Wing-backs are all the rage; England with Gareth Southgate have seemed to have adopted the tactic wholeheartedly and look to make it the blueprint for the foreseeable future. Premier League teams up and down the country have tried it occasionally or took to it relentlessly to find that winning team in the modern era.
Obviously, this tactic isn’t brand new, as Italian football has used the ‘three at the back’ formation for years, now. However, the most high-profile team to successfully adopt this strategy must surely be the Brazil team of 2002 that stormed to World Cup success in Japan & Korea, with the system suited every player they had perfectly.
Looking at football now, this team was truly ahead of its time.
The Brazilian team that conquered the world with style in 2002 was a shadow of the one in 2001. Much like Argentina this time around, Brazil struggled to even qualify for the World Cup as Luiz Felipe Scolari took over in June 2001 to try and rescue a desperate qualifying campaign. The samba boys managed to do it, just, by a margin of three points and the secret to their success was a change in system by their new manager.
Amazingly, Scolari adopted this new system from Brazil’s bitter rivals Argentina as they played with flying wing-backs and smashed qualification for the 2002 World Cup with a massive 43 points, only losing one game throughout the whole campaign. Scolari watched on and looked at his own team and thought, we can have some of that. It may seem obvious now looking at the team he assembled for World Cup glory, as each key player and the balance of the team is pretty perfect.
It may seem obvious now looking at the team he assembled for World Cup glory, as each key player is in his best position and the balance of the team is pretty much perfect.
Ronaldo up front spearheading two No.10s in Rivaldo and Ronaldinho. Does it get much better than this as a front three?
Roberto Carlos and Cafu in the wing-back positions. There has never been a better pair of wing-backs to grace the game as good as these two, never mind in the same team.
The freedom these five key attacking players were given was solidified by a strong base and central midfield of three giant ball playing centre backs and two holding midfielders.
If you look at Chelsea this season, for example, and the importance of their solid central core, you can see that as far back as 15 years ago this Brazilian team, through either luck or design, were utilising such methods to all-conquering success.
It must also be said that this team were full of world-class stars, which obviously helps but getting the best out of such talent is always the key to success. England used to play a rigid 4-4-2 which in the end got them nowhere. The ‘golden generation’ were wasted with players shoe-horned into positions that didn’t get the best out of them. Paul Scholes literally retired at 29 because he was sick of being played on the left wing.
It’s funny how things ‘come back around’ in football as England themselves have dabbled with ‘three at the back’ in the mid to late 90s. Terry Venables tried to adapt this system in Euro ’96 and his successor Glenn Hoddle also had some relative success with it also. Hopefully, the new generation under Gareth Southgate can replicate this Brazilian team of 2002 which was truly ahead of its time.
If you have a spare seven minutes just admire Brazil’s road to glory here: