Interesting article about Santos' position, especially in the light of recent criticism of him ignoring his defensive duties. It seems we have to grant him much more time to adapt to the expectations he is confronted with here.André Santos exposes an English blind-spotBy Christopher Atkins, November 1, 2011http://www.zapkam.com/blog/index.php/20 ... lind-spot/
“André Santos is not a very good defender”
A phrase uttered countless times on Tuesday night, as Arsenal took on Marseille at the Emirates Stadium. Many would agree, including those from Brazil. In fact, some of André Santos’ numerous admirers may have an inclination to agree, because to many, it is a fallacy to describe the Arsenal man as a defender. André Santos is known as a ‘lateral’ in Brazil, which in English would often be described as a full-back, or wing-back. However, they are far from defenders, playing an almost box-to-box role from the flank.
England has become immune to tactical adaptations, particularly when it comes to the defensive line. Terry Venables much lauded experiment with 3-5-2 in Euro ’96 is still the most cited example of a manager having strayed away from a back four in recent years, with 4-4-2, 4-3-3 and 4-5-1 variations very much the order of the day. True, many teams in Brazil start with a four man defensive line. However, the role of the full-back is far from the same.
Take Fábio da Silva, Manchester United’s attacking full-back. When at Manchester United, although considered to be very forward-thinking, his primary duty is to defend. With Brazil it is a different story. Fábio made his Brazil debut last month and impressed, earning a call-up to this month’s friendlies with Gabon and Egypt. A fine source of attacking creation in the game against Costa Rica, Fábio was rarely deeper than the midfield line and quite often the only players more advanced than the youngster were the attacking duo of Neymar and Fred. Alex Ferguson would have killed him had it been in a Manchester United football shirt, but it is a different role and there are different expectations. The only thing the lateral and a full-back have in common is the same vague starting position.
A wing-back is a much better definition for the role, but it is almost an old fashioned term in English. Across the Premier League there are attacking full-backs, but the tactical set-ups do not allow for a Brazilian-style ‘lateral’. Chelsea, Manchester United, Manchester City, Tottenham and Arsenal – all play with full-backs intent on getting forward and overlapping. But, as cited in the Fábio argument, the primary duty is always to defend.
In Brazil, this is worked around by the presence of two holding midfielders. The ‘volante’ or holding player in the Brazilian game is not expected to supply much to the attack and the concept of a deep-lying playmaker is definitely something that could be explored in greater depth. But, with most teams width provided solely by the ‘lateral’, there is not any need for greater protection on the flanks and thus the centre-backs, supported by the two holding players are enough of a defensive cordon to succeed.
When André Santos was signed, it was widely assumed in Brazil it was to play as a left-wing in England. Arsenal, on the other hand, no doubt hope the player can develop into an English-style attacking full-back. However, with the player having played an attacking-role at Fenerbahce, the transition will take time and the British media in particular need to be more open minded about the idiosyncrasies of other footballing cultures. I come back to Fábio da Silva. Sir Alex Ferguson brought both Fábio and Rafael from Brazil as early as possible, to train them on the demands of the role in England. Here, from the English perspective, they are seen as positionally suspect; in Brazil, the perception is that the twins are too defensive.
Football is not one, universal culture. André Santos may be playing as a left-back at Arsenal and thus must do much better defensively. Importantly though, André Santos has never claimed to be a defender.