Brasil has a fine history of attacking full backs. They reached the idea of a flat back four first, and have after that always displayed a tendency to lead the way on defensive progression. The wing back looks to have been no exception.
All of the top sides in the world have some attacking full backs lying around (Cliche, Rafael, Zhirkov, Lahm, Arbeloa, Alves; the list goes on). In 2002 the third greatest Brasilian side of all time won the World Cup in Asia, and one of the stand out elements of the team was the full backs. Cafu and Roberto Carlos are two all time greats, and they sent shock waves through the tactical set up of many nations 8 years ago.
It’s been said that The Selecao has found no adequate replacement since those two stars of the beautiful game lost their shine. But this time around, they just might have.
Dani Alves cost Barcelona a huge amount of money, but the right back has proved his worth in two years of excellence under Guardiola. Him and Xavi are why Messi can do it for Barca but not for Argentina. Yet Alves is a fringe player for Brasil, and gets discussed in relation to the births in right midfield and left back; Never right wing back.
I don’t need to tell you, the reason for this is Douglas Maicon. He followed the path of many ‘Samba Stars’ by graduating from a great South American academy (Cruzeiro) and then moving to France (Monaco). However, the international reputation that Maicon commands today comes from his breath-taking 4 years at F.C. Internazionale.
He has rarely put a foot wrong on the right hand side for Inter, and has placed the great Javier Zanetti firmly at hands length. His pace and power are a match for any other player in world football (yes, even you Didier) and his chaotic charges down the touch line have become something of legend. The man is like a train plowing through some wide-mouthed defender, haplessly standing on the level-crossing in front of Maicon’s charge.
In many ways he’s like a less cultured version of ‘El Carlos’. Maicon is far bigger and stronger (although I doubt his thighs are as thick), but doesn’t have the same close control ability on the ball that the legendary left back had (and still has), preferring to dump the clever dribbles in favour of plowing down the line with long touches. Let nobody say he can’t score goals like Carlos did, though. Have a look at this one against Roma three weeks ago.
His role at Inter has been astounding. After abruptly shovelling Zanetti out of a starting place, the Argentine was put in right central midfield, with one of his main purposes being to fill in for Maicon and, on the other side, Maxwell, when they went on runs up field.
And this is where it gets interesting. In these circumstances, Zanetti moved into the defence, and formed a flat back three, with another holding midfielder (often Cambiasso) in front.
Brasil have one of the most fluid formations at this World Cup, and the implications of this for Maicon is exciting for football fans the world over. They play a fluid 4-2-3-1, seen in the below diagram with some helpful run lines.
There are two main ways of attacking (although a team this well staffed will doubtless play many others). The first is for Robinho to move up next to Fabiano, and Ramires to move wider, This brings the team to a 4-2-2-2.
The second is for Maicon and the left back (Michel Bastos, Dani Alves etc.) to charge forward. Ramirez drops deeper next to Melo and, here’s the key thing, Gilberto Silva becomes another centre back. That’s exactly the system played by Inter that has ended in Maicon being recognised by many as the best full-back in football. Hell, Brasil even use Lucio, an Inter player, as the all-important sweeper.
So, if Maicon can do terrifying stuff in Italy like this, why not in South Africa. At best his pace, tactical awareness, skill and raw power will drop wingers into the defense and cause full backs to break rank. At worst he’ll be a constant looming danger that never comes to true fruition.
I have two predictions for Maicon at this World Cup; one of them will come true, and you can hold me to that.
(1) Maicon’s achievements will only be recognised by the most tactically aware of pundits (Jonathan Wilson, Tim Vickery), as he is heavily weighed down by defensive duties, and can only add to the attack by threatening with his presence.
(2) He causes chaos among defenses still radically unprepared for a player to attack from the back without leaving the defense open. As the tournament progresses the best managers with the best teams will start to deal with him, but the effect of his early efforts (especially the second round destruction of Chile’s 4-3-3 formation) will have a measurable effect on world football tactics over the next 4 years.
For more from Oli, this article’s author, check out his world cup blog.