Best Premier League Left-Backs Ever
It was once thought that the full-back was the least important position in football. Caught between not being an out-and-out center back and unsure over its attacking possibilities, the full-back was marginalized and labelled as insignificant.
Players with technical skill were upgraded to central midfield, those with strength and presence were edged slightly sideways to center back, while players with pace and quick feet were presumed fit to play as wingers.
Once upon a time it was thought that those players filling the role of right and left-back were lacking in upper body strength, couldn’t read the game well enough to play central midfield and simply didn’t have the maneuverability of a modern-day winger.
Through the modern tactical overhaul that we have been witness to in recent decades, every position now has a distinctive role to play. No one is marginalized and no one can be deemed a bystander. So in today’s modern football, left-back is one of the most important positions in each team’s tactics. In this article, we will take a look at best Premier League left-backs ever, so we suggest you stay tuned and read on about some of your favorite defenders.
Premier League best left-backs of all time
Did you know that one of the players of our list of best Premier League left-backs ever has played for two of the English giant clubs and is recognized as a legend of those clubs amongst football fans all over the world? He is also one of the England national team defenders with most caps and a legend at the national level. Stay with us to find out who we are talking about and read about premier league best left-backs of all time.
10- John O’Shea
Number 10 in our list of best Premier League left-backs ever, we have a legendary defender from Ireland. Born in Waterford, Ireland, John O'Shea started his early club football journey at Ferrybank AFC before transferring to Waterford Bohemians, his local team. After mastering his skills and impressing everyone very rapidly, O'Shea made a move to England for Manchester United.
It was a big move at the young age of just 17, but one which turned to be very fruitful for the enthusiastic defender. Having signed professional contract with the Man United in 1999, John O'Shea made his professional debut for them in October of 1999 in the League Cup match against Aston Villa, a 3-0 victory in Villa Park.
He served his loan periods at Royal Antwerp and Bournemouth before setting up himself in the first team in Manchester United, playing at over 400 games in all tournaments and competitions over 10 years. John O'Shea won 15 trophies in the Manchester United, namely 5 Premier League trophies, three Football League Cups, one FA Cup, one UEFA Champions League and also the FIFA Club World Championship.
He also made his Republic of Ireland National Team debut versus Croatia in 2001 and has since made more than 100 appearances for the National Team, scoring 3 goals, which he scored his first Ireland goal against Australia in 2003. O'Shea was part of the squad that famously lost against France in the 2010 FIFA World Cup play-offs. He has also participated for his national team in UEFA Euro 2012 and UEFA Euro 2016 respectively.
Stay tuned to read more about best left-backs in EPL of all time.
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9- Celestine Babayaro
Celestine Babayaro, number 9 in our list of best Premier League left-backs ever, is a Nigerian retired footballer who played as a left-back defender. He was born in Kaduna, Nigeria on 29 August 1978. He is the brother of goalkeeper Emmanuel Babayaro, who had also been a part of Nigeria's gold medal-winning team at the 1996 Olympics.
Before transferring to Belgian team Anderlecht in 1994, he started his career as a player at Nigerian side Plateau United. Babayaro was commonly regarded alongside Taribo West as the greatest Nigerian full back ever.
In December 1997, in the English Premier League, he had a knee injury but returned only in time to make the Nigeria's France 98 team. He also was the captain of Nigeria at the 2000 Sydney Summer Olympics and participated in the 2002 FIFA World Cup at Korea and Japan.
He also played professionally for the elite football clubs in Europe and North America. After being discovered by scout Lewis Durkin, he was recruited by Chelsea in 1997 and after some great season at the London club, he left Chelsea in January 2005 to join Newcastle United for an undisclosed fee, where he formed himself as the first choice left-back at the club. Babayaro signed a contract with the Los Angeles Galaxy on 21 January 2008 to play for them on a three-year deal.
He has won the Belgian Young Professional Footballer of the Year in 1994–95 and 1995-96 seasons during her first years while performing outside Nigeria. Number 9 in our list of premier league best left-backs of all time, publicly declared his retirement from football on 8 July 2010.
8- John Arne Riise
John Arne Riise is one of the former Liverpool players in our list of best Premier League left-backs of all time. During a seven-year tenure with Liverpool through the Houllier and Benitez times, left-back John Arne Riise played in well over 300 plays for the club. In June 2001, previously having starred for Aalesunds FK and Monaco, the Norwegian defender, who was renowned for his ferocious shots, decided to join Liverpool for around £ 4 million.
His first appearance for the club came in the Charity Shield match against Man United on August 12, and that was three months later against Red Devils that the Norwegian defender secured a spot in the heart of any Liverpool fan. From that match until the end of his career in Anfield, Kop sang, "John Arne Riise, ooh ah, I want to know how you scored that goal."
When Rafa Benitez era started in 2004, the Norwegian left-back, who also could play at left-midfield, remained a first-team player for the club. In the 2005 Carling Cup Finals, he scored a goal against Chelsea with a 45-second volley, which is the fastest goal in Carling Cup history.
Riise gave Steven Gerrard the cross in the 2005 Champions League finals versus AC Milan on 54 minutes - which contributed to the biggest comeback we have ever seen in European football history. In June 2008, Riise, one of the greatest left-backs in premier league history was sold to the Italian club AS Roma.
7- Graeme Le Saux
Born on 17 October 1968, Graeme Pierre Le Saux is a former professional English footballer with French origins and one of the best left-backs of the Premier League era. He first started playing as a left-winger, mostly wearing the number 7 jersey in his first Chelsea period, ultimately just becoming a left-back for the Blues, Blackburn Rovers and Southampton, and also the national team of England in a career that lasted between 1989 and 2005.
He migrated to England after starting to play in Jersey and played his first game in 1989 for Chelsea. In 1993, he left London club to join the Blackburn side established by Jack Walker, a wealthy benefactor, and he was part of their dominant Premier League team during the 1994-95 season.
He moved back to Chelsea in 1997, where he remained there for six seasons before he transferred to Southampton in 2003. Since Southampton's relegation from the Premier League in 2005, he declared his retirement from professional football. In 2012, he opted out of retirement by agreeing with Wembley to feature in the club's FA Cup matches.
He netted 20 goals out of 403 club games throughout his club playing career. He was twice elected to the Professional Footballers' Association Team of the Year in 1995 and 1998 with Blackburn and Chelsea respectively. His move to Chelsea in 1997, with a £ 5 million transfer fee, made him English football's most expensive defender at the time.
Graeme Le Saux, one of the best left-backs in EPL of all time, has been capped 36 times for England national team. In a friendly victory over Denmark, he debuted and later played in the 1998 World Cup, featuring in every match as England made it to the second round. He was injured for Euro 96 and Euro 2000 and thus missed those tournaments. On 11 June 1995, Le Saux's only international goal was scored in the Umbro Cup versus Brazil, with a strong shot from outside the penalty box.
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6- Leighton Baines
Leighton Baines, one of the best premier league left-backs ever, won delight after delight in his 15-year career through English Premier League as a left-back who truly was one of the best of his generation, and many believe that he could've achieved more in his professional career. He began his journey as a winger, taking with him his attacking abilities as he grew into a defender over time.
The Everton left-back was just as capable of sending a perfect cross as he was at making a sledgehammer tackle, he was also a dead-ball expert who did play with intense passion. The FA Cup silver medal in 2009 was the nearest he came to a major award, but his reputation exceeds his trophy-haul standing. It was a real shame that when he retired at the end of the 2019-20 season, Everton supporters did had a chance to say farewell to him.
Some people believe that if Leighton Baines had played for one of the larger clubs in EPL and won more trophies he would have been closer to Ashley Cole in our list of best premier league left-backs ever. The hardworking English footballer won the PFA Team of the Year award for two consecutive years in 2011/12 and 2012/13 EPL seasons.
5- Nigel Winterburn
There are many more dynamic powers in this list of best premier league left-backs ever, but perhaps none greater than Nigel Winterburn when it comes to defensive responsibilities. Ex Arsenal left-back Nigel Winterburn appeared at more than 400 matches for the Gunners. He assisted North London club to win the 1997/98 Premier League trophy and two FA Cups. He has also crowned the Football League First Division twice, which was the top tier division in English football before the EPL.
If his career has not grazed the old eras of the First Division and early Premier League, he would definitely have placed higher on our list. Of his total 687 career league matches, he has played 383 matches in Premier League, which 36 of those matches were in 1997-98 season which he won the EPL with Arsenal.
He also had some good and successful days with George Graham's team during his professional career, but it was stylistically different from Arsene Wenger's cultivated Arsenal. Along with Steve Bould, Lee Dixon, Martin Keown and Tony Adams, Winterburn was one of the strongest and most competent defenders in the history of English top tier football and without a doubt, is amongst the best left-backs in EPL history.
Stay tuned to read more about some of the greatest left-backs in premier league history.
4- Stuart Pearce
Stuart Pearce is one of the toughest defenders in England; a hard-tackling, no-nonsense left-back with a marvelous left foot that led him to score 87 goals during his professional career. A hero of Nottingham Forest, Pearce who is one of the best left-backs of the Premier League era will forever be recognized for two penalties; his saved attempt in 1990 World Cup in Italy and his eventual revenge in Euro '96.
Stuart Pearce, dubbed "Psycho" for his insane attitude on the pitch, helped Nottingham Forest get out of relegation zone in the 1994/95 season to eventually finish third in the Premier League. A year later, the team reached the UEFA Cup quarter-finals.
Overall, Stuart Pearce played over 700 appearances for Nottingham Forest, won the League Cup on two occasions, and was elected five times to the PFA First Division Team of the Year.
Pearce, one of the best premier league left-backs ever, became an amazement figure at Nottingham Forest under the mentorship of Brian Clough, a disposition he would later carry with him to other clubs he played in including Manchester City, West Ham, and Newcastle United. "Perhaps Psycho's best praise came from Roy Keane who said: "I was looking at Stuart Pearce, like, 'yeah, so that's what you have to be a fantastic player.'
Now get ready to discover the top three best left-backs in EPL of all time.
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3- Denis Irwin
The calling cards of all of the best left-backs in football history are impulsivity and lavishness. Denis Irwin does not really suit the bill at face value. But a lifetime of consistent reliability has converted this unpretentious personality into your favorite defender.
Irwin's career started from the pre-Premier League period, like one or two other players on this list of greatest left-backs in premier league history. In fact, before joining Manchester United in 1990, he played the first seven years of his football career with Leeds United and Oldham Athletic in the Second Tier It was an apprenticeship that for his days at the top level placed him in good stead.
His play had a gritty charm. Denis Irwin has won 7 Premier League trophies with Manchester United, he is one of the few Manchester United footballers to play 500 matches for the club and surely one of the best premier league left-backs ever.
2- Patrice Evra
For his wisdom, composure, and speed, Patrice Evra was once deemed the greatest left-back in the world, assisting Manchester United to win five Premier League trophies and a Champions League title.
As Evra joined Man United for the first time, he allegedly asked Gary Neville for directions to the closest church. Neville answered him, but then he wondered why. He chuckled and then said that he wanted to thank God for allowing him to join the world's biggest and best football club."
His true feelings of love for the club is what got Evra so famous. He had a very deep urge to grasp his identity and discover more about United.
Although his feelings for the club definitely grew his credibility among the Man United fans, it should not be ignored that Patrice Evra was for a time the best left-back in the English Premier League, if not Europe. When you know that he had Ashley Cole to compete with at his best that is an incredible feat.
He was selected in the Professional Footballers' Association Team of the Season for three consecutive years in 2007, 2009 and 2010, and also the UEFA Team of the Year and the FIFA World XI Team in 2009. Patrice Evra is without a doubt one of the best left-backs of the Premier League era.
Now, get ready for the best left-back in EPL history!
1- Ashley Cole
Number 1 in SportMob’s list of best premier league left-backs ever is Ashley Cole. Regarded by many to be the best left-back in the world in his days at Chelsea, he has won four FA Cups, a Premier League, a League Cup, a Europa League Cup, and a Champions League with Chelsea. He has also won two Premier League trophies and four FA Cup titles while an Arsenal player.
Amidst being incredibly unpopular with the large majority of football supporters, Ashley Cole is now commonly regarded as the greatest left-back in the history of the Premier League.
The 107 cap England National Team player began his career at Arsenal and was part of the famed Invincibles team that went undefeated on the way to the 2004 Premier League win. Since losing the 2006 Champions League final versus Barcelona, the ambitious left-back controversially chose to transfer to Arsenal's rivals Chelsea.
This infamous move gained him the nickname 'Cashley Cole' from arsenal supporters. With his prolonged success and a range of trophies in West London, Cole was able to bring the transfer drama behind him fairly easily.
Cole might not be the most preferred or respected defender in Europe, but there is no doubt that the former English international is the best left-back in EPL history.