WHEN Chris Wilder was manager of Sheffield United, his introduction of ‘overlapping centre-halves’ caused something of a tactical stir. It is early days in terms of his time at Middlesbrough, but on the evidence of his side’s performances so far, it is the creativity and dynamism of his full-backs that could hold the key to his new tactical template.

Wilder was a right-back himself during his playing days, but while he might have championed the position – “It was about 20 years ago that I was telling everybody, ‘Look, full-backs are decent, important players and they should get more recognition and probably a few more quid in their pay packet” – most of his time at the likes of Sheffield United, Rotherham, Notts County and Halifax was spent stopping opposition wingers.

Today’s wing-backs are different, and it was telling that during his pre-Swansea press conference yesterday, Wilder referenced Reece James, Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold.

Clearly, he does not expect the likes of Marc Bola, Isaiah Jones and potentially Onel Hernandez and Neil Taylor to emulate those players just yet.

But in terms of a tactical outlook, highlighting three of the most attack-minded wide defenders in the English game nevertheless gives an insight into where Wilder wants his Boro side to go.

“Every player’s important, but the quality you’ve seen in the Premier League from the likes of Andy Robertson and Trent in those full-back positions, they’ve got so many attributes and they dominate the ball,” he said. They’re fabulous footballers.

“You’ve got to have a lot of attributes to play those wing-back positions. I look at the best at playing it in the country, Reece James, and he’s a player I’ve tried to sign in the past.

"He’s in Chelsea’s first team now and is good going forward with an end product, pace and good decisions at the top of the pitch, but can defend as well.

“We’re trying to produce that type of modern footballer here. If we want to be where we want to be, then we’ve got to produce modern footballers that can play in a different way, that can defend one-versus-one, that can defend against pace, movement and skill, and that can also go forward, set attacks up and dictate the flow of the game.

“Then, not just play some great football to get to the top end of the pitch, but also pick people out to great effect. Producing modern-day footballers is something that is key for us.”

That also means a continuation of Wilder’s approach to his centre-halves at Sheffield United. He doesn’t want a team that passes for passing’s sake, but whereas Neil Warnock would instruct his defenders to pump the ball forward at the earliest opportunity, Wilder wants them to be more patient and precise in their approach.

Building from the back is a key part of his modus operandi, an approach which demands a certain level of technical competence from his three central defenders.

“Obviously, some of the tweaks I made (at Sheffield United) got picked up on, but when it comes to what we want from our defenders, we want technically-good players who can come out with the ball and enable us to dominate possession, but in an effective way,” he said.

“I don’t want to see my centre-halves passing the ball to each other and having 800 or 900 passes if there’s not anything at the end of the pitch.

"I’m sure if I’m a centre-forward watching the centre-halves just pass it to each other, then I’m not going to be happy.

“We want to be an effective football team, and we want to have different ways of playing.

"But if you want to dominate possession, then you have to have technically-good footballers right through your side.

“The majority of players should be technically good – they should be able to handle the ball – but some handle it better than others. We just want to be an effective team.”