10 Best Full-Backs in World Football Right Now
In today’s game, the role of the full-back has become pivotal to a team’s chance of success.
Often dubbed “continental full-backs,” their role involves a much more advanced and attacking position with a focus on pace, width and the constant support, and overlapping of the right and left wingers.
Although this style of wing-back has been popularized recently, its ideologies is very evident in the iconic Carlos Alberto strike from the legendary 1970’s Brazil squad, when the right-sided defender seemed to appear from nowhere to get on the end of a seemingly aimless pass from Pele.
The great Dutch team from 1974 also seemed to pave the way for the modern full-back.
Captained by the great Johan Cruyff—the conductor of a mechanism the Dutch called “total football”—the whole team attacked and defended as a unit using the full-backs as playmakers.
Such a style is still very effective and proving timeless through the play of Barcelona today.
The duty of a full-back has changed greatly from the days of Paolo Maldini when he used to patrol the left-hand side of Milan’s defense.
Back then, the full-back read the game, focused more prominently on defending, and tended to be strong in the tackle.
Perhaps it was Maldini’s move to the centre of the back four that proved the turning point for the position with the likes of Cafu and Roberto Carlos coming to show a more progressive attitude to the position in the same league.
Without a player standing head and shoulders above the others, the top five places in this top ten list are interchangeable from week to week. Some players were on the verge of making this list and just barely missed out, but deserve to be mentioned for their execution of the position.
Leighton Baines, who broke onto the EPL scene with Wigan in 2006, now holds down a regular place at left-back with Everton, winning their Players' Player of the Year for two years on the trot.
Having already earned five caps since 2010, look for Baines to become an England starter when the career of Ashley Cole winds down.
With a lot of wingers cutting their teeth at full-back these days, many have moved up the field despite being known to start in the wing-back position.
Michel Bastos of Lyon has shown impeccable skills more frequently on the left wing, but has been known to double up as a left-back for Brazil.
Similar in their transitions from midfield to defense, but not quiet ready for the top ten are Real Madrid's Marcelo, Sevilla's Jesus Navas and Manchester City's Aleksandar Kolarov.
A possibility of a breakthrough season could present itself for Micah Richards of Manchester City, whose strength and conviction has won him many fans on a domestic basis. If the right-sided defender has a good Champions League campaign, he could find himself drifting into the top ten.
A man who is now playing his football in Russia for fearless spenders FC Anzhi Makhachkala (of Samuel Eto'o fame), is a player who could be identified as the blueprint for today's continental full-back, arguably the greatest player to every campaign in the position, Roberto Carlos.
Having been able to watch the fruition of the new role of the full-back throughout their lives, young players designed to play in this role are usually very attacking-minded, as the players in the position have seemed to become, more increasingly, since the 1998 World Cup.
At Manchester United, twin brothers have been trying to stake their claim for starting positions and perhaps they would if it weren't for injuries and the extraordinary players around them. Look for Rafael and Fabio Da Silva to keep alive the rich tradition of Brazilian full-backs.
English wing-backs like Arsenal's Kieran Gibbs and Liverpool's Martin Kelly, Jon Flanagan and Jack Robinson are worth keeping an eye on. The Mersey-side men were drafted into the squad after injuries to Glen Johnson appeared to set the team back, despite the youngsters performing a lot better £20 million man.
In La Liga, Barcelona's Adriano has been further staking his claim in the defensive role this year as Dani Alves' creativity has seen him pushed further up the pitch. Talented with both feet, Adriano could prove himself to be another gem in Barcelona's European crown.
Filipe Luis of Atletico Madrid could find his way the top ten after another good season.
Breaking into the Brazilian squad last year in such a highly-competitive position is no mean feat, and with further notable performances in Europe, the half Polish/half Brazilian could become a go-to man for Mano Menezes.
10: Gianluca Zabrotta
Gianluca Zambrotta is arguably the most attacking-minded full-back in the history of Italian defenders.
Known for his running ability all over Europe, Zambrotta has played for his local side Como, before moving to Bari, then onto European goliaths Juventus, Barcelona and presently A.C Milan.
The full-back has won all-domestic honors bar the Coppa Italia in Italy, but was part of a Barcelona team that weren't as successful as today's globetrotters, only managing to secure a Super Cup.
In 2006, Zambrotta played a pivotal role in Italy's unprecedented capture of the World Cup, and was voted in various teams of the year and World Cup IXs.
However, with audiences knowing the competitive streak of Zambrotta, their is no doubt that he will be looking to add a Champions League medal to his cabinet in the closing years of his career.
Gianluca Zambrotta's achievements in football have earned him a knighthood in Italy.
9: Gael Clichy
Gael Clichy is possibly one of the world's most underrated footballers. Molded from a young age by Arsenal's Arsene Wenger, Clichy fitted seamlessly into a side that were fearing the worst due to the departure of Ashley Cole in 2006.
Although not playing a major role, Clichy's first premiership medal was won with the historic "Invicables" team of 2003-04.
Similar to his position behind Ashley Cole in the opening years of his career, Clichy has also played second fiddle to Patrice Evra for the majority of his international career, banking only 11 caps for the French national team.
Now playing his football with Manchester City—who took the high road to becoming a European powerhouse spending an average of £100 million on players a year since the new board took over—Clichy can look forward to adding to his Premier League, FA Cup and Community Shield medal.
However, tough competition is present at the club in the shape of Aleksandar Kolarov.
Gael Clichy was named in the PFA Team of the Year of 2007-08.
8: Sergio Ramos
Sergio Ramos has had amazing career already despite the Real Madrid right-back only being 25 years of age.
Breaking into the international team at the age of 18 in 2005, and transferring to Los Galacticos in the same year, Ramos has remained in the starting lineups ever since.
Ramos is mostly known for his attacking ability more so than his tackling skills. Ramos frequently puts the oppositions left-sided players under stress which leads to openings for goal-scoring opportunities.
He has been the mainstay full-back in the Spanish national team during their European Cup-winning campaign of 2008, and the World Cup-winning side of 2010.
A lot of critics do have problems with Ramos' style of play, due to his constant drawing of fouls off opposing defenders, but the Madrid full-back has a trophy cabinet that the majority of top-flight players would be envious of.
Ramos has been a part of two La Liga winning sides (2006-07 and 2008-09), and was impressive in Madrid's winning of the Copa del Rey last year. Ramos has also won the Supercopa on one occasion as well as collecting nine individual awards since 2005.
With Spain he has done it all, winning the 2008 European Cup and 2010 World Cup.
7: Javier Zanetti
Although Inter captain Javier Zanetti now plays a role in the midfield, his contribution to the game has been amazing, still playing at the top flight for European giants at 38 years of age.
Nicknamed "The Tractor" for his strength, resilience, endurance and stamina, Zanetti has earned 145 caps for Argentina as well as playing 539 times for Inter Milan.
Many Argentinians believe Maradona's failure to bring Zanetti to the 2010 World Cup was part of the reason they were so unimpressive.
The evergreen Argentinian has still yet to announce a retirement date, and much like Ryan Giggs and Clarence Seedorf, they will surely decide for themselves when the time is right to hang the boots up.
6: Eric Abidal
Eric Abidal has never really been the pick of the 11 on the field for Barcelona. However, after being diagnosed with a liver tumor in February, Abidal returned in the second leg of the Champions League semifinal against El Classico rivals Real Madrid and provided World Football with one of its most iconic moments.
To add to this, Abidal has won a ridiculous amount of silverware since his time with the Catalan superpower, and deserves credit for the somewhat unnoticed role he has played until the end of last season.
In a gesture that may have even warmed a Devil's heart in Wembley, Eric Abidal captained the Barcelona side that won this year's Champions League.
The Frenchman has one three Ligue 1 titles with Lyon as well as three French Super Cups. He then moved to Barcelona where he has lifted three La Liga trophies, one Copa del Ray, three Spanish Super Cups, two European Cups, two European Super Cups and one Club World Championship.
Abidal was also selected in the FIFA Team of the Year in 2007.
5: Ashley Cole
Ashley Cole has been in the top ten full-backs in the world for at least the last five years.
During his time at Arsenal, he was respected by all viewers of the EPL before he moved to London rivals Chelsea where he left and doubled his wages.
To add to people's frustration, "Cashley," also has a beautiful wife (Cheryl Cole) who takes him back no matter what he wants to do in spare time.
There will be a lot of people who will argue that Cole deserves a higher place on this list, and they cannot be disregarded in that opinion due to the left-back being selected in UEFA's Team of the Year of 2010 as well as being voted England's best player in 2010.
Truth be told, England were awful in 2010, and although Cole is still a quality player, there are others in World Football making a bigger contribution today.
Cole won two Premier Leagues, three FA Cups and two Community Shields at Arsenal, and one Premier League, three FA Cups, one League Cup and one Community Shield in his time at Chelsea.
The Chelsea left-back has won nine individual awards as well as holding the record of playing the most games for England (91) without scoring a goal.
Interestingly, Cole was named in the PFA Team of the Year three times between 2002-05 and has not been named since. This may highlight how the public's opinion has changed on the player since his move to Chelsea in 2006.
4: Philipp Lahm
Local man Philipp Lahm is captain of both his beloved Bayern Munich and the German national team.
Lahm, though short in stature, often has a huge influence in games, and ever since his international debut in 2004, has been key to the German way of playing.
The form team in Europe at the moment, Lahm has just captained Bayern past the most expensive team in the world—Manchester City—in a 2-0 win on their home ground. This was also the scene of the latest controversy with Argentinian striker, Carlos Tevez.
The German left-back is known for bursting into the oppositions half and checking in to cross or shoot on his preferred right foot. He is also known to be a true defender, usually playing with a style punctuated by well timed, strong challenges.
Also considered an exemplary character, Lahm has been awarded the Silbernes Lorbeerblatt by the German President on two occasions for not only his sporting contribution to Germany, but his his behavior off the field.
Lahm has won the Bundesliga on four occasions, the DFB Pokal (German Cup) on four occasions, and DFB Ligapokal on one occasion. Despite not winning any international silverware with Germany, Lahm claimed a runner-up medal at the 2008 European Cup.
Lahm has also won seven individual awards during his career.
3: Patrice Evra
Patrice Evra is a player who came from relative obscurity to becoming one of the greatest full-backs of his generation.
Signed for £5.5 million in 2006, Evra had a shaky start to his Old Trafford career before going on to lift title after title under Alex Ferguson as well as later captaining his club and his national side, France.
The Senegalese-born defender had his leadership skills tested to the hilt at the 2010 World Cup where France couldn't progress from their group stages after many believed they shouldn't have been there at all, due to Thierry Henry's memorable handball scandal against the Republic of Ireland in the qualifying stages.
Manager at the time, Domenech had dropped the French captain for the first game before bringing him back for the last two games of the group stages in which France lost both.
After leaving the World Cup, Evra was very vocal in his criticism of the international coach while apologizing for the efforts of the team.
However, Evra can be considered a perfect example of the modern day left-back. Fast, defensively sound, good in the air and strong, Evra has been crucial in Manchester United's domestic dominance and European assaults over the years.
After winning the League Cup with Monaco in 2003, Evra has gone on to win four Premier Leagues, three League Cups, four Community Shields, one European Cup and one Club World Cup with Manchester United.
He has been honored with seven recognized individual awards during his career.
Monaco must have been fairly confident of their reserve full-backs in 2006, because not only did they sell Patrice Evra to Manchester United, they sold the man who made everyone's 2010 Team of the Year in Brazilian right wing-back, Maicon.
Maicon is known for being capable of running through any back four on the planet, and for a very special gift he has with the outside of his right boot.
The Brazilian's likely to be seen eating up the entire right-hand side of a pitch before checking in, riding the byline all the way to the opposing goal, and either passing or shooting with the outside of the right boot.
This was evident in the magical goal he scored against North Korea for Brazil during the 2010 World Cup, and while many disputed if the player meant to shoot for goal, it was obvious to viewers of Serie A and the Champions League that he most certainly did.
Maicon is best known for his involvement in Inter Milan's run to winning the Champions League in 2010.
The right-back's trophy cabinet consists of medals for one Brazilian League, one Brazilian cup and two Campeonato Mineiros with Cruzeiro, four Serie A, two Coppa Italia, three Italian Super Cups, one European Cup and one Club World Cup with Inter Milan.
For Brazil, Maicon has claimed two Confederations Cup medals and two Copa America medals.
1: Dani Alves
To be the best you need to be successful, and at the moment, there is no team more successful than Barcelona.
The fiery Brazilian first appeared to audiences in Europe playing for Sevilla. Being noticed for his attacking runs down the right wing and his powerful free kicks, Alves looked like the right-sided version of Roberto Carlos.
In his days at Sevilla, Alves was part of a very spirited team who won two UEFA Cups and one Copa del Rey. When he signed on the dotted line for Barcelona for £32.5 million in 2008, it seemed every top-flight club took a sigh of discontent as it appeared he was linked with everyone.
Alves has more than held down his place in the what many critics argue to be the greatest team to have ever played the game, Guardiola's Barcelona.
Winning two state championships at in his time at Bahia, at Sevilla, Alves won two UEFA Cups, one European Super Cup, one Copa del Rey and one Spanish Super Cup.
At Barcelona, the Brazilian right-back has won three La Liga titles, one Copa del Rey, three Spanish Super Cups, two European Cups, two European Super Cups and one Club World Cup.
A proud Brazilian, Alves has one the Confederations Cup and the Copa America in the yellow shirt.
Alves has won 10 individual awards in his career, with one coming as a result of his contribution to Barcelona's double winning team of 2011.