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We’re in a golden era of left-backs – with both England and Scotland blessed with a number of options at the position. Think Ben Chilwell, Kieran Trippier, Ryan Sessegnon, Aaron Cresswell as well as Kieran Tierney – only Trippier of the above doesn’t currently ply his trade in the Premier League. But who are the best ever to play the position in the top-flight?
Here we pick our top 10 Premier League left-backs of all time. We've used a number of stats 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 premierleague.com and are correct as of the publish date.
Other articles in this series:
John Arne Riise signed with Liverpool from Monaco in the summer of 2001, but it was on Sunday 4 November that year that he cemented his place in Anfield folklore with a thunderbolt free kick against Manchester United. That wasn’t the last time the Norwegian endeared himself to the Kop. His goal in the 2005 Carling Cup Final was the fastest ever at 45 seconds and his was the 54th-minute cross in Istanbul that Steven Gerrard headed home to start the improbable Champions League comeback against AC Milan.
There are a few sportsmen whose nickname sums them up perfectly – there’s Beefy, Iron Mike, Chariots, The Iceman, His Airness and Magic. Then there’s Psycho, which tells you all you need to know about Stuart Pearce as a defender. Totally nails, having come up the hard way, he worked as an electrician while playing non-league football. His left foot helped him bag 87 career goals (20 in the Premier League) but it was his glowering presence and proper old-school tackling that earned him his nickname. His manager at Nottingham Forest, Brian Clough said: "At his peak he was awesome – there is no other word for it."
The 2020/21 season saw Manchester United’s Luke Shaw finally fully rehabilitated from the Jose Mourinho era at Old Trafford. The Portuguese had it in for the youngster from the start but he blossomed under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer before breaking out last season, with 2.3 key passes per game in the Premier League. That culminated in an eye-opening performance at Euro 21, which earned him the nickname ‘Shawberto Carlos’ from teammates. “He was the best player in the tournament,” said the real Carlos. “He has to keep it up; he has to continue playing like that.”
In another era, Leighton Baines might be even more highly rated, stuck as he was behind Ashley Cole in the England pecking order. His 53 assists are more than any Premier League defender and his selection to the PFA Team of the Year in 2011/12 was the first time an Everton player had made the team since Neville Southall 21 years earlier. "I was still very keen on the basics and getting our full backs forward,” said former Everton manager David Moyes, “and in Leighton Baines we had someone to become arguably one of the biggest assist makers in the Premier League.”
"Nigel is a consummate professional and to lose a player who has dedicated 13 years of outstanding service to this club is a great loss,” said Arsenal manager of Nigel Winterburn when the 37-year-old left for West Ham in 2000. “In an age where many players are eager to move from one club to another, Nigel has shown remarkable commitment to Arsenal. Nigel is a special character.” The special character combined with Tony Adams, Lee Dixon, Steve Bould and Martin Keown in one of English football’s most formidable back fours.
Arguably Jersey’s most famous export (with apologies to Henry Cavill, Nigel Mansell and cows), intellectually, Graeme Le Saux was a cut above. He left Chelsea in 1993 to win the 1994/95 Premier League with the Blackburn side built by fellow Jersey native Jack Walker. Three years later, he’d return to Chelsea as the most expensive defender in English footballing history (£5 million). With 44 career assists to his name, he won 36 England caps and was named to the PFA Team of the Year with in 1994/95 and 1997/98.
Irishman Denis Irwin spent 11 seasons in the Premier League and didn’t win the title in just four of them (but one of them was with Wolves). “We always called him eight out of ten Denis,” said Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson in Alex Ferguson: My Autobiography. “So quick and nimble: quick-brained. Never let you down. There was never any bad publicity with him.”
Like many overseas players arriving in the Premier League, it took Frenchman Patrice Evra a little time to adjust. “He was the best left-back in the Premier League for years,” said former teammate Gary Neville, “and you never would have thought that when we saw him in those first few weeks at the club. It was a such a culture shock for him to get used to the Premier League, but he has gone on to become a great performer for United and one of the club’s most consistent players of recent years.” Five league winners’ medals is testament to that quality.
Only Leighton Baines (53) and Graeme Le Saux (44) have more than Andy Robertson’s 40 Premier League assists among left-backs. Even more remarkable is that it took Baines 420 and Le Saux 327 appearances to achieve the feat, while the Liverpool star has yet to crack 200 games. "He’s someone who shows great energy and wants to get forward at every opportunity,” says former Red Graeme Souness. “He’s as good as anyone out there at left-back right now. He’s one of those players that when you analyse him, there’s not a lot to dislike, he’s got everything to be a top, top player.”
“He has been one of the greatest players the Premier League has seen,” says eight-time league-winning defender Alan Hansen of Ashley Cole. “As a full-back for Arsenal, Chelsea and England there is nobody better in Premier League history.” And while he won two Premier League titles with Arsenal and another with Chelsea, he was ever-present for his country. Cole was capped 107 times for England, sixth-most ever, sandwiched between Bobby Moore (108) and Bobby Charlton (106). And, according to a former England boss, he’s an all-time great. “There are few players who can be considered among the very best in the world,” said Roy Hodgson, “but Ashley in his prime was the best left-back without question.”
Featured Image Credit: PA Images
Topics: Luke Shaw
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