Here we take a look at the best left backs ever and how they influence the Beautiful game.
The role of a full-back, be it a right or a left-back has always been vital to both attacking and defensive side of a team but recently there have been many successful teams, like the last year's Champions League finalists Bayern Munich and Liverpool, who utilize their fullbacks heavily on the attack and in more of a playmaker role. So with this interesting development in the position we thought it would be interesting to look at some of
the best left backs ever
and see who were these icons of the game.
We previously wrote about some of thebest right backs ever
and there we talked about how it’s a full-backs job to bring some needed technical flexibility and speed into the defense but also how full-backs unlock the flanks of the pitch in the attack, either by taking the initiative themselves with crosses or cutback passes or by making runs to create space for the teammates that do have the ball. But let's see what sort of abilities did the greatest left backs in football history have and how successful were they at their job?!
We start our list of the best left backs of all time with a World Cup winner, Andreas Brehme, but let’s see wo else made the list?!
Andreas Brehme who is a Kaiserslautern legend also played for several other clubs during his career includingBayern Munich
. A truly ambidextrous player, Brehme was mainly used on the left flank as either a winger, midfielder or left-back. He excelled at the left back position becoming one of the best left backs in football history mainly due to his strength and positional awareness. He was a great crosser and had superb striking ability
Brehme’s Bundesliga career started atKaiserslautern
, he then went to Bayern Munich in 1986, where he won the Bundesliga straight away and reached the final of European Cup but lost in the final. Two years later he joined Inter and won the Serie A and UEFA Cup with them. He eventually came back to Kaiserslautern and won the Cup with them but they also were relegated. Brehme opted to stay with the team and led them back to Bundesliga a year later and they went on to win the league straight away, a near impossible feat that made him a legend at the club.
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Brehme was famous for taking penalties with his right foot and free-kicks with his left, although it was not always so, which made him extremely unpredictable and it’s the reason he scored so often from set-pieces. He scored a penalty in the 1990 World Cup final against Argentina in the dying minutes of the game to make Germany World Cup champions, a feat that cemented his place among the best left backs ever in the history of the game.
Unlike many modern full-backs who are usually attacking wingers that adapt to the role and are at times poor defensively, Ashley Cole was a player who was excellent in both attacking and defensive side of the game. The speedster was one of the best tacklers of his generation and he was an excellent man marker. He was able to show this by nullifying both Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo when they came up against him, which should be enough to make him one of
the best left backs in the world ever
But Cole was so much more than that as he was a good crosser and could make really intelligent runs by learning from the likes of Henry and Bergkamp who he played alongside with atArsenal
. Coming through the ranks of Arsenal academy, Cole made his way to the first team and managed to win 2 Premier League titles and 3 FA Cups with Arsenal. He was an integral part of their defense in their
season where they won the league without losing a single match.
After reaching a Champions League final in 2006 with Arsenal, which they lost, Cole joinedChelsea
where he managed to win another Premier League as well as a Champions League. Cole’s cool-headedness as well as his exceptional positioning, became a brilliant example for attack-minded left backs to follow and because of this he will always be remembered as one of the best left backs ever as well as one of the greatest English defenders of all time.
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The Dutch international who represented Netherlands in 83 games was one of the key figures in the Total Football philosophy of the 1970s Netherlands team. Krol played forAjax
for the most of his professional career where all of his achievements at the club level were accomplished, including 6 Eredvisie titles, 4 domestic cups and more importantly 3 consecutive European Cups from 1970 to 1973.
With Netherlands Krol reached 2 World Cup finals in 1974 and 1978 World Cups but Netherlands lost on both occasions, first to West Germany in 1974 and then to Argentina in 1978. In 1974 he assisted Cruijff’s goal against Brazil and he also scored an incredible goal from near 25-yards against Argentina. In 1978 he became the captain of Netherlands where he played as a sweeper rather than a left back.
Krol could have played in any position across the back-line because of his physicality and great defending capabilities although he was mainly used as a left-back where he became one of
the best left backs of all time
. In addition to that he was also used in a sweeper role in midfield in the latter stages of his career because of his great tactical understanding of the game. A truly versatile player, Krol will go down in history as one of the best left backs ever and one of Netherlands greatest ever players.
("beautiful Antonio") for his good looks, Antonio Cabrini was a force to be reckoned with on the left hand side of the Juventus and Italy during 70s and 80s. he spent most of his career atJuventus
where he became one of only a handful of players who has won every UEFA club competition there ever was.
By winning 6 Serie A title, 2 Coppa Italia, 1 European Cup, 1 UEFA Cup, 1 UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup and 1 UEFA Supercup with Juventus, Cabrini has become one of the most decorated European footballers ever and his performances on the pitch that played a hand in all those titles has made him one of the best left backs in the world ever.
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Cabrini was a more attacking player in his youth and because of that he had incredible attacking capabilities as a left back. His attacking style of playing reinvented how a left-back was viewed in Italy. He was an excellent crosser and also possessed the ability to make intelligent runs behind opposition’s defense. He was also good in the air and possessed great striking ability which made him quite the goal-scorer as he was able to score more than 50 goals throughout his career.
Alongside Zoff, Scirea and Gentile, Cabrini made one of the best back-lines in Italy history as their defense seemed almost impregnable. With their help Italy managed to win the 1982 World Cup by knocking out the favorites Brazil. As one of
the best left backs ever
, Cabrini will be remembered for his elegance, both on and off the pitch, and how he changed the way Italians thought of the left-back role.
Bixente Lizarazu was part of one of the greatestBordeaux
teams ever, alongside Zidane and Dugarry, where he came through the youth academy and stayed with them till 1996. That team managed to reaech the UEFA Cup final in 1996 but were eventually beaten by Bayern Munich on aggregate.
Lizarazu opted to move abroad following that final and he eventually joinedBayern Munich
in 1997. It was then that things started going well for Lizarazu as he would win 6 Bundesliga titles, 5 DFB Pokals and a Champions League title in his 8 and a half year stay at Bayern. Achieving almost everything a European player could.
Lizarazu was also part of the France golden generation and helped them immensely in their first World Cup win in 1998 and then went on to feature for France again in Euro 2000 where they beat Italy in the final and became champions of Europe. He was the first player to be simultaneously European champions on both the club level and International level, after he won the Champions League with Bayern a year later.
Lizarazu’s small stature, great technique and incredible pace made him a nightmare for defenders and attackers alike as he was used to running up and down the field to help in attack or defence. He was very much an integral part in one of the greatest Bayern Munich andFrance
back-lines ever and his style of playing was picked up by Phillipp Lahm, one of football’s greatest ever fullbacks, who eventually replaced him as he got older. For the honors he achieved at both the club and the international level and for the ingenuity he brought to the game, Lizarazu will be our 6th best left back ever.
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The first Brazilian on our list is the current left-back and all-time legend of Real Madrid, Marcelo. He is possibly the most technically gifted player on our list of the best left backs ever. In the past decade he has widely been considered as the best left back in the world and it’s fitting because he represents many things that modern full-backs usually have which means he is extremely good in attack but his defensive work could at times cost his team dearly.
Marcelo who is 32 now joinedReal Madrid
when he was only 18 years old and he has stayed at Real ever since. on the club level there isn’t a trophy that Marcelo hasn’t won at least once, since he has won 22 trophies with Real Madrid. The most important of these trophies are his 5 La Liga titles as well as 4 Champions League trophies, 3 of which were back to back. Alongside Ramos, Varane and Carvajal, he has created one of the strongest back-lines in Real Madrid history which led the club to historic success.
At international level, Marcelo has a Bronze and a Silver Olympic medal from 2008 and 2012 Olympics, he has also represented his country in 2 World Cups. He is often compared to his compatriot Roberto Carlos, who is also on our list of
top left backs of all time
, and he has even been named by Carlos to be his heir. Although Marcelo is far more technically gifted than Carlos but lacks the defensive composure that Carlos had.
Despite being deployed usually as a left-back or a wing-back, Marcelo can quite often be found in the more advanced positions of the pitch. At his prime he was one of the quickest players in the world. He also has an excellent passing and crossing ability and can basically act as a second playmaker. His style of having genuine attacking prowess has helped reinvent the role of a left-back in the modern game and you’d find many left-backs that play in a similar style to Marcelo, but none could play as best as he can, and that is why he is one of the best left backs ever.
Paul Breitner was quite a controversial character in his playing days mainly because of stuff he did off the pitch but on the pitch he was one of
the best left backs in football history
who used his versatility, technique and defensive capabilities to form one of the best German back-lines ever and went on to achieve many trophies both with clubs he represented and his country.
Breitner started his career withBayern
and he soon became a regular where he managed to get a call up from the West Germany National team for the 1972 Euros. They won the competition and 2 years later they reached the World Cup final too. There, Breitner alongside Beckenbauer and Berti Vogts were able successfully defend the likes of Cruijff’s unending attacks. Breitner even managed to score in the final as Germany won 2-1 against Netherlands.
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Breitner didn’t feature for Germany until 1982 World Cup where he again helped the Germans reach the final and again scored, but this time they lost the match to Italy. Breitner is one of only four players to have scored twice in 2 different World Cup finals, the other 3 being Vava, Zidane and Pele. The fact that he was only a left back and occasionally played as a midfielder makes this achievement even more impressive.
Breitner won 7 league titles (5 with Bayern and 2 withReal Madrid
), he also won 3 domestic cups (2 with Bayern and 1 with Real Madrid) and his only European Cup came in Bayern’s shirt in 1973-74 season. Because of his leftist political affiliations, his move to Real Madrid which had ties to General Franco sparked controversy. His lavish lifestyle after the move also helped intensify the controversies surrounding him but throughout all this everyone knew he was one of the best left backs ever as his quality stayed the same.
Giacinto Facchetti is simply one of the greatest Italian players of all-time. His athleticism, pace, stamina and physicality along with his great technical ability as well as his knack for reading the opposition’s play made him a force to be reckoned with in the left back position. Facchetti was good with both his feet and could strike powerful shots. Because of this he tended to cut inside the box and take a direct shot at the goal, which was rare thing at the time for a fullback to do. He did all this for Italy national team andInter Milan
, where he spent his entire career at.
Facchetti spent 18 seasons at Inter before retiring in 1978. There, under the management of Helenio Herrera, he became a part of the famous
era and team. Facchetti alongside players like Burgnich, Suarez and the legendary Sandro Mazzolla managed to lead Inter to 4 Serie A titles and a Coppa Italia, but their crowning achievements were the back-to-back European Cups they won in 1964 and 1965.
Facchetti represented Italy in 95 games, which was a record at that time, and he captained them in 70 of them. He led his country to win the 1968 Euro, which was held in their home soil, and then in 1970 World Cup where Italy reached the final with but ended up losing to Pele’s Brazil.
Because of his elegance and leadership both on and off the field and the part he played in one of the most successful eras of both Inter Milan and Italy’s national team, he is generally considered to be one of the greatest players of all time as well as being one of the best left backs ever.
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For many football fans today, any mention of the left back role brings the image of the legendary Brazilian left back Roberto Carlos to mind. An exceptional Brazilian international, Carlos played in many clubs throughout his career but his time at Real Madrid is what he is known for, where he spent 11 highly successful seasons at, appearing in 524 matches and scoring an incredible amount of 69 goals as a left back.
Carlos started his career atPalmiras
where he stayed for 3 seasons before going to Europe andInter Milan
in 1995. After only a season at Inter he joined Real Madrid in 1996. There, as a part of
, he won 4 La Liga titles and 3 Champions League trophies, establishing himself as one of the best left backs ever and aReal Madrid
Carlos was also a highly successful international by being part of one of the greatest generations of Brazilian footballers alongside Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho. He played a vital part in Brazil reaching 2 World Cup finals in 1998 and 2002. After losing the 1998 World Cup final to France, Carlos and his teammates won against Germany in 2002 and became World Cup champions. He also won 2 Coppa Americas and one Olympic Bronze medal with Brazil.
El Hombre Bala
(the Bullet Man) for being exceptionally quick, physically strong and capable of the most powerful of shots, Carlos’ was highly attack-minded. Apart from his ability in crossing and dribbling, Carlos was also known to be one of the best tacklers of his generations. But perhaps the thing that he was known for was his infamous long range free-kicks that he used to strike with outside of his left foot. He is perhaps the best free-kick taker amongst top left backs of all time. Roberto Carlos will undoubtedly remain for years to come as one of the best left backs in football history for the way he influenced
the Beautiful Game
Our best left back ever is the legendary Paolo Maldini who is undoubtedly one of the best football players of all time. Maldini who was a complete defender excelled at every ability that a defender should possess, whether it was in the full-back position or center-back position. He spent his entire 25-year career at AC Milan and was part of several successful eras of Milan. He also enjoyed a really long career at international level with Italy, helping them reach 3 important tournament finals.
Maldini’s first appearance forMilan
was in 1984 when he was only 16 and he became a regular a year after that, but it was under Arrigo Sacchi and later Fabbio Cappelo’s management, in teams that were known as
, that he tasted club success. Maldini won an incredible 7 Serie A titles, as well as 5 Champions League titles and a Coppa Italia. Maldini holds the record for most Champions League final appearances with 8.
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At club level, Maldini won 25 trophies and there wasn’t any trophy that he didn’t at least won it several times over but at International level, despite being part of really good teams, he experienced several heartbreaks as they reached the Euro 2000 and 1994 World Cup Finals but lost on both occasions. Maldini retired from international duty in 2002.
Maldini who was naturally right-footed, played as a left-back and later in his career in center-back and is considered to be one of the best of all time in both positions. He was described by players like Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and Baggio as the best defender they ever faced. This was due to the fact that he was both physically big and strong as well as being agile and technically gifted. He was also an excellent passer and crosser of the ball. Maldini was renowned for his precise tackles but he often used his intelligence to intercept the attack before engaging in any physical contact.
Maldini is adored and respected by any football fan, even AC Milan’s rival fans, and that is because he was a true gentleman of the game, professional both on the pitch and off it. His leadership and technical prowess as a left back and his unbelievable longevity at the top of the game makes him
the best left back ever
and a true legend of the game of football.