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The 10 Best Left-Backs In History, Ranked​

Colin Hubbuck

Published 
| Last updated 

The 10 Best Left-Backs In History, Ranked​

Featured Image Credit: The best left backs in football history

While the modern full-back is expected to carry an attacking threat along with their ability to put the brakes on opposing forwards, they are by no means a new phenomenon. Many of the men on this list were roaring up the flanks before the likes of Jordi Alba and Theo Hernandez were born.  

Here we pick our top 10 left-backs of all time. We've used a number of achievements to quantify our rankings, as well as a player's overall contribution to the game in history. So who makes it into our top 10?

All stats come from www.transfermarkt.co.uk and are correct as of the publish date. If you enjoy this, read our takes on the best right-backs and strikers in the world right now and the best goalkeepers of all time.

Other articles in this series:

10) Ashley Cole

Country: England

Clubs: Arsenal, Chelsea, AS Roma, LA Galaxy, Derby County

  • 3 domestic titles
  • 1 Champions League title (European Cup)
  • 0 European Championships
  • 0 World Cups

The only Englishman to make this list, with Liverpool great Emlyn Hughes not far behind, Ashley Cole won domestic titles with both Arsenal and Chelsea as well as racking up more than 100 caps for his country. According to the late Spurs legend, Jimmy Greaves, “he is the best English full-back I have ever seen and was the best left-back in the world for several years – outstanding in defence and when going forward”.

9) Bixente Lizarazu

Country: France

Clubs: Girondins Bordeaux, Athletic Bilbao, Bayern Munich, Marseille

  • 6 domestic titles
  • 1 Champions League title (European Cup)
  • 1 European Championship
  • 1 World Cup

Standing at just 5ft 6in, Bixente Lizarazu was a Frenchman that ruled Germany for nine seasons with Bayern Munich, topping the Bundesliga six times and lifting the Champions League trophy in 2000/01. A fizzing ball of energy on the left, Lizarazu was seldom out of position and if he was, his catch-up speed usually got him out of trouble. A key part of the French national team, the Basque-born player bagged a World Cup winner’s medal in 1998 and followed up with Euro 2000 glory in Belgium/Holland.

8) Marcelo

Country: Brazil

Clubs: Fluminense, Real Madrid

  • 5 domestic titles
  • 4 Champions League titles (European Cup)
  • 0 World Cups

With 22 trophies, including four Champions Leagues, from his time at Real Madrid, Marcelo is arguably the most decorated player on this list (he won Olympic bronze (2008) and silver (2012) for Brazil too). He’s also possibly the most fun to watch with his trickery, speed and ability to beat players off the dribble. The 5ft 9in Brazilian’s attacking prowess has seen him rack up 41 goals and 101 assists in all competitions. 

7) Antonio Cabrini

Country: Italy

Clubs: Cremonese, Atalanta, Juventus, Bologna

  • 6 domestic titles
  • 1 Champions League title (European Cup)
  • 0 European Championships
  • 1 World Cup

One of a handful of players to have won all UEFA club competitions, Antonio Cabrini was switched from left-wing to left-back during his youth career. The move proved successful as he evolved into a powerful attacking player with first-class stopping ability. At Juventus and for Italy, he was part of a dominating unit that included legendary keeper Dino Zoff, Claudio Gentile and Gaetano Scirea and powered the Azzuri’s World Cup victory in 1982.

6) Nilton Santos

Country: Brazil

Clubs: Botafogo

  • 0 domestic titles
  • 0 Champions League titles (European Cup)
  • 1 Copa America
  • 2 World Cups

Double World Cup-winner Nilton Santos would have excelled in today’s game and would have fit in with the modern generation of full-backs. Just ask the man himself, “I have never envied today's players the money but the freedom they have to go forward.” His role in the 1950s’ Brazil teams was defensive in nature, in fact, his mazy, dribbling goal against Austria at the 1958 World Cup (his fourth of five World Cup squads) got him an earful from manager Vicente Feola about venturing too far forward.

5) Giacinto Facchetti

Country: Italy

Clubs: Inter Milan

  • 4 domestic titles
  • 2 Champions League titles (European Cup)
  • 1 European Championship
  • 0 World Cups

Unsurprisingly, for a player that started his career up front, Giacinto Facchetti had an eye for a goal (and an assist). Perhaps more unusually, he forged himself into a defensive rock on the left of Helenio Herrera’s Inter side. In 1963, he scored four while Inter conceded just 20 in 38 games on the way to their first title in nine years. Two seasons later, he’d find the net 12 times as his team again topped Serie A.

4) Roberto Carlos

Country: Brazil

Clubs: Uniao Sao Joao, Palmeiras, Inter Milan, Real Madrid, Fenerbahce, Corinthians, Anzhi Makhachkala, Delhi Dynamos

  • 6 domestic titles
  • 3 Champions League title (European Cup)
  • 2 Copa Americas
  • 1 World Cup

Blessed with outstanding speed, Roberto Carlos was also gifted with, as Alan Partridge might say, ‘a traction engine for a left foot’ (exhibit one: vs France at Le Tournoi in 1997). The Brazilian was the prototype for today’s offensively minded full-backs like Luke Shaw, Andy Robertson and Alphonso Davies. Carlos was a World Cup winner in 2002 and the runner-up to Real Madrid and Brazil teammate Ronaldo in the Ballon d’Or the same year.

3) Ruud Krol

Country: The Netherlands

Clubs: Ajax, Vancouver Whitecaps, Napoli, AS Cannes

  • 6 domestic titles
  • 3 Champions League titles (European Cup)
  • 0 European Championships
  • 0 World Cups

In keeping with Ajax’s ‘total football’ era, Ruud Krol could play all across the back line as well as in midfield. Able to pass with both feet and a great reader of the game, he was switched from Holland’s left-back in 1974 to sweeper at the 1978 World Cup. Krol won six Eredivisie titles and three European Cups with Ajax and finished third in Ballon d’Or voting in 1979. 

2) Paul Breitner

Country: Germany

Clubs: Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, Eintracht Branschweig

  • 7 domestic titles
  • 1 Champions League titles (European Cup)
  • 1 European Championship
  • 1 World Cup

Johann Cruyff and the ‘total football’ Dutch side of the ’70s swaggered through the group stages at the 1974 World Cup with most expecting them to lift the Jules Rimet Trophy. Instead they ran into Paul Breitner, Berti Vogts and Franz Beckenbauer of the West Germany defence that neutralised them, well, totally. Breitner was the Afro-sporting biker ‘tached left-back that equalised from the penalty spot in the Olympiastadion as the Germans emerged 2-1 winners. He’d find the net in the final as Das Mannschaft lost to Italy eight years later, putting him in the elite company of only Pelé, Vavá and Zinedine Zidane as players to score in more than one World Cup final.  

1) Paolo Maldini

Country: Italy

Clubs: AC Milan

  • 7 domestic titles
  • 5 Champions League titles (European Cup)
  • 0 European Championships
  • 0 World Cups

Il Capitano excelled wherever he played during an astonishing 25 seasons in Serie A, all with AC Milan, finishing his career on 647 appearances. That mark stood until 2020 when broken by Gianluigi Buffon. He made defending look effortless for Italy during four World Cups and three Euros between 1988 and 2002. At AC Milan, he won the Champions League five times and none other than Zlatan called him "the best and toughest defender I ever faced".

Topics: Paolo Maldini, Ashley Cole

Colin Hubbuck
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