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Making Pulis Proud – The No-Nonsense Full-back in FM20

The no-nonsense full-back might not be the player role in FM20 that get’s many plaudits but it is one that can be a complete gamechanger. I find it often will be overlooked for more attractive roles like the Anchorman or even Targetman. Here at Dictate the Game there are a few of us that worship at the altar of hoofball. You can hear us wax lyrical about it on the podcast quite often. Some of us are more inspired by luminaries like Big Sam. However, I want some kudos to be sent in the direction of the unfashionable Tony Pulis. He was a manager to be feared on a windy and rainy night, and part of that reason was his use of defensive roles like tough no-nonsense full-backs.

Tony Pulis

Let’s be fair. The idea of Tony Pulis managing your club probably doesn’t fill you with joy. Over his 25 plus years as a manager though he has hit some high points. There have been some rough patches but what we should focus on is a reasonable record of overachieving with limited resources. Lets not forget, he got Stoke into Europe and frequently frustrated tacticians like Wenger.

No-Nonsense Full-back Pulis

He’s even won the Premier League Manager of the Year. Let that sink in.

Pulis Problems

Pulis has gathered a bit of reputation as a safe, if boring, pair of hands. Largely inspired by the overachievement at Stoke and the survival at Crystal Palace. One of the things he is particulary noted for is strengthening a team’s defense, and plugging the gaps in a leaky defense. It has been a common issue with the teams he has taken over, and one he normally fixes.

Part of the approach utilised by Pulis to do this was to play a compact, well drilled defensive line, that importantly doesn’t allowed much space behind them. To this end his full-backs were hardly ever asked to contribute by advancing forwards with the ball or closing down early. What’s an overlap?

As his sides often sat back and only pressed aggressively within their final third, and his full-backs weren’t being asked to contribute by getting forwards, a different type of full-back could be used. The traditional fast, and often physically smaller, full-back wasn’t required. Being able to take on a player and dribble was less important. What Pulis asked of his full-backs was to essentially be an extra centre-back that had just got lost on the wing. Height and strength became key.

To play for his team, I think I needed a pair of high heels.

Cristian Gamboa

They became blockers, spoliers, no-nonsense defenders that were better in the air than they were with the ball at their feet. They sacrificed attacking threat and penetration to lock up the defense tight and frustrate the opposition.

It wasn’t uncommon for Pulis to convert centre-backs like Lescott and Evans into full-backs.

What is a No-Nonsense Full-back?

Other than the stuff of dreams for Pulis a no-nonsense full-back is just that. They come with no frills, no style, no flair. They do not need to be good on the ball or even especially good at passing.

No-Nonsense Full-back Role
Player Role Duty

You can see from the instructions that they are not getting forward, they are not trying to be fancy and dribble, there’ll be none of that shooting nonsense and even crossing is going to be kept to a minimum. This is reinforced by the fact that only one duty exists for the role – defend.

They are focussed on holding the line, getting the ball and then getting it forward with a simple pass. No showboating here, which is just what you want if you are trying to shore up your defense. The no-nonsense full-back is the underdog’s friend.

You can add to and elaborate on the player instructions. As I often play a long ball approach I sometimes add cross from deep and aim for targetman. Again I don’t want them to get forward, but I do want them to get the ball forward once they have torn it away from the opposition.

No-Nonsense Full-back Attributes in FM20

No-Nonsense Full-back Attributes
You’re not asking for much attribute wise…

The no frills approach for the no-nonsense full-back is clear from the key and desired attributes. Only 3 technical attributes, all defensive, are important. Strength is key, and positioning, teamwork, concentration, bravery and aggression are all on the menu.

This limited selection really does lend itself well to more one dimensional physical players. They aren’t really that different from a centre-back. You don’t need a star here, you need a workhorse.

Fitting them into your backline and Tactic

Pulis at his defensive best employed two banks of four. The no-nonsense full-back fits into a back four nice and easily. Make it a back flat five and they are still fine, although your fans will probably be bored to tears which such a defensive set up.

All tactical choices are essentially a compromise. The solidity and strength in defense you are gaining will usually come at cost when it comes to the style of football you play, or the attacking penetration you gain. Pulis arguably found this out to his cost towards the end of his time at West Brom.

If you love wing play, one-twos out wide, over or underlaps then you might want a different role. They are not impossible to do but they are not natural bedfellows with this role.

You are placing a lot of work on the shoulders of the midfield during attacks, and you may want to take that into consideration when looking at the attributes of your wingers.

Red Star Example

Don’t just take my word though. The proof of the pudding in this case is in…well not the eating but watching your full-backs brutalise the opposition. Simon has kindly provided some evidence of his new no-nonsense full-back in action from his Red Star series.

Red Star Fullback No-Nonsense Full-back
Good but not Great. Definitely cheap, and looking at the last PPM well suited to staying back

As mentioned above a very limited set of attributes are needed, and if your full-back can hit those key areas it doesn’t really matter about the others. In this example there’s the added bonus of the player preferred move, keeping them back.

Fullback Stats No-Nonsense Full-back
Look at the stats…

Those percentages of headers and tackles won are fantastic. Look at the attributes, look at the level they are playing at, and then look at the stats again. Success on a shoe-string. Strong in the air, strong in the tackle.

Tackles Made No-Nonsense Full-back
In the Top 3 for kicking lumps out of people

For average tackles per game this fairly technically limited player is in the top 3. They are putting an absolute defensive shift in and are key part in the Red Star peformance. A performance if you check out Simon’s series that involves them punching well above their weight.

Unexpected Bonus – Corners and Throw-Ins

Who can forget the magic that is a Rory Delap Long Throw

With a no-nonsense full-back effectively being built like an additional centre-back you suddenly have a few different options for your attacking set-pieces. They can be an unexpected bonus and Pulis knew how to get the most out of a set piece.

Even at West Brom

Delap wasn’t a no-nonsense fullback but by having two tall strong players to add to the mixer in your fullbacks gives you more targets for those Delap like throws you might want to try. Strong and good in the area these players are perfect outlets and can cause chaos. The same can be done from deep free-kicks and corners if you don’t mind taking a bit of a defensive risk.

I wouldn’t recommend it all the time but having a few routines with the no-nonsense full-backs throwing elbows in the box as they wait for a lofted aerial ball might squeeze a few extra goals out of your team.


All in all it is an under used role but one that can be effective in bracing your defense, promoting hoofball and making the most out of your more limited players. Give them a go, make Pulis Proud and put a no-nonsense full-back into your team.

If you enjoyed this post consider checking out Simon’s Red Star Series, my hoofball article, my Targetman article, and some of the posts below:

Written by Pelham [FMTahiti]

I like to write about stats, tactics, editing and experiments. I also have a youtube channel under the name FM Tahiti where I have videos about my FM19 career in a semi-fictional French Polynesian/Tahiti database.


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