A few notable exceptions aside, full backs are rarely regarded with the same reverence as flashy playmakers or world-class strikers. Liverpool legend Jamie Carragher famously said that any player who becomes a full-back was either a “failed winger” or “failed centre back”, but it’s highly unlikely he’d have spoken so harshly of his former teammate, Steve Finnan.
Full-backs have become increasingly important in the modern game, with the perfect player in this position needing a strong arsenal of both offensive and defensive abilities to succeed. Finnan had all of those attributes and was a major player during one of Liverpool’s best spells, featuring in the starting eleven for both the victorious 2005 Champions League final in Istanbul and the narrow 2-1 loss in the 2007 final, but was bizarrely never really classed as one of the best players in the Premier League during his five-season spell at Anfield.
Any long-time Liverpool fan will happily rank Finnan as one of the best full-backs to ever turn out for the club, but football fans away from Merseyside just never seemed to give the Irishman the credit he deserved. Even his manager, Rafa Benitez, repeatedly seemed intent on finding an ‘upgrade’ on the Irishman, with the likes of Josemi and Jan Kromkamp being brought in but failing to dislodge Finnan from the starting eleven.
Alvaro Arbeloa eventually claimed Finnan’s spot, with the former Fulham man moving on to Espanyol in 2008, but during his time at Anfield, Finnan was easily one of the most consistent players the club had ever seen. Like Liverpool’s current unsung hero, James Milner, the Irishman was one of those players who could always be relied upon to give 100%.
Whether he was named in the starting eleven or brought on as a substitute, Finnan was a hard-working, dependable presence in the back four, equally adept at providing pinpoint crosses at one end of the pitch and nullifying opposition forwards at the other. In short, he was exactly the sort of player any manager would feel blessed to have among their squad.
Perhaps, like Milner, Finnan’s low-key life and playing style played a part in his lack of widespread appreciation. Both on and off the pitch, he wasn’t a flashy footballer, shunning celebrity status, keeping his head down, and working his way up from the bottom, being the only player in history to have appeared in every single professional English league, along with the Champions League, UEFA Cup, Intertoto Cup, National League, and World Cup.
Despite a miraculous rise through the ranks, Finnan always remained true to his humble nature, which was best evidenced after the famous Istanbul victory. When asked about the game, Finnan said that Liverpool probably wouldn’t have won with him on the field, opining that his own injury and substitution at half-time helped pave the way for the historic win.
Finnan was always modest off the pitch, even spending time in The Gambia doing charity work after his retirement, but never shied away from a challenge throughout his career. Constantly creating chances for his team, while also tracking back and doing immense defensive work that many modern full-backs are lacking, Finnan’s performances were a veritable visual guidebook for how the right-back position should be played, and he should logically be remembered as a truly underrated Liverpool hero.