Football

Top 10: World's best ever left-backs

Paolo Maldini is one of the greatest defenders in football's history (©GettyImages)
Paolo Maldini is one of the greatest defenders in football's history (©GettyImages).

Although the term "full-back" dates from the earliest football formations, its early exponents were positioned centrally and would really be seen as centre-backs today.

The true full-back was born when Herbert Chapman created the W-M formation in the late 1920s by pulling back a third defender and pushing the two "full-backs" out wide.

In modern times, a wing-back must both defend and provide wide attacking outlet. Here's a list with the best of those who played on the left.

10. Bixente Lizarazu

Lizarazu was always in a perfect form during his great career at Bordeaux and Bayern Munich, but also in with the French national team. He provided with his defending reliability, his endless runs up and down the flank and his excellent crosses.

9. Ashley Cole

Gifted with tremendous pace and stamina which allowed him to race up and down the pitch, and a rare blend of natural attacking instinct and defending discipline, Cole could be a weapon anywhere, any time.

He has put his greatest performances in for Arsenal - but his past few years at Chelsea will not go unnoticed either.

8. Jose Antonio Camacho

Unquestionably the very best and probably the only great Spanish left-back of-all-time. Armed with boundless stamina and both defending and attacking skills, he was one of the key players of the late 70s and 80s Real Madrid, where he won no less than nine domestic championships.

7. Ruud Krol

Probably the best Dutch defender of-all-time, Ruud Krol was both elegant and a hardman. Part of the great Ajax of the 1970s, he was a versatile defender who combined hard tackling and accurate 60 metre crosses with his left foot. He also played as a libero in his late career, when he moved to Italian side Napoli.

6. Andreas Brehme

Even to this day, nobody knows which is actually Brehme's regular foot. Both his feet were perfect, each one in its own way. He used his left-foot to unleash powerful long shots and free-kicks and he used his right for accuracy in crosses and penalties.

One of the most important pillars under Germany's 1990 World Cup win.

5. Paul Breitner

The man with the greatly-remembered beard and afro was a world-class left-back, and often a defensive midfielder - and a player who caused a lot of controversy in the media with his extraordinary, multifaceted and straight-talking personality.

With an excellent tackling ability and a thunderbolt shot, the German player was part of the great Bayern side which won three consecutive European Cups in the mid 70s.

4. Nilton Santos

Nilton Santos certainly was a pioneering left-back. "The Encyclopedia" was world class at both defending and attacking and possessed excessive technique.

One of the most important players of the Brazilian sides which won the 1958 and 1962 World Cups.

3. Giacinto Facchetti

Facchetti was one of the first true attacking full-backs who used to surge forward and participate in every attacking play. He also was a physical monster, nearly impossible to dribble past. 

He served as Italy's captain for many years, winning 94 caps - and he is also considered the greatest Inter Milan football player of all time. Fans revere him as a God in the Nerazzurri religion.

2.  Roberto Carlos

The Brazilian is one of the early implementers of full-back overlapping runs - and certainly the best ever at it.

He was a left-back who could attack like no other, had amazing runs in the flank and made crosses and free-kicks who terrorised the opposition. The phenomenal, defying physics-type of goals that Roberto Carlos has scored have been re-watched hundreds of times by almost every football fan around the globe.

1. Paolo Maldini

Paulo Maldini has implemented his name into A.C. Milan's and Italy's grand history as probably its greatest, leading the defence with his genius tackling and marking skills over the years.

He is one of the greatest leaders of his generation, a two-footed defender who played both centre-back and left-back. He had a 25-year marvellous career, making 902 appearances in the Rossoneri kit of Milan.

Honourable Mentions : Karl-Heinz Schnellinger, Dennis Irwin, Frank De Boer, Emlyn Hughes, Silvio Marzolini

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