Careers reassessed: Steve Finnan

With some jobs, you can be as good at them as you like but you will never get any type of recognition. Quite the opposite in fact; its only when you screw things up quite horrendously does any attention come your way. Examples of this fact include nuclear safety inspectors, drummers and full backs.

Full backs, unless they come in the Brazilian flavour, are meant to be solid not spectacular, dependable not daring, reliable not raiding. As a result, when they make a mistake that leads to a goal (playing the striker onside, being left on his arse by a winger) they’re often castigated but when they do their job properly, no dues paid. He did his job, end of, move along.

And so we come to the career of Steve Finnan, answer to the best football trivia question in existence.*

It is quite incredible to have a look at Finnan’s career honours and see just how many medals he actually has in his cabinet/sock drawer. Winners medals from all of the Football League…leagues (with Fulham and Notts County), an FA Cup, a Community Shield, a Champions League, a UEFA Super Cup and runners up gongs in the Champions League, the League Cup, the FA Cup, the Club World Cup and a pair of third place finishes in the Premier League.

Clearly, Finnan had a successful career in terms of trophies but that’s not the point of this evaluation. The point is to re-assess the importance Finnan had to that Liverpool team and to attempt to put into context his abilities compared to his contemporaries in the right back role.

As with any right back over the last 15 years or so in the Premier League, the yardstick for comparison is one Gary Neville; quite rightly regarded as consistently the best right back of the past decade and a half to ply his trade in this country.

Despite Finnan’s extensive list of honours, it pales in comparison Neville’s medal collection but, as stated earlier, that’s not the point of this piece. If it were so, Ryan Giggs would be the best player ever and… he just isn’t.

Anytime a brave soul would raise his head above the parapet to argue that Finnan was the best right back in the Premier League would immediately be shot down by not just the Nevillistas but fans of Liverpool too as can be seen here, here, here and here.

The most common accusation was that Neville was a better right back for his attacking ability coupled with his defence solidity; the Holy Grail for a modern full back that makes about as much sense as Vanilla Sky. There should be three rules of right back club the first of which should be you are a defender first and foremost, you don’t need a goal bonus (the other two rules would be you are terminally underrated and you can’t be ginger. Seriously, can you think of a ginger right back?).

Anyway, Neville had a lot of help in both the attacking and defending facets of his game as he found himself in a position where he could look to his left and see a solid defence (Gary Pallister through Ronny Johnsen through Jaap Stam through Rio Ferdinand through Nemanja Vidic) and a dangerous attacking force in front of him (David Beckham and then Cristiano Ronaldo).

The first meant he had enough protection to venture forward and the second meant he had enough space to operate as his winger may well be double marked. This is not to belittle Neville’s defensive ability (how he filled in occasionally at centre half validates that) or his offensive ability (he had as good a cross as Beckham on his day) but to show how playing in a better team makes you look like a better player.

With all due respect, Finnan did not have either of these luxuries despite the hugely successful Jamie Carragher- Sami Hyypia partnership in the heart of defence, the right winger slot was taken by either the woefully inconsistent (Luis Garcia/Jermaine Pennant) or just not wingers (Steven Gerrard/ El Hadji Diouf).

Despite this, in the four full seasons in which Finnan was first choice for Liverpool (2004/05 to 2007/08), he racked up more assists than his United counterpart (15 to 11) and they both plundered the same amount of goals (1 each). An inferior attacking outlet indeed.

And it’s not as if at the time when Finnan was playing that there was a large amount of quality in the right back position in the Premier League to challenge him in quality. Lauren, Emmanuel Eboue, Paulo Ferreria, Paul Stalteri, Tony Hibbert, Pascal Chimbonda to name a few all were about at the time at clubs who finished in the top five and all of whom were, with all due respect, not world beaters.

Clearly, in the long term, Gary Neville was a far better right back than Steven Finnan ever was. But from 2004 to 2008, the Irishman was certainly his equal and maybe even a bit better.

*If you don’t know, the question is; “Who is the only player to play in the World Cup, European Champions League, UEFA Cup, all four English professional leagues and the Conference?” You can also add the Intertoto Cup to that list too if you so wish.

Dan Whiteway @Dan_Whiteway

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