Jamie Carragher famously blurted out, when talking about full backs on Monday Night Football: “Nobody wants to grow up and be Gary Neville!”. This flippant comment reflected a larger part of the game. The full back has long been a position long taken for granted, with few teams utilising them well. Fans have underappreciated them, but consequently Euro 2020 has made us fall in love with the full back again.
However before the tournament, the men to watch were not right or left backs. Harry Kane and Romelu Lukaku joined Ronaldo as the main men up front to watch. Dynamic wingers like Eden Hazard and Raheem Sterling were destined to catch the eye. Midfielders like Kevin De Bruyne and Luka Modric were set to dominate games and create goals out of nothing.
But few expected what happened in Euro 2020, however. The top teams had one thing in common – Full Backs being the creative forces. Fans will remember the 2020 tournament for the arrival of players like Luke Shaw and Leandro Spinazzola on the world stage. The return of the classic full back is here, in Euro 2020.
Before the tournament, in fact, many people spotted a weak link in the Italian team. They were a well drilled machine, with talent in every position. Except left back.
First in this article, Leonardo Spinazzola was at Roma. He’d spent a career at Juventus out on loan for seven years. At 28 years of age, he was a good hand in defence, and not much else. Being right footed, he would not be the first choice at left back usually. He only had 13 caps before the Euros, and looked to be Italy’s weak link in the side, however.
It took one game for the Italian to prove everyone wrong. Spinazzola soon proved himself to be the best left back at Euro 2020.
In his first game, Italy’s 3-0 win over Turkey, he was man of the match. Spinazzola was lethal down the left hand side, all of Italy’s attacks going through him.
He was equally adept with his left and right foot, but favoured to cut inside cross from deeper, or get a shot off. Lorenzo Insigne overlapped him beautifully, with Italy’s attacks down the left being their main point of attack.
His energy was infectious, bombing down the left hand side as much as his team needed. His stamina was unbelievable, finding himself more as a box to box player than a defensive full back, providing width from deep.
The 28 year old showed his experience in professional football, and led the team as they needed to be playing. He was tragically struck down with injury in the quarter-final win over Belgium. He missed the semi-final against Spain and final against England. His replacement, Chelsea’s Emerson, performed the role well, but was not as imposing as the Roma defender.
Manchester United paid a record fee for an 18 year old when they signed Luke Shaw back in 2014. The teenager took to the side like a duck to water, but as a result of his injuries, he was prevented him from reaching his true potential.
This past season, however, he showed the talent that earned him a spot in the PFA Team of the Year at aged 18.
Luke Shaw was part of one of the best defences in the entire tournament in Euro 2020. Along with the likes of Harry Maguire, John Stones and Kyle Walker, formed a formidable wall in front of Jordan Pickford. They made sure the Everton keepers defensive contributions were limited, and ensured that England conceded only twice in the whole tournament.
He was equally adept on the attack. Shaw would regularly be found bombing forward, selflessly drawing defenders out of position. This revealed space for Raheem Sterling to run in to, and was crucial to the England attack.
Shaw was a constant threat with his overlapping runs, with he and Sterling the driving force behind the attacks. The left back was also the main set piece taker for England. All in all, he registered three assists for the three lions, and was the third highest chance creator in the entire tournament, despite not starting the opening win against Croatia. He even scored his first ever England goal in the final, however it would prove futile.
Luke Shaw showed England fans what Manchester United fans had been watching all season. His incredible performances endeared him greatly to the England faithful, and even earned him a spot in my “Best ever England team“. Shaw was unlucky to miss out on the Euro 2020 team of the year, missing out to full back Leandro Spinazzola.
In a tournament marred with tragedy, Denmark managed to find a few silver linings in the tournament. None more so than the performance of Atalanta right back, Jaokim Maehle.
Denmark started poorly in the Euros. They suffered back to back defeats to Finland and Belgium in the group stage. They looked to be eliminated before sticking four past a Russia side that reached the quarter finals of the World Cup three years prior, because of the help of the full back at Euro 2020.
The Danes walloped Russia 4-1 in Copenhagen to sneak through their group in third place. The left back Maehle was excellent in defence and attack, and bookended the match with an incredible goal.
He drove past multiple defenders, using his pace and skill to find space and drill a sharp shot past the onlooking keeper. His main threat came from him dribbling ability and pace, and his precise passing passing to set up the likes of Kasper Dolberg and Yussef Poulsen were excellent to watch.
His outside of the foot cross to set up Dolberg for his goal against Czech Republic was a sight to behold. Ricardo Quaresma would be jealous of the swerve he got on his Trivela.
He added to his tally with a goal against Wales. In a game marred by poor referee that knocked Wales out of the tournament, he curled a fine finish past tournament surprise package Danny Ward to add the nail in the coffin for Y Ddraig.
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Hamish is a writer and podcaster and wrestling fan who is a key part of the Atletifo team.
After playing countless hours of WrestleMania X8 on the Gamecube, he discovered Rey Mysterio getting his head crushed by The Great Khali, and thus a love for professional wrestling was born.
He is also a Media Graduate, as well as writing for multiple sites about Premier League football and the culture of Wales – his home country.