Glen Johnson: The attacking full-back

From timing your runs to knowing your team-mates, the marauding Liverpool and England right-back gives a six-step lesson in how to raid from deep
  • You're so much more than just a defender
  • Get familiar with how your midfielders play
  • Remember to work on your weaker side
  • Condition your body for a lot of sprinting
  • Be in the right place at the right time
  • Create space with unselfish running

Relish your position

“What kid wants to play full-back? I didn’t. I was a striker as a boy and loved the glory that goes with scoring goals. That’s where the manager played me until I was 15. I never thought about where I’d end up playing as an adult, but I love my current role at right-back. The modern full-back is very much an attacking outlet: as midfields get narrower it’s us who have to get up and down and offer width. Embrace it, you’re action man!”

Know your team-mates

“It’s important to understand how the midfielders in front of you like to play. If I’m playing with Maxi [Rodriguez] and Dirk [Kuyt], I know I can bomb on all the time because they work hard and cut inside, leaving me space. If I’m playing with Ryan Babel, I know he likes to dribble and use the wing so my job is more about backing him up. Having said that, if there is space for me to exploit I will and it’s up to my team-mates behind me to cover me.”

Have two strong feet

“As a defender I know how hard it is to face an attacker who might go either way. When you’re pushing forward, it’s too easy to show a defender onto his weak side, so make him think twice. I’m confident I can cut in and cross or strike the ball with my left foot and that’s vital if you want to increase your team’s attacking options. My godfather drilled that into me as a kid. He’d cane me if I over-used my right foot and that has stood me in good stead.”

Fitness is everything

“Being fit is being able to make a sprint back from the opposition goal-line to your position in the 85th minute and not feel it. Full-backs’ runs are longer than any other position: it’s literally box-to-box all the time so your body needs to be conditioned for that. Once it is, it isn’t an issue and you can concentrate on your game. It is hard when you come back from an injury, though, as you have to work on both your short and longer sprints. Practise running from corner flag to corner flag and they won’t be such a surprise come match day.”

Time your runs

“You need to anticipate what your team-mates will do. There’s no point me getting forward and not receiving the ball. When the ball arrives at Stevie Gerrard’s feet I know now that he’ll have a touch and immediately move it on. When the ball is going to him, I start my run, as I know he won’t mess about. With some other players I may check my run, as I know they might like to mess about a bit before releasing the ball.”

Make yourself available

“As a full-back you are the natural outlet, especially against a team playing 4-4-2 because you’re running from deep. So be on your toes as basically every player – from your keeper to your striker – can use you and utilise the space you run into. This might mean you have to put in a lot of ‘unselfish running’ to try and create space by pulling your direct opponent out of position. You might not get the ball, but it’ll make space for your winger to run into, which could lead to a goal.”

Also see:
Micah Richards: How to raid from deep

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