Gareth Bale And the Top 25 Left-Footed Players In Football Right Now

Thomas CooperFeatured ColumnistSeptember 13, 2011

Gareth Bale And the Top 25 Left-Footed Players In Football Right Now

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    In 2010, no player emerged from virtually nowhere quite like Gareth Bale. Injuries and the form of others had kept the Welshman out of the first-team at Tottenham Hotspur until he capitalised on the absence of Benoit Assou-Ekotto at left-back early in the year.

    His move forward into the left-wing position and the subsequent performances ignited the club's charge into the Champions League.

    It was in that competition that Bale alerted the wider football world to his talent with, in particular, a duo of sensational performances in the group stage against Inter Milan.

    At the San Siro he launched forward three times down the left side, his pace and exemplary touch putting the reigning champions on the back foot as he scored a hat-trick that restored Tottenham pride in a 4-3 loss.

    The return match at White Hart Lane saw Bale confirm his status as one of the bright young left-footed players in football. The way in which he terrorised Maicon was quite something, but it wasn't just a display of flash, but one of substance too, Bale setting up two of Tottenham's goals in a memorable 3-1 win.

    Has Bale since done enough to deserve the mantle as one of football's best left-footed players? Talented as he is, quite how good remains open to debate.

    What is not up for argument is that continuing in the footsteps of greats from Ferenc Puskás to Paolo Maldini, football is currently blessed with some supremely talented left-footed players.

    There is Lionel Messi, the bamboozling forward so integral to Barcelona's European dominance. Patrice Evra and Ashley Cole remain after so many years two of the Premier League's best left-backs. Then there are also Arjen Robben, Ryan Giggs, David Silva etc etc.

    All them and more are included on this list of the top 25 best left-footed players in football right now. Please feel free to bring up any notable oversights or suggest some players who might find their place on similar lists in the future.

    (Note: Of course many of these are comfortable with both feet, but the purpose of the list is celebrating those who primarily use their left).

Lionel Messi

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    Tottenham's left-footed wing-wizard Gareth Bale might have been the catalyst for this article, but undoubtedly the most talented left-footer in football right now is Lionel Messi.

    The Barcelona star's impeccable ball control is a sight to behold as he weaves his way through spaces most players would deem impossible to navigate.

    Messi is probably long tired of the comparisons, but it is one of several similar traits shared with a certain, other ex-Argentina and Barcelona magician.

    One of the delights of this ability, in particular for his club side, is the variety it allows in his game. In central positions he skip past players and hit teams directly, or, as is often the case, he can be deployed on the right and cut in on his left.

    Many full-backs will fancy themselves against players attacking on the outside, but when someone like Messi moves inwards it is able to create an uncertainty between them and their more centrally positioned team-mates.

    These aspects of his game are luxuries his Barca manager Pep Guardiola has enjoyed making the most of. The cherry on top of all the good stuff that comes before it from Europe's best team.

Patrice Evra

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    It seems a long time ago now that when Patrice Evra first joined Manchester United he look rather shaky at left-back. That uncertainty didn't last long.

    Once settled he was soon establishing himself as arguably the Premier League's best left-back.

    As Sir Alex Ferguson's sides have changed in recent years, from the balanced 4-4-2 that brought so much success in the 1990s to a more flexible, fluctuating system of midfield and attack, the kind of balance offered by a full-back like Evra has become even more important in providing that balance and a sense of stability.

    The Frenchman is an extremely capable defender. Both strong and athletic, a clear match for many of football's best wingers.

    He is also a great attacking threat, offering a great option out wide with overlapping runs from where he can comfortably link back up with his attackers or go for a move direct option.

Arjen Robben

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    When fit and on form, there are a few players as exciting to watch as Arjen Robben.

    Despite the injuries that have blighted the Dutchman's career, he has more than contributed enough to four of Europe's biggest and best sides in both results and moments of great individual flair.

    Robben is such a direct threat with his powerful running style, capable of putting defenders on the back foot.

    What makes him such a great player is the end product that usually follows. Running at top speeds he is one of the game's best crossers of the ball whether moving out wide or cutting inside.

    As a finisher too he can be lethal. His 2009/10 campaign at Bayern in particular brought 24 goals overall, many of which the sum of a player blessed with absolute conviction in his talent.

Walter Samuel

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    The value of a left-footed centre-back in offering balance to a defence should not be underestimated.

    The evidence can be found in the rock solid partnership Walter Samuel had with Lucio most notably in Inter Milan's treble winning 2009/10 season.

    Samuel is a crafty, tough and extremely committed defender.

    Particularly in that season's Champions League he was a crucial part of a defence that worked so hard in making sure very little got past them.

    He remains a top defender but is not quite the force of that historic season. It is a shame that him and Lucio did not come together a couple years earlier than they did in their career.

Stewart Downing

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    Stewart Downing has never been one of English football's most glamorous players.

    It is a view probably most characterised by his games for the national team for a few years.

    Full of graft but not offering much in the way of entertainment or crucially an end result.

    Despite some doubts over the defensive side of his game too, what can not be denied is he is becoming an increasingly effective winger in the Premier League, and now for England too.

    After a short spell sidelined by injury he became one of Aston Villa's most important players.

    Both in the effort he particularly gave down the left of the pitch, always giving opposition full-backs something to think about, but also in the chances he created.

    His seven goals and seven assists last season was just about his best all-round return in his career, and the confidence with which he played only got better.

    Liverpool now have brought him in for the very purpose that this increasingly confident player will help in part reinvigorate a club that for a season or two has been creatively stifled.

Giuseppe Rossi

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    Villarreal have done extremely well in keeping one of the best young forwards in Europe today.

    In fact besides from interest from Juventus and Tottenham, publicly at least, surprisingly few have gone in for Giuseppe Rossi.

    Had they not replaced him so well, Manchester United would surely be kicking themselves at letting go a striker who seems to be getting better and better.

    Rossi's 32 goals for the Yellow Submarine last season was his best return yet.

    In the penalty box his movement and awareness allows him to make the most of so many opportunities, complemented by his eye for goal.

    Outside the area he is more than comfortable too.

    The Italian-American is also one of the best providing strikers in Spanish football right now. Since moving there in 2007 he has contributed 24 assists.

    While the value of goals can never be underestimated, it is always a pleasure to watch such a well-rounded striker too.

Roberto Carlos

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    The relative rarity of naturally left-footed players probably allows for someone like Roberto Carlos, who's best years are clearly behind them, to make a list of the best such players in the world.

    Then again, you can argue that just as impressive as his long-range piledrivers and his lung-busting forward runs is the longevity of a career where he is still competing at a good pretty good level aged 38.

    The money of Russia's newest money boys Anzhi Makhachkala attracted Carlos back to European competition after a year back in Brazil with Corinthians.

    But these are no fairground attraction, and as of writing, currently lay fourth place in the Russian Premier League. With seven games to go and six points off the top, Anzhi could still win the league this season.

    Carlos' arrival has undoubtedly played a role in strong season thus far.

    While he is not quite the force of his glory days with Real Madrid and Brazil, he remains an effective left-back with the not inconsiderable weapon of that rocket of a shot.

David Silva

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    In this writer's opinion David Silva could quite legitimately be described as the best player in the Premier League right now.

    His level of performance last season even meant the lack of discussion about the Spaniard in player of the year voting was a startling oversight.

    The way he orchestrates his Manchester City side can be a sight to behold.

    Whether the beautiful range of passing that is increasingly carving up Premier League defences or in the way he glides past opposition players, Silva is star no doubt about it.

    Though primarily left-footed, like many of the best players this does not restrict his direction in games.

    Silva can operate out wide and give full-backs a torrid time, or he can influence things from the middle.

    The talent currently operating at City means he will not get all the headlines, but Silva is definitely the main man to watch.

Raul

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    There is rightfully a great sense of awe over players who stay at one club over a whole career, such is the rarity of such an occurrence in modern football.

    But after so many years with Real Madrid, it was also great to see Raul take his talent elsewhere and wear another team's colours.

    Last season for Schalke was certainly one of inconsistency, so often brilliant in cup competition but underwhelming in the Bundesliga.

    But so many of their better moments came from a Spanish superstar enjoying a great autumn to his career.

    The trademark finishing and the smarts that allowed him to score so fruitfully in Madrid were still there to see in Germany. A respectable tally of 14 goals game in domestic competitions, but the highlights were probably the five that came along the way in a memorable Champions League campaign.

    This season has started positively for Raul too with three goals and an assist. Should Schalke properly get their act together around him, they could yet make the most of the swansong of one of the greats of European football.

Leighton Baines

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    Ashley Cole might have the England left-back position locked up for a couple of years yet, but in Leighton Baines there is an understudy that has the potential to be one of Europe's best full-backs.

    Confidence seemed for a time to be an issue for Baines, but he looks to have got the better of it and has become an important player for Everton.

    Not only is he a solid Premier League full-back, he is also one of the division's best attacking threats from that position, most notably in dead-ball situations.

    Five goals and eleven assists in 2010/11 is a great return for a left-back, should Baines repeat those numbers with similar performances this year look for him to become an increasingly lauded player.

Iker Casillas

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    It would be rude not to give a nod to at least one left-footed goalkeeper, even if kicking the football is not quite so high on the important aspects of their game.

    Still, distribution is of course important too.

    So here is Iker Casillas, the captain of Spain's European Championship and World Cup winning sides, and the established goalkeeper of Real Madrid for many years now.

    We all know of his talent in goal. While he will not be too often seen using that left-boot to lump the ball forward, the need in any Spain side to be comfortable with the ball is a given.

    With so much competition behind him in this position, being good here is one less flaw for Casillas to worry about.

Marcelo

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    Marcelo is a nuisance of a player.

    Both in his penchant for petulance and play-acting, and more admirably, in his ability to pop up out of nowhere and do some damage in the opposition half.

    Focusing on the latter, more positive aspect of his game, Marcelo is one of the best attacking full-backs in football right now.

    His ventures forward down the left flank for Real Madrid mean, both with and without the ball, he is a figure that cannot be ignored.

    If defensively he is not quite is strong that is okay, what the Brazilian offers in pushing his opposite number back is a form of defence in itself if he can restrict their chances to attack.

Ryan Giggs

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    It has become something of a cliche in England to wonder what might have been if Ryan Giggs, who represented them at youth level, had opted to wear the Three Lions rather than play for Wales.

    Cliche it may be, but having him out on left wing would have solved a few problems for several England managers.

    Instead it has been Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United who has most spectacularly reaped the rewards of this most talented of wingers.

    One of the Premier League and Europe's most feared dribblers, he has achieved consistent and remarkable success with his ability to capitalise on this with great passing and crossing, and his fair share of goals too.

Ashley Cole

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    One of English football's most polarising people, Ashley Cole has also been one of its strongest performers for over a decade now.

    Early on it was Cole's attacking contributions down the left wing for Arsenal's free-flowing and successful sides of the first half of the last decade that gained him attention, but it has been his defensive solidity that has marked him out as a mainstay of both the England team and now Chelsea.

    Cole's pace and stamina mean even the best of wingers have had difficult in finding ways to beat him.

    If they do find a way then it is not long before the tireless full-back is back at them again next time.

Juan Mata

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    The player charged with restoring a sense of creativity to the Chelsea attack, if Juan Mata's time with Spain and Valencia is anything to go by he will more than fulfil his job description.

    Since the 2008/09 campaign, the statistical evidence of Mata's contribution to Los Che more than indicate this is a player who will bring goals in one form or another.

    In the past three seasons in La Liga alone he directly set up 29 goals while scoring 28 of his own.

    Like most players attacking players right now involved in the Spain set up, Mata is both technically marvellous and a real treat to watch. Exactly what Chelsea need right now.

Josip Ilicic

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    Slovenian attacking midfielder Josip Ilicic is definitely one to watch if his debut season in Serie A is anything to go by.

    Snapped up by Palermo in 2010, Ilicic enjoyed a great year in Italy scoring eight for his new team, a number of which could fairly be described as spectacular.

    His shooting ability from long-range marks him out as a threat opposition coaches can not afford to ignore.

    Ilicic's talent extends to a good eye in finding his team-mates as well as being a great runner with the ball, when he is in full-flight he can often be seen gleefully skipping past players with some gallivanting runs.

    Yes, definitely one to keep an eye on.

Gabriel Heinze

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    Thirty-three-year-old Gabriel Heinze joined Roma this past summer, and judging by his career thus far, you would not bet against the versatile defender enjoying even more success.

    An Olympic gold medal in 2004 has sadly for him not been followed up with more tournament triumphs with Argentina, but at club level he has won three titles in three different countries.

    If he 2006/07 Premier League medal at Manchester United came when he was no longer a permanent fixture in the side, the title wins that followed at Real Madrid and, especially, Marseille saw him figure more prominently.

    Heinze has been an attractive prospect for managers most notably because of his adaptability, comfortable both in central defence and at left-back.

Rafael Van Der Vaart

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    For a player who's overall consistency has been called into question, Rafael Van der Vaart has a goalscoring record that would be the envy of many midfielders.

    The maverick Dutchman top-scored for Tottenham in 2011/11 with 13 Premier League goals, a tally not way off a career seasonal average that hovers around the double figure mark.

    Since the 2007/08 campaign he has delivered at least half a dozen assists per season too.

    The variety in Van der Vaart's finishing is quite something too.

    For a not especially tall player he has quite a decent leap on him for aerial attacks, but it is on the ground whether in the penalty area or outside he offers a considerable goal threat.

    Unfortunately since his time at Hamburg, neither at Real Madrid or Spurs has there consistently been found a way to incorporate the roving attacker without effecting the balance of the side.

Robin Van Persie

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    Goal of the season competitions, in any one season the amount of contenders mean there is really no right answer.

    Except in 2006/07 when the BBC's version of the competition got it completely wrong and gave the Premier League version of the award to a goal Paul Scholes scored against Aston Villa.

    It was a great goal, no denying that, but earlier that year Robin van Persie had scored one against Charlton with his left foot to ignore as the best goal of the season was a travesty.

    Emmanuel Eboue struck a cross from the right hand side of the penalty area which was approaching the on-running van Persie at what was around chest height.

    Rather than bring it down to a more suitable level, the Arsenal forward proceeded to jump and strike a volley of such impeccable technique it would not be an overstatement to label it as a thing of beauty.

    That is the type of thing van Persie is capable of, without doubt he is one of the most bewitching forwards in football with his blend of 'now you see me, now you don't' trickery and inventiveness.

Esteban Cambiasso

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    The sturdy, defensive midfield presence of Esteban Cambiasso has been a major factor in Inter Milan's multiple triumphs of the past decade.

    Allowing the likes of  Wesley Sneijder and Dejan Stankovic the freedom to go and play isn't the most glamorous of jobs on the pitch, but one of great importance nonetheless and one Cambiasso has more than embraced.

    The Argentinian's reading of the game allows him to put himself in position to break up attacks and intercept passes.

    In close combat to he is a strong tackler who makes effective use of the football when he has won it.

Petr Cech

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    Okay, a second goalkeeper on the list. But as in everything there should be equal rights, and considering what a top keeper Petr Cech is he deserves recognition as a left-footed player too.

Juan Manuel Vargas

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    Capable of operating anywhere down the left flank, Juan Manuel Vargas had been one of Serie A's most exciting footballers playing outside of the league's traditional big clubs.

    First at Catania and more recently Fiorentina, Vargas' swashbuckling dribbling style and sense of adventure has endeared him to fans of both clubs.

    The Peruvian international's immediate future lies in Italy, but the man known as El Loco has also reportedly attracted interest in the past from Real Madrid and more recently Liverpool.

    If he stays in Italy or moves on, he is sure to make a continued impact.

Mesut Ozil

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    One of the talented stars heralding a bright new era for the German national team, Mesut Ozil's first season with Real Madrid seems a sure indication that here is a player more than capable of living up to the hype.

    Ozil is one of the most overtly left-footed players on this list, you can often see him shunning the easier option with his right to pass with his left.

    With his superb technique and measurement of his passes this is hardly an issue.

    Should Germany deliver on the international stage in the next few years it is hard to believe that a major reason why will not be the passing of Ozil.

    Of course is skillful and adventurous running with the ball too. But rather than look to beat a man, he will these abilities to let him find the space to make a telling pass.

    Twenty-four assists for Real Madrid last year and he is only 22, who knows what levels of creativity he will reach.

Florent Malouda

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    It took a while for Florent Malouda to adapt to Chelsea and life in the Premier League, but once he did he soon become a reliable part of one of English football's strongest sides.

    While Chelsea are a better team than given credit for, they are a side who since the Jose Mourinho era have adopted a decidedly pragmatic approach.

    Malouda more than fits in here with his willingness to track back and get into position for defensive efforts.

    The Frenchman's work ethic applies on the attacking front too, using his strength to get at opposition players with powerful running and not inconsiderable skill to beat them.

    Though he may not be the most obviously creative of players, his scoring record speaks for itself. Thirty goals in the previous two seasons in all competitions is a great return and shows why Chelsea still have need for Malouda yet.

Lukas Podolski

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    Only 26, it seems like Lukas Podolski has been around a lot longer than that.

    The German international has enjoyed some great highs, in particular with the national side, that have been tempered with the lows of his struggles at Bayern Munich and his initial struggle for form upon returning to FC Cologne.

    A strong 2010/11 season with a Bundesliga tally of 13 goals, plus steady form with Germany, suggest the signs are that Podolski might be on the verge of finding some consistency in his career.

    The talent is certainly there.

    The striker is a lively presence who can keep defenders on their toes with his sharp movement, and while he has struggled to find it with any real regularity, their is a goalscoring instinct there that if harnessed could legitimately make him one of Europe's best strikers.