wrong side XI: left back

this is part III in the “wrong side XI” series, where i’ll be selecting my very own starting eleven, assuming of course that i could choose any player from any team in the world. you can read the rules i’ll be following to make my team selection, and what formation i’ll be squeezing them into, on the first post in the series.

benoit assou-ekotto of tottenham, patrice evra of manchester united, marcelo of real madrid, ashley cole of chelsea, gareth bale of tottenham
which one of these fine defenders will receive the honor of making my squad?

Regardless of whether you want to call the spot a left “wingback”, “full back”, or the rarely-used-on-this-side-of-the-pond “outside half”, I love this position more than any other.

Of course, that may have less to do with my mastery of the position, but more to do with the old adage of “put your worst player at the place they’re least likely to hurt you.” (I might have just fabricated that adage, but it seems like something my youth team coaches would have done.)

Whatever the reason, left back is by and far away my favorite position to play on the field. A big portion of why I even chose the 4-5-1 as my formation for this imaginary team is to allow the backs to play as I like to play, getting into the attack down the wings. The choice to go with two defensive center mids instead of just one gives them even more freedom to move forward, as a the extra man in the midfield can always provide quick cover.

So as you might expect, the players that I considered for this spot must have a good attacking acumen, particularly with taking on players and being able to serve a good ball in from the flank. But let’s not ignore the fact that this is a defensive position, and that it’s primary responsibility is still to neutralize the opponents attacking threats down the wings. In short, this player must be able to attack and defend at a world class level. Slouches need not apply.

So who was considered and who made the grade?

real madrid's brazilian left-back, marcelo
marcelo (and his hair) was on the fringe at madrid just last year.

5. Marcelo (Real Madrid)
Brazil international (6 caps)

Marcelo is a player who has really come into his own over the last year. Hell, four months ago I doubt I even would have considered him for this list. But such has been his rise this year, that he get’s the amazing honor of being named my 5th choice for left back… I’m just positive he’s beaming with pride.

Initially deemed insufficient to Mourinho’s needs but a replacement never came, Marcelo has become integral to Los Merengues’ offensive prowess this season. He’s formed a fabulous partnership with Ronaldo on the left side of the pitch. For a back, he’s extremely creative both on the dribble and when combining with more forward players.

However, what makes Marcelo awesome also makes him weak. As much as I love an offensive left back, I also have to be fairly concerned with the player’s defensive qualities. And unfortunately for the Brazilian, he’s not the greatest of defenders. To put it bluntly, the guy isn’t the first man you would turn to in order to shut down a Messi, Rooney or other top striker.

tottenham's emerging left back, benoit assou-ekotto
BAK's defensive prowess has enable bale to become an offensive force.

4. Benoît Assou-Ekotto (Tottenham Hotspur)
Cameroon international (15 caps)

BAK has made huge strides over the last two years for Spurs, transforming himself from a unmotivated underachiever to a guaranteed starter that’s attracting interest from European powers. During the ill-fated reign of Juande Ramos at White Hart Lane, Assou-Ekotto was known for his glaring inconsistency on the field. But under the watchful eye of Redknapp, he’s grown by leaps and bounds.

In the time since cementing his place in the Spurs starting eleven, he’s developed a great partnership with Gareth Bale on the Tottenham flank. And since Bale tends to push so high, BAK simply pushes up behind him to provide not only offensive support, but also halt counters in the space left vacant by the Welshman. Quick on his feet and an excellent distributor, Benoît has also shown he can lock down high class offensive players. He’s like a pesky fly, buzzing around you and constantly giving you trouble.

So why not? He’s at times a little too comfortable on the ball in his own end and eventually turning over the ball. This goes back to his consistency issues, which haven’t exactly vanished as of yet. He makes me sweat  a little too much a little too often, which means he’s a little too risky for my team.

manchester united's patrice evra
evra could be planning his next mutiny.

3. Patrice Evra (Manchester United)
France international (33 caps)
Ligue 1 Team of the Year (2003-2004), EPL Team of the Year (2006-2007, ’08-’09, ’09-’10)

It’s hard to argue against picking a guy who has damn near won everything there is to win in the world of club football. And it’s even harder to not pick Evra when he has been one of the first players on to the team sheet for United for the last 5 years.

Like the other two players we’ve gone over this far, Evra is well known for his ability to move into the attack. However, unlike the previous two players on this list, he is also recognized as a lock-down defender. Quick and excellent with the ball at his feet, his repertoire includes great short distribution and the ability to combine well with mids and central defenders to help launch United attacks. I would have little worry of Patrice being asigned to keep an eye on the other side’s most talented wide attackers, either.

A key component of my 4-5-1 formation is the ability for the wingbacks to provide quality crosses into the box. And while his short game is solid, unfortunately, the Frenchman is a little shaky with service. Secondly, Evra also has a penchant for being reckless and hot headed. Evidence of this can be perfectly illustrated by his leading role in the implosion of the French national team in South Africa last summer.

ashley cole is chelsea's biggest asshole... and that's saying a lot
despite his abilities, i will not pick a complete dickhead for my team.

2. Ashley Cole (Chelsea)
England international (88 caps)
EPL Team of the Year (2001-2002, ’03-’04, ’04-’05)

What can I really say about Cole that everyone doesn’t already know? He’s probably the best all-around left back in the world. He can attack, he can serve, he can distribute, he can defend. He was England’s only solid performer at the World Cup. He’s been a rock for Chelsea since his infamous move from Arsenal. I would be a fool not to pick him, right? Wrong.

If you’re wondering why I wouldn’t pick Ca$hley for my side, then maybe you don’t know as much about him as I had given you credit for. Cole’s off-field persona that makes him not only unselectable, but also a generally detestable human being. Hold on to your hat: the aforementioned shady transfer from Arsenal to chelsea, his propensity to sext pictures of his junk to American fluzies, an annoying I’m-better-than-you attitude, cheating on his (now ex-)wife, shooting a Chelsea staff member…  let’s just say I could easily write a 2,000 word post entitled “i’m a dick named ashley cole.”

TLDR; I will not pick him because I do not like him.

tottenham superstar gareth bale
this is the only team to which i would be ok with him leaving spurs for.

1. Gareth Bale (Tottenham Hotspur)
Wales international (27 caps)
Championship Team of the Year (2006-2007), Team of the Year (’10-’11), PFA Player of the Year (’10-’11)

If you didn’t see this coming when I didn’t pick the consensus best player in the world for this position, I hope this is your first time reading my blog.

However, I’ll also be clear that my selection is a little hypocritical based on what I’ve written above. Bale would be an extremely offensive pick for left back based on his position and performances over the last 18 months. Everyone knows he’s a converted left back — largely due to his tendency thrust forward, but in part because he’s a little suspect in the defending department, too. Part of the reason he took so long to break into the Tottenham first eleven was due to his indifferent performances while playing at the back.

Luckily, this formation will give the young Welshman a bit of defensive leeway since there will be two defensive mids to help cover any runs he makes forward. Given more experience at the position, he would inevitably hone his defensive skills and would prove to be an extremely lethal as wingback. Gareth’s sheer pace makes him the ideal to launch a counter attack, especially given he can provide fantastic services from the flank and short combination build up. All in all, I’d say that makes him a comfortable, if not slightly questionable, first team pick.

Be sure keep an eye open for my next post in the series to see who I pick for my starting right back. And as always, if you feel I’ve made a grave error in selection, let me know about it in the comments section below. To read about my other selections to the wrong side XI so far, feel free to click on the other positions below:

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