I’ve watched Luke Shaw live a few times this season for Southampton but the staggering thing to me after seeing him in training with England this week has been his age, he’s just 18. To do what he’s doing at 18 years old really is incredible. I think with England we’re very blessed at left back with Danny Rose, Luke Shaw, Ashley Cole, Leighton Baines and Kieran Gibbs. You wouldn’t be let down by any one of them playing at the World Cup. There’s such strength in depth in that position it’s incredible.
Watching Shaw at close hand this week, he’s got such power in his running. He drives forward and has a real change of pace and power to pull away from people. He’s had a great upbringing at Southampton where they bring through players with a real level of intelligence and good heads on their shoulders. He’s got good physical presence for an 18 year old and he’ll just improve and improve.
I played for England when I was 20, but two years is a long time in football so to be playing at 18 is fantastic, not many people play for England at that age. He has got the ability to play further up the pitch in the future as he’s like a winger when he goes forward. He can cross the ball, he can beat men, he can play one-twos…but so can Leighton Baines. So can Ashley Cole, he’s been doing that for 10 or 12 years. Danny Rose is fantastic going forward, so is Kieran Gibbs. They’re all fantastic players, really modern full backs.
The potential in Shaw is enormous. He’s a real talent. To be doing what he’s doing now, along with the fact that he works hard, means you’ve got someone who’ll go to the top of the game.
A lot has changed in football in the last 20 years, but I would say that the full back in a back four is probably one of the biggest tactical changes. I suppose Roberto Carlos and Cafu broke the mould with Brazil really setting the tone for attacking full backs. Those two opened everybody’s eyes up to the full back/winger, the player who is expected to be as good going forward as they are defensively.
It’s an intriguing game tomorrow between Chelsea and Spurs in the wide areas. Kyle Walker – if he’s back fit from the injury that prevented him from playing for England in midweek – will be up against Eden Hazard. I think Hazard will pose problems for Walker mentally, in the sense that he might not always go back to defend with him meaning he will be in a better position to quickly counter attack. It becomes a bit like a game of poker, you call each other’s bluff. The great players make you as a full back change your game. It’s something Arjen Robben does now, while Marc Overmars and David Ginola used to do to me.
A feature you’ll see in the FA Cup game between Arsenal and Everton is that Roberto Martinez never takes a step back. He pushes his full backs in to really high positions all the time, expecting them to be a constant attacking presence. He won’t change that even if Arsenal play Lukas Podolski, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain or Tomáš Rosický. Martinez won’t think twice about pushing his full backs in to really advanced areas.
Seamus Coleman has been a revelation this season for Everton and is currently the highest ranked defender in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index. He plays so high, the positions that he and Baines take up for Everton are those of an old-fashioned right and left winger. It’s not just that one of them will be in a high position, it will get to the point where they’ll be marked by Arsenal’s full backs!
Football was more predictable when I played. Ahead of each game, I knew the winger I’d be playing against every week, even in international football. If I got the ball in to David Beckham, he would take it forward, I would overlap, he would play it in to a striker and I may then get it back. It was very mechanical. Nowadays, you’re often playing against a different opponent every 5 or 10 minutes. I experienced that a little bit before the end of my career. I suppose the Portugal team of 2006 that had Luís Figo, Cristiano Ronaldo and Simão were probably one of the first teams I played against that had the flexibility to swap positions. That was when I realised as a defender that you had to prepare to play against two or three forwards in a match and not just one.
My brother moved in to midfield and you see Philip Lahm doing that now under Pep Guardiola at Bayern Munich, as it is a way to extend your career. You can manage yourself more in the holding role in midfield, controlling the game. Full backs are becoming the extra edge you need, they’re expected to do so much more than in my day…I think I got out the game at the right time!
And the best full back I played against? Paolo Maldini. I tried in a game in 1997, for some reason, to try and run past him with the ball and I remember him just putting his arm out across me and shepherding the ball out. I just thought, "Oh my god, he is a beast. There’s no way round him!" There was no way physically, or through speed and intelligence, that I was going to get anywhere near him. He was so confident on the ball, a monster of a man, he was a brilliant full back.