12 of the Best Wingers in Europe Right Now
The art of wing play is one of the things which has developed greatly over the past 20 years or so.
From the old-school "chalk on boots" winger to wing-backs via wide forwards and full-backs in a back four who spend more time bombing forward than they do defending, there are many different players whose territory is along the touchline.
They may not always be the most heavily-involved players on the pitch, but they are among the most exciting.
Here—in no particular order—are 12 of the finest examples of wingers in Europe right now. Feel free to add your own names below.
Theo Walcott (Arsenal)
No laughing at the back, please. This season Walcott has been quietly having his best campaign in an Arsenal shirt.
He remains an incredibly frustrating figure for fans of both the Gunners and England who still hold out hope that he will develop into a fine all-round player rather than the right-wing whippet that he is.
However, the 23-year-old has eight Premier League goals to his name this season and the same number of assists, many of which have been for newly-crowned double Player of the Year Robin van Persie.
As Arsenal aim to secure third place in the Premier League at the end of the season, Walcott's absence through injury will be keenly felt.
Mauricio Isla (Udinese)
In spite of losing star forward Alexis Sanchez to Barcelona last summer, Udinese are again making their presence felt in Serie A. At this late stage in the season, they are still within a shout of achieving a Champions League playoff spot for a second year in a row.
While plenty of the credit for that must go to veteran striker and captain Antonio Di Natale, Mauricio Isla also deserves a fair share of the plaudits.
However, the winger has already stated his intention to leave the Stadio Friuli at the end of the season, meaning Udinese are facing the prospect of losing a Chilean attacker for the second season in a row.
Nicolas Gaitan (Benfica)
The standout player in the Benfica midfield—which helped eliminate Manchester United in the Champions League group stages—is sure to be high on several teams' shopping lists this summer.
A naturally left-footed winger blessed with plenty of pace and skill, Nicolas Gaitan has registered the joint-highest number of assists in the Champions League this season with five.
The Argentinian makes a quarter of one of Europe's most creative midfields, but it remains to be seen if he will be taking his talents elsewhere next season.
Junior Hoilett (Blackburn Rovers)
One of the most exciting young prospects in the Premier League, the 21-year-old Hoilett is already a permanent fixture on the Blackburn team.
He has been one of the few shining lights in a torrid campaign for Rovers, scoring seven and setting up another five in the league this term.
With his contract up at the end of the season, it looks like he will not be short of suitors bidding for his services this summer.
Jesus Navas (Sevilla)
The Sevilla winger is perhaps best known by some for the anxiety and homesickness problems that used to blight him and have had an impact on his international career.
He has, for the most part, overcome those issues now to the point that he was part of Spain's victorious squad at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
With five goals and nine assists in La Liga this season, as well as an impressive 76 successful crosses in that time, it looks like the 26-year-old is approaching the peak of his powers.
Diego Capel (Sporting Lisbon)
A former teammate of Navas at Sevilla, Capel was not quite able to deliver on the huge promise he initially showed upon breaking into the team in 2007.
A move to Sporting Lisbon last summer has injected a new impetus into the career of the 24-year-old, and he had responded with some fine performances on the left wing as he helped his new club to the semifinals of the Europa League.
Consistency remains an issue with Capel, but there is no doubting his talent puts him among the top wingers in the game.
Nani (Manchester United)
Manchester United's winger has had another productive season at Old Trafford, despite the added competition for a place in the side provided by Ashley Young's arrival last summer.
The Portuguese may not have quite replicated his form of last season, when he was inexplicably left off the shortlist for the PFA Player of the Year award, but eight goals and 10 assists in the Premier League so far this term is not to be sniffed at.
The 25-year-old still possesses more than enough pace and skill to give full-backs nightmares and has added consistency and team-play to his game since first arriving at United.
Arjen Robben (Bayern Munich)
One half of Bayern's infamous "Robbery" duo, along with Franck Ribery, Robben has been a major factor in the German giants reaching a second Champions League final in three years.
The Dutchman has proved again this season that when he is fit, he is one of the most lethal wide players in world football.
His two goals in Netherlands' recent friendly win over England will have given Chelsea fans a reminder of what their former star is capable of when he faces them on May 19.
Franck Ribery (Bayern Munich)
How can we include Robben without also featuring his Bayern cohort Ribery?
The Frenchman has enjoyed perhaps his best season in his five years at Bayern, scoring 12 goals in the Bundesliga.
It is in Europe where he has perhaps shone the most, though: three goals and five assists make him the most productive winger left in this season's Champions League ahead of the final at his home ground the Allianz Arena.
Angel Di Maria (Real Madrid)
Despite being in a squad that includes supreme attacking talents such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, Gonzalo Higuain, Kaka and Mesut Ozil, di Maria has more than held his own once again this season at Real Madrid.
The Argentinian has only made 21 appearances in La Liga this season because of a combination of injury and suspension, but in those games he has scored five times and registered another 15 assists.
Of course, it helps that he has teammates of such high calibre to finish off the chances he creates, but di Maria is well on the way to becoming a star in his own right.
Gareth Bale (Tottenham Hotspur)
Ever since his memorable hat trick against Inter Milan last season, Bale has been one of the most-coveted wingers in world football.
The 22-year-old is one of the names most commonly brought up in transfer stories linking him with eight-figure moves to some of Europe's biggest clubs, and it is not hard to see why.
Although he still has plenty of areas of his game to improve, the Welshman's sheer pace and strength make him a nightmare to defend against, and he can only get better with age.
Christian Maggio (Napoli)
There was much fanfare surrounding Napoli's "Holy Trinity"—Edinson Cavani, Marek Hamsik and Ezequiel Lavezzi—as the Italian side took their place in this season's Champions League, and rightly so.
However, one player who rarely got mentioned in dispatches was Maggio, one of the best attacking wing-backs in the world. Chelsea learned that the hard way when he gave Ashley Cole a torrid time in the first leg of their knockout tie earlier this season in Naples.
After losing the return leg at Stamford Bridge in extra time, Napoli went into a serious slump in form but have recovered to give themselves a great chance of returning to the competition next season.
Antonio Valencia (Manchester United)
The Ecuadorean winger missed a good chunk of the first half of the season through injury, but he has certainly made up for lost time.
In just 25 league appearances this season, he has racked up 13 assists. For comparison, see David Silva: He is the most creative player in the division this season, with 14.
Valencia has only scored four goals, but one of those was a vicious swerving strike from a wide angle that broke the deadlock in the final 10 minutes of a match away to a stubborn Blackburn fighting for their top-flight status. It is those sorts of goals on which titles are won.