No.2 and No.3 shirts in a football team usually represent first team full backs (Right Back vs Left Back) who usually don’t dominate the headlines. However as the football evolved in last couple of decades so did the importance of quality full backs who are good while defending and support attack as well. The notion that “Full backs are either failed central defenders or failed wingers” could not be farther from the truth. Quality Full backs in today’s game are special breed who not only require good technical ability but also certain traits like selflessness. So today we take a look at some of the all-time great full backs in history.
The list of players below contain names who were not only incredibly talented but enjoyed success over a long period of time. So Talent, trophies won and longevity at the highest level are three factors used to pull this list together.
#1. Paolo Maldini (AC Milan/Italy)
One of the greatest italian players of all times, Paolo Maldini’s professional career spanned around 25 years at the highest level of football. He spent entire career with a very successful AC Milan side where he became the only player to have won 5 Champions League titles. He added another 7 Serie A titles to incredible haul of 26 trophies in his time with Milan.
He played for Milan from 1985 to 2009 and also represented Italy for a record 126 matches. Being right footed he started as right back but Arrigo Sacchi (Milan manager) converted him into a left back and rest as they say became history. His technical ability, athleticism, tackles, composure, and ever lasting stamina paved the way for him to be not only a great left back but gave him ability to play anywhere in the back four. Unlike other top defenders, Maldini is recognized by many as icon of the game and he was nominated for Ballon d’Or twice and won several individual awards. Only three red cards in his entire 25 year career shows his calm personality which was pillar of Milan’s success.
#2. Carlos Alberto (Santos/Brazil)
One of the most celebrated defenders of beautiful game, Carlos Alberto captained his Brazilian national team to 1970 final scoring what widerly regarded as one of the greatest goals in world cup history and that too in the final. Carlos Alberto played most of his peak career at Santos alongside Pele and won every trophy possible for a footballer.
Knows for his incredible stamina and work ethic, Carlos Alberto redefined the full back position where he not only defended but also contributed in attacks assisting and scoring goals. He scored 8 international goals in 53 appearances for Brail.
#3. Roberto Carlos (Real Madrid/Brazil)
Another Brazilian who is the pioneer of modern day full back mentality. Roberto Carlos came into limelight when he moved from Palmires to Inter Milan in 1995 but after just one season he was sold to Real Madrid where he went on to become one of the greatest players of all times. His unique attacking style helped Real Madrid to three Champions League titles and another 4 league titles in his 11 years at the club.
Robert Carlos is widely regarded as the most attack minded left back who loved to bomb forward throughout the 90 minutes. He had a cracking left foot and scored some signature long range free-kicks hence named el hombre bala (“the bullet man”). check out the youtube compilation of this crazy Brazilian who brought samba to otherwise boring full back position.
#4. Giacinto Facchetti (Inter Milan/Italy)
Fachhetti was a typical Italian full back he was a absolute class at the back and was ahead of times considering his offensive skills which contributed to Inter Milan’s dominance in 1960’s. Facchetti is widely regarded as one of the greatest Left Back of all times. His style of play was unique where incredible pace, stamina and physical powers made him intergral part of Inter Milan side which won 4 Serie A titles from 1963 to 1971 and also guided Inter to back to back European Cup triumphs in 1964 and 1965. Unlike some of the other great full backs he could score important goals as well as his career statistics read 59 official goals in 475 appearances.
He also played 94 times for Italy and won the 1968 European Championship and ended up as runners-up in 1970 world cup.
#5. Dani Alves (Bracelona/Brazil)
Dani Alves will go down as one of the greatest attacking full backs of all times having played for a very successful Barcelona side winning 3 Champions League titles, 7 La Liga and 4 Copa Del Rey. Known for his attacking displays, Alves was decent while defending but his real armory was over lapping runs and linking up with attacking tio of Barcelona most notably Lionel Messi on the right flank. He had the technical ability of a top notch winger, could produce stunning crosses and eve lasting stamina which enabled him to run up and down right flank throughout 90 minutes.
#6. Cafu (Roma/Milan/Brazil)
If Roberto Carlos was bombing forward from left back position at any given oppertunity, Cafu was keeping things together on the other flank with his disciplined display which complimented Roberto Carlos and Brazlian national team in the 90s and early 2000’s.
Cafu rose to prominence when he moved from Palmires to AS Roma where he spent 7 years winning one Serie A title before moving to AC Milan where he won one more serie a title and champions league. Cafu is also the most capped player for Brazil with his 143 appearences winning the world cup twice (1994 and 2002).
#7. Javier Zanetti (Inter Milan/Argentina)
Another south american who joined Inter Milan in 1995 and stayed with the club throughout his career. Zanetti was known as “El Tractor” for his tireless energetic runs up and down the flanks but it was a his incredible defensive skill set where he was superb at reading the play, winning the ball back and man marking combine that with a two footed player who could play on either flank and as effective going forward as he was while defending.
He captained Inter Milan for most of 2000’s and won 5 Serie A titles, 4 Copa Del Rey and 1 champions league trophy in his 19 year stay at the club. With his national team Argentina he made over 143 appearences winning 2 Copa America titles.
#8. Ashley Cole (Arsenal/Chelsea/England)
In terms of sheer ability, Ashley Cole was as good as anybody when it comes to left back position. Started out in Arsenal youth before promotion to first team where he made the left back position his own. After winning 2 premier league titles and 3 FA Cups with Arsenal he controversially moved to Chelsea where he won one more Premier League, 4 FA Cups and added Champions League to his honors.
He style of play was very compact, although with a small stature he could cope with physicality of Premier League with ease, Cole was very solid at the back and improved throughout his career going forward. Many regard him as the best full back in Premier League history and certainly the most technically gifted English player. That is the reason he finished in PFA team of the year on 5 separate occassions and 2 times in UEFA team of the year.
#9. Philip Lahm (Bayern Munich/Germany)
Philip Lahm is coming to end of his career with Bayern Munich where he enjoyed un-parallel success winning 7 Bundesliga titles, 6 domestic cups, 1 Champions League. Lahm is a gifted football who could play anywhere in the defense and midfield. Mostly used as a full back in his career either on right back or left back position but he also played as a winger and defensive midfielder.
Lahm was intergal part of a very solid German side in 2000’s and he finally got his hands on World Cup trophy in 2014 having finished third twice before.