The upper echelon modern fullback pairs premier athleticism with nuanced pitch awareness and a swashbuckling nature in the one on one battles. Success can be had with an overabundance of one or two of these traits covering for the weaknesses, but few positions on the field demand so much while forgiving so little. And few positions in Liverpool's roster simultaneously inspire such robust confidence and such crippling fear as do right and left fullback.
Nathaniel Clyne and Alberto Moreno--two fledgling thoroughbreds with the better part of a decade of their best football ahead of them--are undoubtedly a source of hope and pride for Liverpool fans. They provide a two-way foundation out wide for Jürgen Klopp's demanding gegenpressing. And yet beyond them it is only unproven yutes, a video game wizard, and the regrettably permacrocked Scouse pulse of this Liverpool squad. On the one hand, exhilarating thoroughbreds. On the other, oops we crapped our pants.
It is with hungry eyes, then, that Liverpool fans will read of a stout 21 year old fullback deciding to re-sign with the Merseyside Reds.
You remember Bradley Shaun Smith, right? Big bloke from down under, goes by Brad, solid left foot? You know, he had that half weird, half brilliant cameo against Chelsea under Brendan Rodgers during the run to second a couple seasons ago. Well, apparently he signed a new deal. Under odd circumstances, too, after a dizzy two year spell that saw him briefly elevated to great new hope, then demoted to developmental loan asset, then allowed to let his contract run down, flap in the wind as an out of contract footballer for a brief spell, and now finally getting tied down to Liverpool for the foreseeable future. Funny thing, life.
Funnier still is Klopp may have fallen backwards into an intriguing project here. Broad shoulders, a long stride, and a hammer foot schooled in the Liverpool Way™, Smith's best case scenario is as a two-way fullback in a back four. He's athletic enough to hit the overlap, loves to pitch in through to the final third, but what will make him special is if he can up his defensive awareness. Do that and you have a leftback who will own a flank all afternoon for you.
As with all young defenders, a lot of this is still about projection. However, with Klopp running the show and Nathaniel Clyne doing his thing in Red, Smith isn't hurting for inspiration and examples to follow. Stayed tuned, the kid could be a crackerjack.