15 Best Attacking Fullbacks in World Football History

Karl Matchett@@karlmatchettFeatured ColumnistFebruary 28, 2013

15 Best Attacking Fullbacks in World Football History

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    The position of full-back used to be viewed as a somewhat murky and uninteresting role in the world of football; the position which had to sit back, be solid, distribute sensibly and, perhaps most dreadfully of all, wear the No. 2 shirt.

    No longer.

    Sweeping, rampaging, pacey counter-attacks are often led by these specimens of impressive physical and technical ability, while they also frequently hold the key to tactical switches within the overall structure of the team.

    The attacking full-back is a key element of almost any successful side, able to enter the final third and be an aid to his team without neglecting his defensive duties at the other end.

    Here are the 15 greatest attacking defenders from wide areas that the beautiful game has seen.

Roberto Carlos

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    We'll kick off with our cover boy; Roberto Carlos graced the left flank of Real Madrid's team for over a decade, providing customary lung-bursting runs down the wing while a parade of talented attacking midfielders cut infield to leave him space.

    He won 125 caps for Brazil as the mainstay of their left side of defence and is remembered for booming, audacious long-range shots and a wonder free kick against France, which he didn't repeat very often. Not for the lack of trying.

    Roberto Carlos was still in action in Europe until 2012, playing for Russian side Anzhi Makhachkala, where he is now the club's sporting director.

Javier Zanetti

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    When the "Cambridge Rules," which form the basis of governing modern day football, were drawn up in the 1800s, there's a good chance that Javier Zanetti was sitting on the committee.

    The timeless Inter Milan legend has been a pivotal part of the Nerazzurri for over 800 senior games, playing in both full-back positions along the way.

    His impressive movement and ball retention were noticeable earlier in his career, and he has since added the tactical acumen to play pretty much any position on the pitch. He turns 40 at the end of this season.

Giacinto Facchetti

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    Sticking with Inter Milan, Giacinto Facchetti was "Italy's pioneering full-back," according to FIFA.com.

    One of the most technically capable defenders, he was able to make the most of his ability on the ball going forward, thanks to the system his team used, while also being known as a thoroughbred defender.

    He won almost a century of caps for Italy, and his honours included two European Cups and four Serie A titles during his career spanning the 60s and 70s.


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    If Roberto Carlos was all about explosive pace and a thunderbolt of a left foot, Cafu on the opposite side was about relentless, unending stamina and a cultured method of playing the ball.

    Cafu played most of his senior career in Italy with Roma and AC Milan and won a record 142 caps for an outfield player at international level.

    With Cafu and Roberto Carlos playing as ultra-attacking wing-backs, Brazil dominated and won the 2002 World Cup. That was Cafu's second success in the tournament, having also been a winner in 1994.

Philipp Lahm

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    It sometimes seems as though Philipp Lahm has been around forever, but the Bayern Munich full-back is not yet 30 years old.

    Lahm started off his career on loan at Stuttgart playing at left-back, a position which he later occupied for his parent club, as well as the German national team, but most recently, he has featured for both on the right side of defence.

    Two-footed, always adventurous and capable of providing assists from set pieces, crosses or through-balls, Lahm is one of the best modern full-backs on the planet.

Ruud Krol

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    Dutch versatile defender Ruud Krol was one of the great players from one of the greatest teams.

    His on-the-ball attributes were matched by his speed and tactical know-how, an important asset in the total football sides he played in for Holland and Ajax.

    Krol won three European Cups in successive years at club level, mainly playing from either a central or a left-sided role in defence.

    Which isn't bad, considering he was right-footed.

    And that brings us nicely to our next choice...

Wim Suurbier

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    The reason that Ruud Krol did not feature on the right side of the team was that Wim Suurbier was already in place.

    Suurbier was regarded as an immovable barrier in the team, such was his level of ability (via FIFA.com): "As a right-footed player, the first hurdle he faced came in the imposing shape of Wim Suurbier, Ajax’s starting right-back and at the time generally accepted to be one of the best in the world in that role."

    Suurbier played during the 60s and 70s for Ajax before moving to Schalke, Monaco and then to the USA to end his career. While at Ajax, he won seven league titles and three European Cups.

Dani Alves

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    If Philipp Lahm is one of the greatest modern-day full-backs, then Dani Alves, of Barcelona, has to be acknowledged as another.

    Alves is one of the most attack-minded defenders in Europe right now, but his physicality, speed and selflessness ensure he doesn't ignore the defensive side of his game.

    Now age 29, Alves still has plenty of time to add to his considerable achievements already, which include 60 Brazil caps, three league titles and an impressive nine continental trophies.

Djalma Santos

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    Palmeiras right-back Djalma Santos was a natural defender, who evolved to a full-back who could contribute significantly to the attack.

    He won a whopping 98 international caps for Brazil over 16 years and won two World Cups in '58 and '62, the middle two of four consecutive tournaments which he played in.

    Djalma Santos was regarded as one of the top full-backs in the world of his time.

Ashley Cole

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    The final of our still-active full-backs on the list, Ashley Cole has represented club and country with distinction on the pitch for a decade-and-a-half.

    Cole has won exactly 100 England caps so far, with his club career split almost equally between Chelsea and Arsenal.

    A dynamic attacking left-back, Cole is known for his marauding runs into the final third, contributing to fast build-up play and the ability to attack the byline with the ball at his feet.

Nilton Santos

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    Another Brazilian, Nilton Santos is credited with bringing to the fore the idea of a full-back continually running into the opposition half of the field and contributing to the attack (via FIFA.com).

    Nilton Santos was an attacker-turned-left-back who never relinquished his love of breaking forward, and he was one of the defenders who helped revolutionise the position.

    He won two FIFA World Cups with Brazil, for whom he won 86 caps.

Phil Neal

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    Phil Neal was one of the early attacking full-backs in England, playing the role to perfection for Liverpool as he became one of the most decorated players in the country.

    Neal was a right-back who ventured forward at every opportunity, yet was nigh unbeatable in defence. He also had a habit of scoring goals for his team and was a dead-eye penalty kick taker.

    He played in and won four European Cup finals, as well as eight league championships during the 70s and 80s and won 50 caps for England.

Jose Antonio Camacho

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    Nowadays known as a top manager, Jose Antonio Camacho was a fierce-tackling left-back in his playing days who could dovetail into midfield and beyond with his excellent work-rate and stamina.

    Camacho played his entire professional career with Real Madrid, winning nine league titles, five Spanish Cups and two UEFA Cups, amassing well over 500 appearances in the process.

    He also won more than 80 caps for Spain as a regular member of their back four, before he later went on to coach the national team at the 2002 World Cup.

Carlos Alberto

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    Everybody knows Carlos Alberto's goal.

    Not only did the Brazilian score one of the greatest goals of World Cup history, he was also one of the most remarkable attacking full-backs the world has seen.

    The right-back was superb on the ball, capable of dribbling past players as easily as his more attack-based teammates and was also a top defender, a great tackler and a real leader. He was captain as he lifted the World Cup for his nation in 1970.

Bixente Lizarazu

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    French left-back Bixente Lizarazu was one of the world's top attacking full-backs during the 1990s and early 2000s, spending much of his best time at Bordeaux and Bayern Munich.

    He won close to a century of international caps and won the World Cup in '98 with France, displaying a real ability on the ball in the final third and yet being a stern defensive adversary, despite his diminutive stature.

    Five league titles and a European Cup were among his other achievements.


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