From Neville to Alexander-Arnold: how the role of the right back has changed

A veteran of 85 England appearances stretching over 12 years from 1995 to 2007, there can be no doubting Gary Neville’s quality.

But if a prime Neville was available for England these days, I am certain he wouldn’t even get in the squad. 

Under the tuition of Pep Guardiola, Dani Alves helped change the way full backs play the world over.

Alves was the pioneer of the “attack-minded” right backs whose gifts going forward outweigh their defensive capabilities.

While Alves’s star was soaring, Neville’s was waning. Looking back, this is a symbolic changing of the guard.

Alves, Guardiola and Barcelona enjoyed immense success and in doing so set the blueprint for how football would be played from now on.

The statistical comparison between Neville and Alves is stark. Both played in incredible teams that dominated the vast majority of the games they played.

But where Neville managed five goals and 35 assists in his 400 Premier League games for Manchester United, Alves scored 21 goals with 100 assists from his 391 Barcelona appearances. 

Right back is a definite position of strength in the England team at the moment.  Trent Alexander-Arnold, Kyle Walker, Aaron Wan-Bissaka were all jostling for the two places that would have been available in the European Championship squad – had it gone ahead. 

Wan-Bissaka was recently described as: “The best one-on-one defender in the world,” by Sky Sports pundit Jamie Carragher, and yet despite this, he was not expected to make the squad.

This is a fantastic example of how being good defensively just doesn’t cut it in the modern game. In his 68 Premier League appearances, he is yet to score a goal and has only contributed five assists.

Defensively, his prowess are clear for all to see winning, 478 of his 744 direct duels.

Neville playing for beloved Manchester United

In comparison Alexander-Arnold has only won 246 of his 541 duels and Kyle Walker has won 1,485 of his 2,566 duels.

Wan-Bissaka has the best ratio of the three and 15 years ago I am sure that it would have earned him a regular place in the England set-up. But times have changed, football has moved on.

Walker has been an attacking threat playing for Manchester City, but over in Liverpool Alexander-Arnold has redefined what a right back can do.

Still only 21, Alexander-Arnold has been dubbed by many as the best right back in the world. In his 84 Premier League appearances he has out a staggering 25 assists. 

Whether or not Walker or Alexander-Arnold will reach 85 England caps and become legends like Neville remains to be seen, but there can be little doubt that in the modern footballing world being Gary Neville just doesn’t cut it anymore. 

By Alex Brinton

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