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Top 10 right backs in the history of world football

Back in 2013, Jamie Carragher famously said that “no one wants to grow up and be Gary Neville” in a dig against right backs and their significance in football. The position has long been ridiculed as the least important on the pitch, however, this is a stance we are firmly against given the fact some of the best teams and managers in recent years have built their systems around full-backs.

While Trent-Alexander Arnold and Reece James have almost redefined the role of a right back in recent years, their emergence shouldn't be a total shock. Over the years, some incredible footballers have lined up at right-back. But, who are the top 10 right backs in the history of world football? Let's take a look.

Top 10 right backs in the history of world football
Where will Philipp Lahm rank in our top 10 right backs in the history of world football? – Photo by Icon Sport

Top 10 right backs in the history of world football – Our ranking

10. Trent Alexander-Arnold

The number ten spot is taken by Trent Alexander-Arnold who is currently one of the best crossers of a football in the world. Alexander-Arnold is a creative machine from right back and can also play in the hybrid right-back/centre-midfield role expertly.

The England right-back has been an integral part of Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool side over the past six years and despite still only being 25-year-old, he has already won the Premier League, Champions League, FA Cup and Carabao Cup. There are still question marks about his one-on-one defending and positional awareness, but he is improving and besides, his attacking output more than makes up for it.

9. Gianluca Zambrotta

Gianluca Zambrotta was one of the most consistent players in Italian football during the 90s and 00s which helped him to 100 national team caps. Zambrotta's best form came during his seven-year stint at Juventus between 1999-2006 where helped the Old Lady to back-to-back Serie A titles in 2002 and 2003 and the Champions League final in 2003. He was also a key part of the Italy squad that became World champions in 2006.

Zambrotta is regarded as the best attacking Italian full-back of all time with his relentless overlapping runs becoming a hallmark of his career. Zambrotta was also two-footed which helped him to play on the left side when needed, while defensively he was more than capable which made him a fan favourite in Italy.

8. Kyle Walker

Kyle Walker is the second Englishman on the list and the reason why Trent Alexander-Arnold isn't placed higher up. Walker has been England's first-choice right-back in a golden era of right-backs with the Manchester City man fending off the likes of Alexander-Arnold, Trippier, James and Wan-Bissaka to hold on to his shirt.

Walker started off his career as a right-back who bombed forward at every opportunity but has been converted into a more defensively-minded one under the guidance of Pep Guardiola. Walker's incredible recovery pace allows City to press high up the pitch and smother opponents and he will take some replacing when he retires or leaves the club.

Kyle Walker
Kyle Walker has been integral for Manchester City – Photo by Icon Sport

7. Gary Neville

Since becoming a pundit, Gary Neville has spent a decade telling everyone that he wasn't a very good footballer who was carried by his teammates. His modesty has fueled the myth that he was anything other than a world-class footballer and has left a young generation of fans believing he was a dud.

In reality, Neville played 602 times for a Manchester United team that dominated English football for the entirety of his time at the club. He won eight Premier League titles and two Champions Leagues and had an excellent delivery from the right flank. Defensively, Neville was as solid as they came in his pomp with his positional awareness second to none.

6. Javier Zanetti

Javier Zanetti would have made this list for longevity alone but it would be negligent to play down his ability. Zanetti could play anywhere across the backline and in midfield but played his best football at right back. The Argentinian was an ever-present for Inter Milan for nearly 20 years from 1995 to 2014 and his crowning moment came when he captained the side to the treble in 2010.

Zanetti was quite simply Mr dependable which is why every manager he played under made him the number one pick on every team sheet. Off the ball, wingers rarely got passed him and on it he was pinpoint. He amassed 858 appearances for Inter, more than anyone in history, and the number four shirt at the club has been retired in his honour.

5. Lilian Thuram

Lilian Thuram Thuram is a rare footballer in that he would be considered elite across all generations. He could have mixed it in the rough and tumble of the 1970s while he would thrive in the modern-day pass-obsessed version of the game. He is more than a top ten right-back of all time, he is a top five right-back of all time and the best French full-back of all time.

Thuram was fast, strong, powerful, tactically astute and composed. He could read the game better than anyone in his era, was impossible to dribble past and was a nightmare to wrestle off the ball. He played his best football in the late 90s and early 00s for Palermo and Juventus while he became a World Cup winner with France in 1998. Additionally, he is France's most-capped outfield player of all time.

Lilian Thuram
Lilian Thuram was a colossal defender in the late 90s and early 00s – Photo by Icon Sport

4. Carlos Alberto Torres

Carlos Alberto Torres is the first, but not the last, Brazilian to make our top ten right backs of all time. He made World Team of the 20th Century which is unsurprising when you consider how invaluable he was to the Brazilian national team in the 1960s and 70s.

He became captain of Brazil in the late 1960s and led them to World Cup glory in 1970 with the man himself scoring one of the finest World Cup final goals of all time in the 4-1 win over Italy. Carlos Alberto Torres was a leader of men and drove his team forward at every opportunity. He was an exhilarating full-back – one that would get you on the edge of your seat every time he touched the ball.

3. Philipp Lahm

Phillipp Lahm kicks off our top three with the Bayern Munich legend more than worthy of his place amongst the elite. Lahm was two-footed and could play on both sides but was most frequently used as a right-back for both club and country.

For the first half of his career, Lahm was one of the best “orthodox” right backs in the game – excellent at going forward to support his winger while being tenacious at the back. When Pep Guardiola joined Bayern Munich in 2013 he made Lahm his first “hybrid” full-back and the German took to life in midfield like a duck to water.

2. Cafu

For many people, Cafu revolutionised the right back position and made it more fashionable in the 1990s. Cafu made managers think more about the attacking threat of right backs rather than seeing them merely as extra defenders to help protect centre backs from quick wingers.

Nicknamed “Pendolino” after the country's express trains, Cafu was a dynamic and thrilling right back who possessed immense pace. He is also one of the very few footballers to have won the Champions League, the Copa Libertadores, and the World Cup.

cafu
Cafu made people look at right backs differently – Photo by Icon Sport

1. Dani Alves

Dani Alves is the most decorated football of all time with 43 trophies to his name. He is not only the best right-back of all time but one of the very best footballers that has ever lived. His attacking output was so impressive that if Lionel Messi wasn't Barcelona's right winger during his peak years then he could quite easily have become one of the best wingers of all time, too.

Alves' relationship with Messi was telepathic and freak-like and he certainly helped the Argentinian to become the best footballer of all time. Alves' best attributes were in the attacking third but his relentless work ethic and recovery pace made him a huge weapon defensively, too.


Andy Delaney

Andy is a freelance sports writer with ten years of experience covering major sporting events across Europe. He has also been a season ticket holder at Old Trafford since 2008 and has visited over 40 football stadiums in the United Kingdom and abroad following the Reds.

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