Although the right back position may have changed considerably over time, the best right backs ever all share similar attributes and they are all undoubtedly the legends of the game
The best right backs in football history know the importance of positional balance of the team. They have to contribute to their teams’ attack as well as be sound defensively, knowing that they can easily be caught out of position and leave their teams completely vulnerable.
By having an incredible stamina to run the pitch constantly to make tackles, mark attackers and create chances, the best right backs in football have made the right back role one of the most important roles in football and these 10 world class right backs, listed below, not only excelled in that role but helped evolve the position to what it is today.
So many legends of football played in the right back position, so much so that this list was one of the hardest that we have ever made, with so many great players like Brazil’s Legendary Carlos Alberto missing an appearance on the list. So if O Capitao didn’t make it, then who did?! Let’s Find out:
The Internazionale legend, Giuseppe Bergomi is one of the most versatile players on this list, having played as both the right and left back, center back and also sometimes as a sweeper. At the club level he played for Inter his whole career and held the record for most appearances for the club for some time. He won both the Serie A and Coppa Italia once and he also won the UEFA cup 3 times.
Primarily a right back, Bergomi was known for his aggressiveness, stamina and hardworking mentality. He was the perfect stopper since he was very good at man marking. Bergomi’s timing in regards to defensive challenges was sensational which, along with his man marking ability, made him almost as good as a center back as he was in right back.
His crossing ability, speed and a right foot that was capable of powerful shots made him one of the best right backs ever. Because of these attributes, he often made goal contributions when he was deployed as a right back, helping Italy and Inter score as well as not conceding many goals.
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Lilian Thuram is the only Frenchman to appear on this list and rightfully so, since amongst all the French footballers he is the best right back ever. Being part of the France’s Golden Generation, Thuram helped the Les Bleus win the 1998 World Cup and the Euro 2000, whilst being an integral part for France in both tournaments. He was also named French footballer of the year in 1997. Thuram was later part of the France team that lost the 2006 World Cup final.
His club career was mostly spent in Italy, At Parma and later Juventus, but his career started and finished outside Italy, starting in Monaco and finishing at Barcelona. He won the Serie A twice with Juventus and also won the domestic cup whilst playing for Parma, Juventus, Monaco and Barcelona.
He is perhaps the most aggressive player on this list (and that’s saying a lot!). His towering stature as well as his incredible stamina, speed and big physique made him a nightmare for opposition attackers. He could also read the game and predict opponent’s moves really well, which is another must-have attribute for a world class right back.
Thuram was used as a central defender in the latter stages of his career in which he performed exceptionally well and arguably became one of the best center backs of that era. But the fact remains that his best position, in regards to his abilities, was the right back and he helped his teams achieve greatness by playing in that position, cementing his name as one of the best right backs of all time.
Gianluca Zambrotta was one of the best players of his generation and he certainly was one of the best right backs ever. He played for several clubs during his career, the most important amongst them being Juventus, Barcelona and Milan, where he won several honors including 3 Serie A titles (2 with Juventus and 1 with Milan) and multiple domestic cups with Juventus, AC Milan and Barcelona.
Zambrotta was perhaps one the most versatile players ever. Even though he was naturally right footed, he could play with both his feet just as easily, which made him able to play both as a left back and right back. He was also deployed as a right or a left winger and sometimes even in a central midfield position. All of which speak volumes about his versatility as a player.
His main attributes were his pace and stamina as well as his man marking ability allowing him to close in on the attackers and retrieve the ball quickly. He was also tremendous going forward, making excellent runs and inch perfect crosses. He had great technique when striking the ball resulting in a number of beautiful goals which is typically not expected of right backs.
Perhaps the crown achievement of his career was winning the 2006 World Cup. Zambrotta was an integral part of that Italy team as they went on to beat France in a dramatic final. He was also featured in the team of the tournament, making him one of the best right backs ever in recent memory.
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Liverpool is no stranger to having world class right backs, having the likes of Alexander Arnold as a right back who is slowly becoming one of the best right backs ever. But the story of Phil Neal is something that footballers playing today couldn’t even dream of repeating.
Much of the early and latter stages of his career came at the lower levels of English football, mostly in Third and Fourth Divisions but he spent 11 years at Liverpool and there, he won everything.
Going from the Fourth Division side of Northampton Town to Liverpool, he achieved his dreams by winning the English top-flight 8 times as well as winning four League Cups, five FA Charity Shields, four European Cups (now known as the Champions League), one UEFA Cup and one UEFA Super Cup. This amount of dizzying accomplishments at the club level make him one of the most decorated English players of all time.
As a right back, Phil Neal was attack minded, which earned him the nickname Zico after the legendary Brazilian player. He tended to drift to the middle of the park, shooting from that position or passing a through ball into opposition’s defense. He was also a great penalty-kick taker which resulted in him scoring over 40 goals for Liverpool in the league. He is a great example of a world class right back that creates or score goals by any means they can, to help their team achieve victory.
Perhaps one of the more defensive right backs on this list, Berti Vogts is certainly one of the best German players of all time. He played for Borussia Mönchengladbach for the entirety of his career and Apart from winning the world cup with West Germany once and becoming 3rd another time, He was part of the Golden Years of Borussia Mönchengladbach, winning 5 Bundesliga titles, 1 DFB-Pokal and 2 UEFA Cups with them. He appeared in 526 games in all competitions for the Gladbach and scored 42 goals, which is an incredible amount for a right back.
Nicknamed “Der Terrier” for being relentless in defense, he is famous for man marking Johan Cruyff in the final of 1974 World Cup and helping Germany in a big way in their World Cup victory. He was Cruyff’s shadow the entire game and practically nullified the Dutch side’s most important player, who was also one of the best players of that time.
Apart from his achievements with both Germany and Gladbach, Vogts’ individual achievements are quite spectacular as well. He has been named Germany’s player of the year twice and appeared in both 1974 and 1978 World Cup teams of the tournament, as well as being in the Bundesliga team of the year 9 times.
Some would say that Berti Vogts’ achievments were overshadowed by his performance in the World Cup final but his consistency of playing at the high level, in that World Cup final as well as any other tournament that he played in, is what makes him one of the best football right backs of all time.
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When it comes to the evolution of right backs throughout football's history, Djalma Santos’ name is one of the first that comes up. The Brazilian legend played in 4 consecutive World Cups, representing Brazil from the 1954 World Cup all the way to the 1966 World Cup and winning the competition twice. Alongside Philipp Lahm and Franz Beckenbauer, he is one of only 3 players that were selected for the World Cup Team of the Tournament in 3 World Cup tournaments.
His club career was at 3 different clubs but most of his career was spend at Purteguesa and Palmeiras, playing more than 400 games for each club. Originally a Midfield player he was later played in the fullback position. There, he utilized his skills and his physique in the best possible, looking composed and quick to react and challenge the opposition.
Santos was the first player credited to revolutionizing the right back position. After the 4 defense systems, like 4-2-4, became prevalent in football, Fullbacks didnt change that much and were still quite defensive, even though they were played on the flanks but Santos came and changed that
Santos was very good on the ball and possessed great technique, he would often venture forward and was one of the first right backs to make overlapping runs, changing the way that full backs were thought of. By taking full advantage of his pace and good build, Santos was a hard man to pass, earning him the nickname Muralha or the Wall. Many of the best right backs in football history, including the players on this list, tried to emulate or improve upon the way Djalma Santos played and because of that his name is ever-present in any best right backs ever discussion.
Being one of the most decorated football players of all time, Dani Alves is the epitome of the modern right-back. He was part of Pep Guardiola’s famous Barcelona side and helped them win numerous titles, including 6 La Liga titles, 4 Copa Del Rey and 3 Champions League titles. He later went on to play for Juventus and PSG where he won the Ligue 1, twice and the Serie A, once, as well as winning the domestic cup once with each team.
Individually, as recently as 2019 he won the Copa América Most Valuable Player award. But apart from his achievements, his qualities and his style of playing as a right back is why he is considered to be one of the best right backs ever. Alves himself, describes his style of playing as a “Number 10 who plays as a right back”, which speaks to his desire of playing intelligently rather than just running aimlessly on the right flank.
If a good passer, Like Iniesta, Xavi or Verrati, has the ball then Alves makes an overlapping run so he could receive the ball on the right attacking zones, where he can cross or cut back the ball. Other than that he tends to go centrally, rather than being on the right, where he could pass some through balls to the attackers.
Dani Alves’ many skills and attributes, like his dribbling, speed, stamina and tackling, makes him one of the best right backs of all time but his passing ability can be surpassed by none other on this list. Being a student of tiki taka, Alves Learned from some of the best creative footballers in history and that is why he is so high among the best right backs ever.
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During his career, Zanetti played in both the right back and the left back positions as well as playing in the defensive midfielder role, and he can be considered to be amongst best of all time in any of those positions. He embodies almost everything that a world class right back must have. From working tirelessly on the flanks, always running the length of the field for attack or defense, to being a good man marker and a good reader of the game.
Javier Zanetti played an incredible 1,114 games (858 for Internazionale) in his career and those who remember his final years as a player know that he never seemed to tire, earning his nickname as El Tractor. He was especially deadly in attack, being perhaps the most proficient dribbler among the best right backs ever on this list. He has a record of 16 completed dribbles in a single match of Champions League which is only equaled by Messi and Neymar, two of the best dribblers of all time, which is just an incredible record for a right back to have.
Although he played over 140 games for his country, Zanetti’s major achievements came while playing for Internazionale. After transferring from Banfield to Internazionale in 1995, he went on to stay at the club for 19 years, retiring at the age of 41. It takes an incredible amount of talent and hard work to play at that top level for so many years not to mention captaining your club to Champions League glory at the age of 37!
He won 16 major trophies with Internazionale, including 5 Serie A titles, 4 Coppa Italia and 1 Champions League title that came at the end of a treble-winning season. His commitment to the game and the shear amount of talent that he possessed is why he is one of the best right backs of all time.
Nicknamed the “Magic Dwarf” because of his height and stature, Philipp Lahm is another German on this list but he is certainly the best right back ever in Germany’s history. Lahm won it all with club and country, achieving both individual and team success.
At Bayern he won 8 Bundesliga titles and 6 DFB-Pokal as well as winning the 2012-2013 Champions League and with Germany, he and his team became 3rd both in 2006 and 2010 World Cups until they won it in 2014. He played in three World Cups and was part of the Team of Tournament every time as well as being in UEFA Team of the Year for 5 times. It would take an entire article to list every achievement of Philipp Lahm’s long career so we better move on to talking about his qualities as a right back.
Lahm was quick, made precise tackles, had an incredible stamina and he could be as graceful as a midfielder with the ball at his feet but perhaps his most important attribute was his intelligence. Being tactically intelligent, Lahm knew how to read the game and when to make his runs and challenges.
Despite his small stature, his intelligence gave him the edge to man mark even the best attackers, knowing when to shadow them and when to make tackles. Lahm was ambidextrous, capable of playing on both sides of the pitch as a full back. In attack he was capable of great overlapping runs and good crosses but he had a tendency to cut inside the middle of the pitch to take a shot or make a pass.
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Because of his qualities on the pitch and his incredible sportsmanship and hardworking attitude Philip Lahm has influenced the full backs that are playing today greatly. As a result, he will be the standard of being among the best right backs in the world.
For many football fans, upon hearing the term right back the first name that comes to mind is the Brazilian Cafu. He represented his country in 4 consecutive World cup tournaments from 1994 to 2006 and alongside Ronaldo, he is one of only two players who have appeared in 3 World Cup finals, winning 2 of them in 1994 and 2002, the latter of which he won as a captain. Cafu is considered by many to be one of the best right backs in football history, and he is our choice of the Best Right Back Ever.
As a right back, Cafu was an incredible opponent, both for attackers and opposition defenders, constantly running up and down the pitch, making tackles, passes, dribbles and crosses. Although these are the qualities that many of the best right backs in football share, Cafu just simply did it better, adding a touch of class to everything he did as a right back.
Going forward, he could dribble as good as any Brazilian winger, if not better, as he danced the samba on the football pitch. His speed allowed him to leave players in the dust, earning him the nickname Pandolino (Train), and whenever he reached the forwards positions on the right flank, he would always consider his cross options, choosing the best one, which was often the case with Cafu’s artful crosses.
After moving to Serie A side Roma at the age of 27, he soon raised the bar of what was demanded from a world class right back and helped one of the best AS Roma teams ever to win the Serie A after a long time, a feat they haven’t repeated since. Cafu later went to AC Milan where, alongside Maldini, Nesta and Staam, he formed arguably one of the best backlines in football history. He won the Serie A twice with Milan and later went on to win the Champions League. he retired in 2008, having won everything in football while redefining the right back role forever.