Football

Five of the best: Wingers

Valencia provides yet another assist (©GettyImages)
Valencia provides yet another assist (©GettyImages).

Antonio Valencia's importance to Manchester United cannot be overstated.

Prior to the Manchester derby, Sir Alex Ferguson said his star winger would miss out with a hip injury - mind games, maybe. But not only did Valencia start, he was United's second-best player, behind only Wayne Rooney. The Ecuadorian ace has quietly become one of the best wingers in the Premier League, and one of the best in the world.

But, apart from Gareth Bale, the Manchester United midfielder has few competitors for the title in the English top flight.

Chelsea play three attacking midfielders, a trio of playmakers, but neither Eden Hazard, Juan Mata nor Oscar are wingers.

At Arsenal, Theo Walcott insists he's a striker, Gervinho likewise is a forward, while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's best position is not as an out-and-out wide man.

Manchester City's width is provided almost exclusively by their full-backs, the same with Liverpool - Raheem Sterling the exception - but the 17-year-old is a long, long way off being considered alongside the likes of Bale and Valencia.

Sunderland's Adam Johnson has gone off the boil, West Ham's Matt Jarvis is a capable but not a contender, while Swansea's Nathan Dyer can be a livewire on his day.

But a look through the 20 Premier League squads highlights just how deep the dearth of world-class wingers is in the upper echelons of English football.

So, GMF, in it's quest to find the best, has decided to look outside the borders of the Premier League, and into Europe to look for five of the best wingers currently employed in the business of giving full-backs nightmares….

Antonio Valencia | Manchester United & Ecuador

Nani, Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia is talented stable of wingers, but Valencia is the star. Quick, strong and powerful the Ecuadorian combines these classic winger attributes with a lethal final ball. Typically it's less of a cross, more of a brutal blast across the bows. But inevitably teammates get on the end of it, and United find themselves one-up.

Key Fact | Valencia's older brother, Eder, plays in the Ecuadoran first division for Manta.

Gareth Bale | Tottenham & Wales

Without doubt, the most electrifying player in the Premier League on his day. Unfortunately, consistency of performance is something Bale has to work on, but it's not for nothing that Real Madrid and Barcelona are sniffing around. A bull of a winger, whose breathless 70 metre charges simply grind down his opponents until they're left in a heaving, crumpled tangle.

Key Fact | Bale was so good at school, his PE teacher reportedly forbid him from using his left-foot.

Angel Di Maria | Real Madrid & Argentina

The rubbery Argentinian looks like a twiglet, but don't let his stick-thin appearance fool you - Di Maria is one of the game's best wingers. His style is slippery, and he's old-fashioned in the sense that he doesn't rely on flicks, tricks and step-overs to beat his opponent. If Bale and Valencia surge past fullbacks like traction engines, Di Maria glides past like a 19th century Dutch tea-clipper.

Key Fact | Di Maria registered 20 assists in his first season with Real Madrid.

Arjen Robben | Bayern Munich & Holland

Robben shifts in an instant, a dull blur across the green turf powered by his quick baby steps, but the Dutch winger has taken on huge strides in recent years. From his blitzkrieg attack on the Premier League under Jose Mourinho at Chelsea, to his blossoming into one of the world's best wingers at Bayern Munich, only injury has blotted Robben's copy-book.

Key Fact | Robben has won the league title in every country he has played in - Holland, England, Spain and Germany.

Franck Ribery | Bayern Munich & France

A unique combination of grit and guile, Ribery is something of an enigma. Freakishly talented, the Frenchman, alongside Robben, forms one of the most fearsome front-lines in world football. But, while Robben is a winger in the waspish sense, Ribery is a stocky, pitbull of a wide-man.

Key Fact | France legend Zinedine Zidane called Ribery the "jewel of French football."

Topics:
Football
Premier League
Manchester United
Gareth Bale
Antonio Valencia

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