Best Right Backs Of All Time

As the ones that put the ball in the back of the net, strikers get all the glory, but the humble defender is arguably an even more essential part of “the beautiful game” as if you don’t concede goals, you can’t lose, yet they rarely get any credit, especially full-backs.

Best Right Backs Of All Time

So let’s take a moment to pay the unsung heroes of the sport their dues by counting down the best right backs to have graced the professional game!

10. Giuseppe Bergomi (Italy)

It’s hard to believe that anyone could command as much respect from their fellow players as Giuseppe Bergomi. With a daunting image and physicality, he led what was arguably one of the most infallible defensive lines in soccer (see also: Best Soccer Documentaries)history.

A one-club-man, his career comprised 758 appearances for Inter Milan, a time period punctuated by many remarkable titles and achievements, yet perhaps the best way to communicate just how good Bergomi was is to mention he was headhunted for the Italian national team at the tender age of 17.

What’s more, he had some amazing facial hair — If this was a countdown of the greatest mustaches in soccer, he would definitely have ranked at the other end of the list.

9. Gianluca Zambrotta (Italy)

Zambrotta is one of those players capable of masterfully blurring the line between defensive and offensive positions by firing off powerful runs up the right wing, a talent that has earned him the colors of three of the world’s greatest soccer teams(see also: Best Soccer Team In Mexico).

But not only has he been a pivotal player for Barcelona, Juventus, and the mighty AC Milan, he was part of the unstoppable driving force that led the Italian team to victory in the 2006 World Cup.

Racking up an impressive total of 81 caps for his country, he’s considered a national treasure and truly one of the best to ever guard the right flank.

8. Gary Neville (England)

Gary Neville, the once Manchester United captain, may have played it a little fast and loose with his slide tackles from time to time, but he is undoubtedly one of the best right-backs in history.

I mean… his accolades speak for themselves.

Over the course of his 602 matches with Man-United, the one-club-man secured eight Premier League(see also: Best Strikers In The Premier League) titles, three FA Cup wins, three FA Community Shields, two Champions League victories, two League Cups, an Intercontinental Cup, and a FIFA Club World Cup title.

These, along with his many other honors amassed over the course of his 19-year career make him one of the most decorated English/European soccer players of all time (see also: Best Chelsea Players Of All Time).

7. Djalma Santos (Brazil)

Helping Brazil clinch not one but two World Cup titles, Santos’ presence on the right-hand side of the pitch was as large as Rio’s own Christ the Redeemer.

In fact, he was so good that even though he only took to the field in the final of Brazil’s 58 World Cup effort, he was named one of the best players in the tournament and secured a permanent spot on the national team.

A dauntless figure for an attacker to come up against during an offensive, his tackles were both ruthless and precise, yet in true Brazilian fashion, his impeccable dribbling skills made him a real threat in the opposition’s half as well.

6. Lilian Thuram (France)

Lilian Thuram was strong and athletic in equal measure, allowing him to pull the often outlandish shapes he needed to dispossess an attacking opponent, and once he reclaimed the ball… He. Was. Off!

The French right-back needed no invitations to power into the opposition’s half with a lightning-fast counterattack, leaving scattered players dumbstruck in his wake.

But perhaps what truly made Thuram undoubtedly one of the best in the world was his awareness.

With an almost supernatural ability to read the game, he was always in control and rarely ever seemed to be under any legitimate pressure.

5. Philipp Lahm (Germany)

Philipp Lahm is an interesting case. Was he the most physical player? No. Was he the fastest player on the pitch? No. Yet he was feared by strikers and midfielders the world over. His secret?

Well, much like Thuram, Lahm had a forensic knowledge of the play at any given time in a match, allowing him to outsmart the opposition in critical moments during his captaincy for both Bayern Munich and the German National side, whom he led to victory in the 2014 World Cup.

His deep understanding of soccer’s spatial dynamics also meant he could slide into a number of positions and play them as if they had been his native role on the pitch since he started playing the sport, (see also: Is Soccer A Contact Sport?) which allowed for some excellent strategic managerial decisions.

4. Carlos Alberto (Brazil)

In Carlos Alberto, we have another national captain gracing our esteemed list.

Leading Brazil to victory in the 1970 World Cup, himself scoring the fourth goal of the match, it’s a small wonder why he’s such a venerated player.

Technically adept, he was a threat no matter where he was on the pitch, but defensively, he was nigh on unbeatable, and his leadership skills were unparalleled.

3. Javier Zanetti (Italy)

Not the most skillful defender on this list, Zanetti more than made up for it with his strength on the ball and his ability to create game-changing plays.

Having led the Inter Milan defense for nigh on two decades, he’s considered not just one of the best right backs ever, but the dominant club’s most iconic leader.

2. Cafu (Brazil)

Possibly the most well-rounded right back of all time, Cafu could easily have been a forward, but the fact he marshaled the back-right of the pitch didn’t seem to stop him from scoring goals.

With a veritable bazooka for a right foot, he could beat world-class keepers from angles that would make seasoned strikers shake in their cleats, yet such was his caliber as a defender and captain that he managed to lead Brazil to World Cup victory in 2002.

His silken and lucid interpretation of the traditionally maligned position made everyone reevaluate their conceptions of right back, and earned him tenure on lists of the greatest players of all time, period!

1. Dani Alves (Brazil)

Dani Alves is a truly electric player, and one of the key factors that made the then-Barcelona starting lineup the best club team in history.

Simply put, amassing 47 titles over the course of his lengthy career (he’s now 39 and still going strong), Alves is the most decorated soccer player of all time, and if you’ve ever watched him play, you wouldn’t be surprised.

Spending the majority of his time on the field deep in the opposition’s half, facing off against his left back counterparts, he is a true force of nature, with a talent for elevating his teammates with his attitude and playing style.

Google his link-up play with Messi, and you’ll see exactly what I’m talking about!

Final Thoughts

There you have it — The 10 greatest right backs of all time. While the positions of these 10 players may differ slightly from list to list, you’d be hard-pressed to find a “best right backs countdown” that doesn’t list precisely the names mentioned above.

These are the players that reinvented the position of right back, raising the bar and changing the game forever.

Adrian Turner
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