Manchester United's Nani And the 12 Trickiest Wingers In the World
It's a bit of a difficult task to try and define the role of a winger in this day and age. In the ever-evolving world of football tactics, the winger has been a position that has been toyed with and shifted as much as any.
It's often a fine line between winger and wide-mid, and even striker in plenty of situations. A forward winger often looks very much like a supporting striker, and effectively plays as one much of the time.
One thing is for certain, the modern winger has emerged as a role requiring a vast amount of talent and skill on the ball to progress a team's overall attacking game.
He are 12 of the best wingers that fill that role accordingly, and demonstrate a skill that is unrivaled amongst their world football peers.
Alex Livesey/Getty Images
Tottenham Hotspur purchased Gareth Bale in 2007 as a left back, which was a role that he did not exactly play extraordinarily well in his first couple of seasons at White Hart Lane.
He ultimately fell out of favor at Tottenham, in favor of Benoît Assou-Ekotto, who was maintaining an impressive form at the time.
In the 2009-10 season, Bale finally saw some substantial playing time when Assou-Ekotto suffered an injury and was forced to sit out.
Eager to impress and earn the left-back spot for good, Bale played all out football and impressed club officials.
But he did not win the left-back spot as he hoped, and Assou-Ekotto retained his position once again when he recovered.
Spurs manager Harry Redknapp had other plans however, and moved Bale up to the left wing. In that role, he has quickly become a fan favorite and an extraordinary presence for Spurs in the midfield.
In 2010-11, he recorded 11 goals for Spurs in all competitions, including a once-in-a-lifetime hat trick against Inter Milan in the Champions League group stage to propel the club to the top of the group.
Many have claimed that Gareth Bale is the most overrated star in Premier League football today. I disagree, but time will tell if last season's form will carry on.
Jasper Juinen/Getty Images
Jesús Navas is certainly one of the more eccentric personalities on this list.
Born and raised in Seville, he has spent his entire career playing for the local club, Sevilla FC.
Not because nobody else wants him, but because he almost literally can't play for any other club.
Navas is suffering from extreme anxiety and chronic homesickness that makes every venture away from Seville a difficult exercise in psychological composure.
During Sevilla's last campaign, Navas was ruled out of almost half of the matches with plaguing injuries that seemed determined to prevent him from recapturing the success he enjoyed in the previous year.
But 2009-10 was an extraordinary year for the Spaniard, recording career-high numbers in both the goals and assists columns.
While his 11 goals in all competitions that season were a huge improvement on the years before, he's always been consistent in one category: creating plays.
His vision and awareness for Sevilla have been iconic in his time with the club, and even if he can't recapture that goal-scoring prowess now that he's back at full-strength, he'll always be around to create in the box and give Sevilla an edge that they're lucky to have.
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
Bayern Munich currently features two of the greatest wingers in modern history, and their French star on the left side of the pitch constitutes half of that talent.
His speed down the touchline and fantastic presence of mind are a major factor in making the German squad as feared as it is today.
He's a playmaker in every sense of the word, and defenders from all over the world struggle to keep him contained.
First arriving on the professional scene in 2000, the 28-year-old has competed in every Champions League tournament since 2005.
In his first season for Bayern Munich, Ribéry scored 14 goals in all competitions, while recording 11 assists. His vision for making plays has only increased, as he recorded a career-high 15 assists in 2010-11, with 11 assists in Bundesliga.
As his talent continues to mature, his playing style is evolving into one much less selfish and much more creative, and Bayern Munich is that much better as a result.
Ángel Di María
Victor Fraile/Getty Images
At age 23, Ángel Di María may not be quite on equal footing with teammate Cristiano Ronaldo at Real Madrid, but that doesn't mean he's not a wildly impressive winger from many angles of the game.
Di María recorded nine goals and 14 assists in his first season with the Spanish giants, but that's far from the whole story.
He's lightening fast down the line, his footwork is phenomenal, and he boasts a heavy arsenal of impressive tricks that make him extremely difficult to defend.
Maintaining a starting spot on Real Madrid's roster at 23 should be telling enough in its own right. But Di María competently demonstrates why he deserves that role day in and day out.
Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images
SInce Juan Mata's breakout season of 2008-09, he has yet to have a season in which he's performed any way but spectacular.
In 2009-10, he recorded a career-high 16 goals in all competitions.
When his goal stats go down, his assisting stats shoot up to make up for it.
The following year, he only found the back of the net nine times, but provided 15 assists for Valencia as the club took the third place spot in La Liga.
That sort of vision doesn't go unnoticed in this day and age. As many people predicted, a major move for his was in store during the summer transfer window, as Mata recently finalized a move to Chelsea for a £23.5 million fee.
If he retains the form he demonstrated at Valencia, Mata is sure to earn his spot in Chelsea's history as one of the greatest playmakers to ever grace the field at Stamford Bridge.
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
Florent Malouda was long hailed as a key player in Lyon's success in the mid-2000s before Chelsea picked him up in 2007.
He struggled for his first little while in the English Premier League, but eventually found his way back into the mix of things and reclaimed the form that made him one of Ligue 1's best wingers.
In 2009-10, he really shined. With 14 goals in all competitions for Chelsea, and 14 assists to go with it, Chelsea fans finally saw why Malouda was a truly brilliant acquisition.
Last season, Malouda recorded 13 Premier League goals with Chelsea, and he already has his first of the new campaign.
Malouda might be starting to reach a crucial age for footballers in Europe, but he's already showing that with age comes experience. What he might lose in speed, Florent Malouda will surely make up for in creativity as Chelsea continue to improve their squad and make another run at a Championship title.
Chris Brunskill/Getty Images
For four seasons, David Silva was a fundamental aspect of Valencia's formation.
It was little wonder to the average spectator why Manchester City were so keen add him to their roster in June 2010.
For those who wondered nonetheless, he quickly became a Manchester favorite in his first season at City, recording six goals and achieving a career-high 13 club-level assists.
So far in the new campaign, he's already scored twice for City and provided an assist, making him intimately involved in three goals out of three matches (including the Community Shield).
He may be known for adding a skillful presence to a variety of roles, but his impressive speed, maneuverability, and pitch-perfect feeds into the box make him an extremely talented winger when used as such. And at 25 years old, those skills are only going to get better.
David Ramos/Getty Images
Young Spanish winger Pedro Rodríguez has had a very fortunate life so far.
He spent the entirety of his senior career thus far on the club that so many stars only dream of playing for.
While some footballers play to eventually wind up on Barcelona's roster, Pedro was able to start there right off the bat, which is thoroughly telling of his skill on the left wing.
Pedro really broke out as an iconic figure within Barcelona's ranks in 2009-10, when he recorded 22 goals in all competitions.
The next season, he equalled that figure, while doubling his assist statistics as Barcelona won their domestic title and achieved another Champions League trophy run.
As Pedro Rodríguez continues to mature in his role, his incredible vision and creativity in his role are only going to mature along with him. At 24 years old, he's already one of the greatest wingers in football today, and his years on the professional circuit can still be counted on one hand with fingers to spare.
Clive Rose/Getty Images
Ever since Manchester United first signed Nani in 2007, speculation has been raised over and over again that he could turn out to be one of the greatest wingers in football.
In 2010-11, Nani proved that he is one of the greatest wingers in world football.
Nani finally broke through to earn his most consistent starting position for United to date, and rewarded the club with ten goals and fourteen assists in all competitions.
Nani's strength is his creativity, which makes him nearly impossible to contain.
An impressive vision for nearby options when under pressure adds the dangerous flow and pace that makes Manchester United's style so difficult to face.
Nani hasn't scored in league play yet this season, but we got a glimpse of what we can expect from the Portuguese winger in the Community Shield, where he scored the second and third goals in United's comeback victory over Manchester City.
Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images
While Bayern Munich might already have extraordinary playmaking talent on the left side of the pitch in Franck Ribéry, it's really the right side in which they truly shine.
And the German giants have Arjen Robben to thank for that.
The 27-year-old Dutchman has already had a long and successful career at some of the world's top clubs, including PSV, Chelsea, and Real Madrid.
He's done well almost everywhere he's played, but he didn't fully mature into his best form until Munich.
In 2009-10, Robben recorded 16 league goals and seven assists, while only starting in 18 Bundesliga matches.
Last season, it was 12 goals and eight assists in 13 starts. And he's looking just as good at the start of the German domestic season this year.
While he may still excel at creating plays and lending assists to help his club in their title races, there are few wingers in the world that can finish as well as Robben.
He's not just top 20 in the world. He's top three. Easily.
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
With 53 goals and 14 assists for Real Madrid last season, it's little wonder why Cristiano Ronaldo stands near the top of the list of trickiest wingers in world football.
Ronaldo will live forever in the history books as one of the most prolific presences in Manchester United and Premier League history.
And he's making the same mark now with Madrid in La Liga.
There are few players who can match Ronaldo's skill on the ball as he maneuvers past defenders, and there are even fewer who can match his incredible speed.
He'll slip it past you, and be gone in an instant.
Sure, sometimes he tries to get a little overly tricky and take matters too much into his own hands when he could just as easily pass the ball off. But then we'd miss out on so much of the truly spectacular that fans are treated to when his schemes turn out to work beautifully well.
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
I almost feel like there's no point in even explaining this one.
As though it's some sort of big secret that Lionel Messi is one of the most skillful players in the history of football, and one of the best finishers the world has ever seen.
In case you somehow haven't heard, Lionel Messi is this guy from Argentina who plays for this team called Barcelona, and...no, you know what, if you don't know who Lionel Messi is, then I question whether or not you wandered into the World Football section of Bleacher Report by mistake.
American Football is listed under "NFL" and "CFB," in case you were confused.
It's not his 50 goals and 21 assists for Barcelona last season that put him on the top of this list. It's not even the fact that Messi consistently posts comparable figures year after year, and will probably do so for years to come.
It's the simple fact that this man has officially discovered every possible way to get past a defender to further Barcelona's attack. Lionel Messi is the single trickiest winger, and single trickiest player, in world football today.