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60 Greatest Players in World Football: Top 10 Full-backs

20 July 2014 by

The third in a series of six articles looking at the best 60 players in the world at the moment, we are now onto full-back having done golkeepers and centre-backs. Please enjoy, comment, discuss and read the next article; the top 10 central midfielders.

Full-backs

Honourable mentions:

  • Fabio Coentrao – A frustrating year for the 26 year old former Benfica man, playing second fiddle to Marcelo for club and having a disappointing World Cup for country. However, he is still an intelligent player, who is technically skilful and tactically versatile. Young enough to still improve and bounce back. Forms a wicked partnership with Ronaldo down the left for club and country when they play together.
  • Ashley Cole – Still a first class full back, Cole’s fall from grace was dramatic and sudden. At the start of last season he was widely considered the best left-back in the world, at the star of next season he will be playing in Serie A for Roma on roughly a third of the pay and having retired from international football having not made England’s World Cup squad. The move may reignite the career of one of very few English players who were consistently world-class for nearly a decade.
  • Patrice Evra – Another premier league stalwart who looks set to leave for Serie A this summer, Evra has developed into a real leader at Old Trafford in the last couple of years. His experience is also crucial in a youthful defence for France and he played in four of France’s five games at the World Cup. Athletic, industrious and determined, he would have been in the top 5 even three years ago.

10. Filipe Luis – Atletico Madrid and Brazil – 28 – Another previously average La Liga player whose performances have shot up during Diego Simeone’s title-winning season with Atletico Madrid. Looks certain to join Chelsea, the team Atleti knocked out of last season’s Champions League in the semis, after desperately pushing the £20 million move through, resulting in him being frozen out at the Spanish champions during pre season. The move is even more surprising as Filipe had been one of the players that had appeared to epitomise Diego Simeone’s passion and work ethic last season, consistently providing tireless runs down the left-hand side and defending resolutely against opposition attacks. His form was so great last season that it had some pushing for him to start for Brazil at their own World Cup ahead of star left-back Marcelo, something we didn’t see happen, arguably (due to Brazil’s worrying defending at times) to his benefit. If the it is to happen, Filipe should be confident enough to fill the considerable boots of Ashley Cole at Stamford Bridge.

9. Łukas Piszczek – Borussia Dortmund and Poland – 29 – One of three Poles to have achieved success at the Borussia Dortmund, Piszcek is crucial in a tidy back four that includes Mats Hummels and Neven Subotic. Signed on a free transfer from Hertha BSC in 2010, he has been crucial for Jurgen Klopp’s team in midfield, on the wing but mainly as a buccaneering right-back where he combines great defence with marauding forward runs down the right for the former Champions League finalists. Injury kept him out of the first half of the season and Dortmund looked a much improved side upon his return. He is an unsung hero for them and is one of a very few squad members that haven’t been linked with moves away. Most Dortmund fans will be very happy if it stays that way.

8. Bacary Sagna – Manchester City and France – 31 – After 7 fantastic years at Arsenal, Sagna has finally left for the Premier League champions at the age of 31, a move he has earned and deserves. In a time of a constantly changing defensive line year on year, Sagna had been ever-present and constantly reliable for Arsene Wenger at Arsenal, where he mixed defensive discipline with attacking guile. He had become a fan favourite at Arsenal and fans will be disappointed to see him leave, especially on a free transfer and to Manchester City, again. It will be interesting to see how Manuel Pellegrini incorporates both Zabaleta and Sagna into one team, if he does so at all. For sure, he is one of the most consistent players on this list and Arsenal are going to miss him dearly.

7. Leighton Baines – Everton and England – 29 – After years of excellence finally turned into world class performances, Leighton Baines finally ousted Ashley Cole as England’s number 1 left back. After missing out on a £30 million move to Manchester United last summer, Baines’ set-pieces, crosses and consistent performances helped Everton finish 2 places above them, in 5th. He also earned himself a place as England’s left-back but, despite looking good in qualifying, failed to impress in Brazil and was at fault for the crucial goal against Italy. Enjoying life under Roberto Martinez, expect more of the same next season for Baines and Everton in their strive to join Europe’s elite and Baines will be pivotal if they are to achieve that goal.

6. Pablo Zabaleta – Manchester City and Argentina – 29 – Into his 6th year at the English champions, Pablo Zabaleta is now a mainstay in the team and vice-captain to Vincent Kompany. He took a while to adapt to the English game and had to fight off competition from Micah Richards for a place in the starting XI but along with fellow Argentines Martin Demichellis and Sergio Aguero, he is now a fully-fledged member of the squad and one of the best in his position in the league. His tenacious and determined playing style has endeared him to the City crowd and he is now one of their most reliable and consistent performers following another great season. Played every game as Argentina came within 7 minutes of becoming world champions and his passion, bravery and tackling were paramount to their success. Faces yet another stiff challenge to see off the competition of new arrival Bacary Sagna but knowing Zabaleta, as we feel we all do, it is one he will rise to and utterly relish.

5. Jordi Alba – Barcelona and Spain – 25 – The emerging star from Spain’s victorious Euro 2012 campaign, Jordi Alba looked destined for staredom playing for the best international and club sides in the world. Unfortunately for him, the next two years didn’t quite live up to the hype. He joined Barca almost at what felt like the end of an era, with greats ageing, the style becoming predictable and beatable and perhaps most crucially without their fantastic coach, Pep Guardiola. Spain too, had begun to lack their previous zeal and invincibility, with their disastrous World Cup the culmination of that. To top things off, Alba himself struggled with injuries and found himself moving from the fringes of the team to the medical room intermittently. However, having said all that, he is still young and is still an absolutely superb left-back when fit; possessing pace, determination and a terrific work-ethic. In a time when tiki-taka is said to be dead, Alba and players like him may just be seen as the way forward, into a new realm of un-possession obsessed football. At 25, we certainly haven’t seen the last of Jordi Alba.

4. David Alaba – Bayern Munich and Austria – 22 – Formerly a graceful and efficient young playmaker, Alaba has converted into a steely and pacey left-back at Bayern, due to the multitude of options they have available in the central midfield area. His unselfish and consistent performances have made him one of the first names on Pep Guardiola’s team sheet and, at 22, he looks set only to improve and make that spot his own. He plays in midfield for Austria and is part of everything good they create in what is currently a fairly limited squad; top-scoring in their unsuccessful World Cup qualifying campaign. As a player he has everything and is fiendishly energetic and intelligent, making him difficult to mark. He has pace, guile, nerve, expansive passing, an eye for a cross and an explosive shot, all of which combine to give the most promising full-back in world football and definitely up there with the most complete on this list. Playing for the world’s best team every week at just 22, Alaba looks destined to be one of the greatest in his position for at least a decade.

3. Marcelo – Real Madrid and Brazil – 26 – Fully established for both club and country now, he has finally become heir to the ‘Roberto Carlos crown’. In fact, after years of uncertainty and inconsistency, Marcelo has gradually become one of Madrid’s most reliable players, leading the great man himself to label him the best in his position and to say ‘Marcelo has a better technical ability than me’. Always trusted to give his all and play with passion as well as use that technical ability Carlos speaks of, Marcelo has finally added tactical discipline to his game and shrugged off the challenge with Fabio Coentrao for the left-back spot at the Bernabeu. His new-found consistency was crucial as Real Madrid won the Champions League, with Marcelo himself scoring the pick of the bunch in the 4-1 final win. Possibly the most likely future no.1 on this list due to the improvements he is showing and his relatively young age.

2. Dani Alves – Barcelona and Brazil – 31 – Arguably the best attacking right-back since Cafu, Dani Alves has matured well as a player and now selects his tirelessly energetic bursting runs from defence more efficiently and effectively. He may have lost a touch of pace and acceleration but he still makes fantastic supporting runs, crosses supremely and can shoot well too, all this is added to the fact that he is still an excellent defender. While last season wasn’t a stellar one for Barca or Alves himself, he showed a level of consistent performance we have come to expect from him. The fact that Barca have yet to look to replace him speaks volumes for how much they love the Brazillian and rate his longevity. He also creates the most opportunities for Lionel Messi out of everyone else in the team and provides him with the most assists, a useful stat when talking about arguably the greatest player in the world. For the Seleção, he is still their undoubted first choice right-back and Brazil’s faltering performances at the World Cup coincided with Scolari’s decision to drop Alves. Should he continue internationally, expect his experience and winning mentality to be a key part of the rebuilding process.

1. Phillip Lahm -Bayern Munich and Germany – 30 – Despite Lahm’s recent impressive performances as a midfield anchor, I think there are few that would disagree that his best position is still full-back. Arguably he is the best left and right-back in the world right now as well as being one of the best midfielders but it would seem unfair to have him dominate all these lists. Lahm seems to have everything needed in a modern full-back; technically excellent, quick, perfect crossing, fantastic passing, dogged tackling and one of the best football brains in the world, Lahm almost seems to have been built by a computer programmed to produce the perfect full-back. Having won pretty much everything there is to win with Bayern as Captain, he then led Germany to the 2014 World Cup before bowing out on and excellent international career which included 113 caps 20 of which came across 3 World Cups. He is also uber consistent and leads by example on the pitch whilst never being too flashy and always putting the team before himself. When you think of the great full-backs of our generation the only players who really get close to Lahm are Maldini, Carlos and Cafu. A true great and who knows we may  yet see another career move for him with Pep Guardiola saying if he were to play Lahm up front ‘he’d be the best striker in Europe.’ and who are we to argue?


3 Comments »

  • SomeDude

    A nice read :) Personally, I would have switched Alaba and Alves but that is just because I really like how Alaba can cut in or get up at the far post better than any full back I can think. Sometimes it seems that in the modern game, the principal purpose of fullbacks is to run like mad and thereby gain control of the wings (see Italy in Italy v England). Meanwhile, Germany who seemed to nearly drop fullbacks as a species altogether (along with normal wingers)have proven themselves to be champions. Although I am obviously just a punter, It would seem to me that Germany’s strategy is more reliable because central areas tend to be the most dangerous, positional-interchangeability (both inter and intra-game) is always a plus and trends being cyclical, there is always a benefit to being on the right side of the fashion curb. So, Being that both Holland and Argentina deployed 3 at the back Germany went for 4 and innovation being what it is, do you think it is time for a see re-set of FB skill-sets?

  • angusj15 (author)

    Interesting analysis. I think you’re correct in so much as Germany have proven that you can play with virtually no full-backs in the attacking sense, at least until they moved Phillip Lahm back to right-back. However, in my opinion, if you possess great attacking full backs (i.e. Alves, Lahm) it seems only natural you should use them to their full extent when they can be so damaging (as you mentioned Italy did against England). But as far as the role and skill set of a full-back goes I feel if you are going to play a natural four at the back (i.e. Italy vs England, most Premier League, Bundesliga and La Liga teams and England against everyone else) then you must maximise the potential of the two full-backs as attacking threats, especially if you are playing a narrow formation or the in-vogue 4-2-3-1 system, which uses creative no.10s galore. Perhaps Germany are an anomaly due to there outrageous midfield keeping the ball and their lack of class full-backs (bar Lahm) and world champions do often set trends. However, the likes of Chile and Holland deploying 3 at the back may well be the way forward as more full-backs/wing-backs can show their attacking potential without being so vital defensively. It also opens up the possibility of playing wingers or midfielders in defence, as Van Gaal showed by using Daley Blind (a defensive midfielder by trade) exceptionally as a wing-back and also even a centre back, as well as players such as Gary Medel, Dirk Kuyt and Kwadwo Asamoah for Juventus in Serie A being used effectively at the back as they are less exposed and more surrounded by defensive discipline than they would be in a back four. This may be especially prevelant in an age of ball-playing defenders as the first line of playmaking, with midfielders, of course, being more likely to have the passing and creative skills required for that. Not to mention the fact it simply adds flexibility and fluidity to your side. Another factor that may be key is the changing role of the striker, with less and less teams deploying out and out no.9s, only really Brazil and Argentina of the main contenders deployed true no.9s and neither too successfully (Higuain and Fred got 2 goals in 13 appearances between them in Brazil). This means the traditional attacking role of a full-back (sending in crosses for a big striker) may become defunct and the role will again have to be adapted for more technically refined players like Alaba, Lahm and Coentrao. Van Gaal may just have started a trend that was arguably initially Italian, but of course the Dutch total football way of doing it seems the more fashionable. Interesting ideas, thanks.

  • lix

    Very good selection! Thanks for this nice article.

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