For years a rumor has been around, that right-backs at football serve the least amount of purpose. Most of the right backs are made fun of that they couldn’t fit elsewhere on the pitch and were pushed back to one of the least significant positions on the field. We firmly believe that this is completely untrue, as every footballer serves a great purpose in the team.
Especially when it comes to right-backs in recent years, we can see a sudden surge of interest in this position, both from players' and managers' perspectives. We've seen Jürgen Klopp's Trent Alexander-Arnold and Reece James under ex-coach Frank Lampard fit a rather interesting role on the field. They would be defending the opposing side right-wingers, but when their team is in charge they will burst forward and deliver spectacular crosses for their teammates. This style seems rather unique and looks like it is here to stay.
However, today we won’t focus on the emerging talents at this role, but rather we will focus on the top 10 to ever play in the right-back position.
Top 10 right-backs
Here is how our top 10 right-backs list looks like:
- 10. Giuseppe Bergomi
- 9. Gianluca Zambrotta
- 8. Djalma Santos
- 7. Philipp Lahm
- 6. Gary Neville
- 5. Javier Zanetti
- 4. Lillian Thuram
- 3. Carlos Alberto
- 2. Dani Alves
- 1. Cafu
10. Giuseppe Bergomi
The Number 10 spot is taken by Inter Milan’s legend Giuseppe Bergomi. A star in the club’s folklore and history Bergomi spent his entire career wearing the Nerazzurri’s kit. He has featured in over 750 official matches and managed to find the net on 28 occasions, which is not all that bad for a defender.
Very intimidating looking, he did great at his job and was a vital part of Inter’s defense back in the day. He suffered from the constant success of rival club AC Milan in Italy which severely damaged his trophy collection. Despite this, Bergomi has won both the Serie A and Coppa Italia as well as the Supercoppa Italiana and the UEFA Cup.
9. Gianluca Zambrotta
Next on the list is another Italian defensive mastermind. Gianluca Zambrotta’s career began in his hometown club Como, and he later played for Bari, before settling in Carlo Ancelotti’s Juventus where he spent the biggest portion of his time as a player.
The key characteristics of this right-back include reliability and consistency. Rarely having a bad game, a manager can start the game peacefully knowing that Zambrotta is guarding the right side of the pitch. The Italian was also rather versatile and could create offensive plays, cutting through the opposition's right-wing. He was capable of shooting with both feet, which was only an advantage. Zambrotta has won Serie A with Juventus and AC Milan, but his most significant achievement was winning the World Cup with Italy in 2006.
8. Djalma Santos
Djalma Santos – a perfect example of Brazillian footballing class. Santos began his career playing as a midfielder but soon found out he fitted better at the right-back position. After changing his role in the team, he went on to become one of the greatest ever defenders. Spending the entirety of his career in his homeland Brazil, Santos has acquired a large variety of domestic honors, with several clubs.
Similar to Zambrotta though, his greatest accomplishment was winning the World Cup in 1958. The defender only featured in the final game of the tournament, but his performance was so impressive that he was named in the Best XI of the World Cup. Four years later, Santos went on to win a second World Cup with Seleção.
7. Philipp Lahm
Up next on our top 10 right-backs list is the German star, Phillip Lahm. Nicknamed the “Magic Dwarf”, because of his height and abilities, Lahm has been one of the most consistent links in Bayern Munich’s dominant displays in the 21st century. He could play as a right-back, as a center-back, and sometimes even as a defensive midfielder.
His ability to read the game and position accordingly has been one of the most important factors of his play. Dribbling, tackling, and providing precise crosses, Lahm was every coach's dream to have in a line-up. Apart from a loan spell VfB Stuttgart, the German spent his entire career with Bayern, during which he won 8 Bundesliga titles 6 DFB Pokals, and the Champions League.
6. Gary Neville
At the number 6 spot, we have yet another “One club man”. Gary Neville was a product of Manchester United's academy and become one of Sir Alex Ferguson's most trusted footballers. At the time of his retirement, he was the second-longest-serving player at the club only behind Ryan Giggs. Neville was the first choice right-back not only for Ferguson but also the English National Team, where he served for over 10 years.
Neville is one of the most honored English players, and one of the most honored right-backs. His extensive list of achievements includes 8 Premier League titles, as well as multiple FA Cups, Football League Cups, FA Community Shields, and two UEFA Champions League victories.
5. Javier Zanetti
You shouldn’t be fooled by the Italian surname, as Mr. Zanetti was actually Argentinian. Beginning his career in Argentina with clubs Talleres and later Banfield, Javier Zanetti found his way to Italy and joined Inter Milan in 1995, becoming the second Nerazzurri defender on our list.
Incredibly versatile Zanetti was capable of playing on both the left and right-wing of the defense, although he was primarily deployed as a right-back. Through his performances, the defender left a huge mark on Inter. To honor his over 850 club appearances, 615 of which in the Serie A, upon retirement Inter retired the number 4 shirt that he previously wore. Zanetti's 615 league caps make him the foreigner with the most appearances in the Italian top-flight.
4. Lillian Thuram
Extremely Competent in both the offensive and defensive aspects of the game, Lillian Thuram deserves a spot in the top 10 right-backs ranking. The Frenchmen is also the only player hailing from France that is included in our list.
Starting his career with Monaco, he was sold to Parma after spending 5 years in Ligue 1. It took another 5 years with Parma before he moved to Juventus, and later Barcelona. Physically and technically superior to most defenders at the time, Thuram was a crucial part of every team he was part of. The list of his achievements includes winning the French and Italian Cup, the Italian and Spanish Supercup, Serie A on two occasions, and also the UEFA Cup. On a national level, Thuram was part of the France team that won the 1998 World Cup and 2000 European Championship and was also a runner-up in the 2006 World Cup Final.
3. Carlos Alberto
Next on the list is another World Cup-winning Brazilian footballer. Carlos Alberto was one of the most complete right-backs during the 60s' and the 70s'. As a captain of the Brazil National Team, he guided his compatriots to a 1970 World Cup triumph. On a club level, Carlos Alberto Torres has won numerous trophies with Fluminense and Santos and was also one of the very first Brazilians to play football in the USA.
2. Dani Alves
Yet another Brazilian right-back makes it into the top 10 greatest right-backs in history. Dani Alves is not only the most decorated defender in the history of the sport but also the most decorated footballer of all time. Having won a total of 43 major trophies, spanning across 5 different clubs and the Brazil National Team, the defender is also one of the greatest ever players to touch the ball.
He will mostly be remembered for his time spent at Camp Nou. Alves was a significant part of one of the most relentless Barcelona line-ups ever. His link-up play with Lionel Messi was just out of this world and the Brazilian surely did more than just defending. He was often seen in the opponent's half of the field, creating possibilities for his teammates.
Marcos Evangelista de Morais, commonly known as Cafu, rounds up our top 10 greatest right-backs list. With him, our top 3 is actually consisting exclusively of Brazilians, which tells you a great deal about this football nation. Product of Sao Paulo’s youth academy Cafu began his senior career with the very same club.
Perhaps Cafu is responsible for the creation of the offensive defender playstyle, which we talked about in the introduction. Nicknamed “Pendolino” after the country's express trains, Cafu was a dynamic and often attacking right-back, that possessed immense pace. He spent the majority of his career in Brazil and Italy and was creating trouble on the right-wing of the pitch even at the age of 38.
Winning trophies with every club that he played for, even with his brief 16 match spell at Real Zaragoza, Cafu's trophy record adds up to 25. He is also one of the very few footballers to have won the Champions League, the Copa Libertadores, and the World Cup.