgotten that he is so young due to the quality of his performances being so high. It is obvious that he is one of the most valuable commodities in Europe and that he will develop into a fine player one day. If he continues to develop at such a rapid rate who knows what he can achieve, he has the potential to become the best left back in the world. If any top team needs a left back, he should be the number 1 target. Whether or not the player and club would want a transfer is a completely different matter.