“There’s only two things for a full-back. You’re either a failed winger or a failed centre-back. Nobody wants to grow up and be a Gary Neville.”
Those were the words of Jamie Carragher on 16th September 2013 on Monday Night Football in one of his first punditry appearances since retiring from football the previous season, and just like Alan Hansen, the Liverpool legend’s words have aged poorly.
Fast forward to 2019, and full-backs have been elevated to one of the most important positions on the football pitch.
League and continental titles have been won on the basis of teams having exceptional fullbacks that can both add solidity in defence and fearlessness in attack, and the position is slowly becoming a place in the starting XI kids aspire to play.
The boy from Barca
One of the players to lead the fullback revolution is Arsenal right-back Hector Bellerin.
The Spaniard, who came to North London from Barcelona as a 15-year-old, came into the Gunners side in the 2014/15 season as injuries, typically, piled up for Arsene Wenger’s side in defence.
Since then, Bellerin has flourished into one of the most dynamic fullbacks in European football and has established himself as one of the most important players in the Arsenal team.
The appointment of Unai Emery in the summer of 2018 has only seen the Barcelona-born defender improve on his game, being more a creative force for the Gunners and putting more of a shift in the defence.
However, it hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows for Bellerin as the Spaniard tore his ACL against Chelsea in January, ruling him out until as early as the start of next season.
It was a heart-breaking moment for the Arsenal faithful. Not only a month earlier Rob Holding, who too was revitalised under Emery, had suffered the same season-ending injury away to Manchester United, and now the Gunners are to deal with another job filling in the void left by a key player.
So who should Arsenal turn too to replace Bellerin?