Dying On The Toughest Position In The Pitch

“The speciality of a goalkeeper is to die in several installments”* Every lost, every goal scored against his/her team, transforms itself into a little “death” in the career of a goalkeeper. Agony and constant despair adorn the faces of number ones around the world. Their tragedy is also magnified by the diminute look of any human being laying on the pitch next to a 24 feet wide soccer’s goal.

The result of such dramatic scenes within every match, makes us believe the urban myth of goalkeeping as the toughest position in soccer. However, to me that myth lies very far from the actual game- it is more romanticism than anything else-. If we take a closer look to any high level match, an argument could be made for several other positions in the pitch to be tougher than goalkeeping.

For instance, midfielders have to go back and forth between attacking and defending, hence it is physically more demanding to play midfielder than goalkeeper. Even playing as a static striker/poacher, a player has to battle constantly with usually the biggest, strongest players in the pitch: center-backs.

Still, I believe that the more demanding, toughest position to play in soccer is left-back. More so than right back even though they are the same position (full-back: where a player has to run the most distance in the pitch, from corner flag to corner flag, plus being expected to defend the quickest players on the other team down the flanks while also being an option in attack). The left-back position has also the caveat of the majority of players in soccer being right-footed thus any left-back is often facing a player using their best foot as they (left-backs) go backwards defending.

Therefore, the importance of full-backs in the modern soccer is self-evident. We only need to look back at the 2014 World Cup and to this transfer season to confirm it.

First, if we analyze the best teams, including the German Champions not mention Belgium, Colombia and others. They all suffered by the lack of consistent, reliable full-backs, specially on the left side. Not ringing a bell yet, think about Germany vs Ghana, or Germany vs Algeria, and look where most of the chances came from for Ghana and Algeria. Indeed, they came from the flanks or from someone openning space by moving to cover the full-backs as they moved forward but didn’t return to defend. Granted, with the injury to Schmelzer, Joachim Low had to improvise and deploy the center-back Howedes as a left-back, but that only emphasizes how important and difficult it is to find a high-level left-back anywhere.

Another instance where we can see the importance of the left-back position is the current Premier League’s  transfer season. Both Chelsea and Manchester United bought Filipe Luis and Luke Shaw respectively, for more than 20 million euros each. It is obvious that spending that amount is not unusual for any of those two teams, but when they both spend it on the same position (left-back), and in the case of Manchester United the amount is closer to 40 millions for a teenager, it tells you how important the position is.

So, to conclude, I think my case for left-back as the toughest position, tactically and physically, is very sound. But if you still not convinced, try doing what Javier Zanetti and Philipp Lahm have done in their careers and live past 25 years-old, it requires a special kind of athlete to be a complete full-back at the highest level.

*wonderful phrase, translated version of Juan Villoro’s spanish original: Morir a plazos es la especialidad de los porteros.

PS: In case you are wondering, the best left-back at the moment is Ricardo Rodriguez from Wolfsburg by far, followed by David Alaba from Bayern Munich. Plus here is a comparison of the best left-backs around Europe under 30-years old, to give you an idea. (Ratings taken from whoscored.com)



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Written by Dinesh V

Co-founder of Soccersouls. Living a start-up life 24/7
Follow @dineshintwit

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