Marcelo 8th, Roberto Carlos 4th, Paul Breitner 2nd … the 10 best left-backs in history


While the modern full-back is expected to represent an offensive threat and be able to curb opposing attackers, it is by no means a new phenomenon.

Most of the men on this list played sideways before Jordi Alba and Theo Hernandez were born.

Here we bring you our 10 best left-backs of all time. We used a number of achievements to quantify our rankings, as well as a player’s overall contribution to the game in history. So who is in our top 10?

All statistics are taken from www.transfermarkt.co.uk and are correct as of the date posted. If you liked this article, also read our reviews of the best full-backs and forwards in the world today and the best goalkeepers of all time.

Other articles in this series:

The 10 best center-backs of all time, ranked in order of importance.
10) Ashley Cole
Country: england

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

3 national titles
1 title in the Champions League (European Cup)
0 European Championship
0 World Cup
Ashley Cole is the only Englishman to make this list, with Liverpool’s great Emlyn Hughes not far behind. He has won national titles with Arsenal and Chelsea and has been selected for the national team more than 100 times. According to 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 defense and attack ».

9) Bixente Lizarazu
Country: France

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

6 national titles
1 title in the Champions League (European Cup)
1 European championship
1 World Cup
Standing tall, Bixente Lizarazu is a Frenchman who ruled Germany for nine seasons with Bayern Munich, winning the Bundesliga and Champions League six times in 2000/01. A bubbly ball of energy on his left side, Lizarazu was rarely out of position and if he was, his catching speed usually got him out of trouble. Centerpiece of the France team, the Basque won the World Cup in 1998 and Euro 2000 in Belgium / Holland.

8) Marcelo
Country: Brazil

Clubs: Fluminense, Real Madrid

5 national titles
4 titles in the Champions League (European Cup)
0 World Cup
With 22 trophies, including four Champions Leagues, won during his time at Real Madrid, Marcelo is arguably the most decorated player on this list (he also won Olympic bronze (2008) and silver (2012) for Brasil). He’s also probably the most fun to watch with his cunning, speed, and ability to beat players with dribbling. The offensive prowess of the 1m80 Brazilian allowed him to score 41 goals and deliver 101 assists in all competitions.

7) Antonio Cabrini
Country: Italy

Clubs: Cremonese, Atalanta, Juventus, Bologna

6 national titles
1 title in the Champions League (European Cup)
0 European Championship
1 World Cup
Antonio Cabrini, one of the few players to have won all UEFA club competitions, moved from left wing to left-back during his youth career. This change proved to be fruitful, as he became a powerful offensive player with an excellent sense of goal. At Juventus and Italy he was part of a dominant unit comprising legendary goalkeeper Dino Zoff, Claudio Gentile and Gaetano Scirea and was instrumental in the Azzuri’s victory at the 1982 World Cup.

6) Nilton Santos
Country: Brazil

Clubs: Botafogo

0 national title
0 Champions League (European Cup)
1 Copa America
2 World Cups
Two-time World Cup winner Nilton Santos would have excelled in today’s game and found his place in the current generation of full-backs. Just ask the man himself, « I never envied today’s players the money, but the freedom they have to move forward. » His role with Brazilian teams in the 1950s was defensive in nature, and his dribbling goal against Austria at the 1958 World Cup (his fourth out of five World Cup appearances) earned him a remonstrance of manager Vicente Feola for venturing too far forward.

5) Giacinto Facchetti
Country: Italy

Clubs: Inter Milan

4 national titles
2 Champions Leagues (European Cup)
1 European championship
0 World Cup

Unsurprisingly, for a player who started his career up front, Giacinto Facchetti had his eye for a goal (and an assist). Perhaps more unusual, he forged a defensive rock on the left of Helenio Herrera’s side. In 1963 he scored four goals and Inter conceded just 20 in 38 appearances, which saw him win their first title in nine years. Two seasons later, he found the net 12 times and his team were once again at the top of Serie A.

4) Roberto Carlos
Country: Brazil

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

6 national titles
3 Champions League titles (European Cup)
2 Copa Americas
1 World Cup
Endowed with exceptional speed, Roberto Carlos was also equipped, as Alan Partridge would say, with a “traction motor for the left foot” (example: against France in the 1997 Tournament). The Brazilian was the prototype of today’s attacking full-backs like Luke Shaw, Andy Robertson and Alphonso Davies. Carlos won the World Cup in 2002 and finished second in the Ballon d’Or the same year, behind his Real Madrid and Brazil teammate Ronaldo.

3) Ruud Krol
Country: Netherlands

Clubs: Ajax, Vancouver Whitecaps, Naples, AS Cannes

6 national titles
3 Champions Leagues (European Cup)
0 European Championship
0 World Cup
In keeping with Ajax’s era of ‘total football’, Ruud Krol could play all over the back line as well as in midfield. Able to move from two feet and a great reader of the game, he went from Holland’s left-back position in 1974 to that of sweeper at the 1978 World Cup. Krol won six Eredivisie titles and three Cups. ‘Europe with Ajax and finished third in the Ballon d’Or vote in 1979.

2) Paul Breitner
Country: germany

Clubs: Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, Eintracht Branschweig

7 national titles
1 Champions League (European Cup)
1 European championship
1 World Cup
Johann Cruyff and the Dutch ‘total football’ team of the 1970s made it through the group stages of the 1974 World Cup with most people expecting them to lift the Jules Rimet Trophy. Instead, they come up against Paul Breitner, Berti Vogts and Franz Beckenbauer from the West German Defense who neutralize them, well, totally. Breitner is the Afro-sporting left-back who equalizes from the penalty spot at the Olympiastadion and allows the Germans to win 2-1. He would find his way to the net in the final as the Mannschaft lost to Italy eight years later, which placed him among the elite of players who have scored in more than one World Cup final, in the like Pelé, Vavá and Zinedine Zidane.

1) Paolo Maldini
Country: Italy

Clubs: AC Milan

7 national titles
5 Champions Leagues (European Cup)
0 European Championship
0 World Cup
Il Capitano has excelled wherever he has gone in his 25 Serie A seasons, all with AC Milan, ending his career with 647 appearances. This mark remained in effect until 2020, when it was defeated by Gianluigi Buffon. He made Italy’s defense look effortless for 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’s. called it « the best and toughest defender I’ve ever faced. »



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