Like their right sided counterparts, the left back is an increasingly potent weapon in football. One reason for this has been the fast paced, counter attacking styles of play bred on the fields of the English Premier League, whose history boasts some of the best ever. After the goalkeepers and the right backs, here are my picks in the running for the best EPL left back ever;
Stuart Pearce (Notts Forest, Newcastle, West Ham, Man City)
Psycho. His nickname says it all. Stuart Pearce was a brutal, uncompromising left back, who put fear into opposing wingers with a ‘firm but fair’ attitude somewhat lost in the more modern game. The tough Londoner, who has went on to become England U21 and Team GB’s, made his name at non-league Wealdstone, before a transfer to Coventry and then to Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest, where he enjoyed his best years.
Pearce is a passionate Englishman who was awarded seventy eight caps across twelve years, a fact made even more incredible considering his unfortunate injury record and checkered disciplinary history. With a shot almost as fearsome as his tackling, Pearce’s effectiveness going forward was as respected as his defensive capabilities.
Denis Irwin (Man Utd, Wolves)
Eyebrows were raised when Alex Ferguson shelled out a cool £635,000 to prize Denis Irwin from Oldham Athletic way back in 1990. It was a substantial sum of money at the time, especially for a full back, but by the time he left the all conquering United side twelve years later, the price tag looked a snip. Irwin was an ever present in a constantly evolving back four throughout the nineties, combining solid defensive displays with exciting attacking flair. Indeed, the Irish international was a major pioneer for the modern wing back.
Released by United in 2002, Irwin signed for Wolves, enjoying two seasons with them until their relegation and his subsequent retirement in 2004. He won an incredible seven Premiership titles, three FA Cups, a League Cup, and of course played a key role in United’s dramatic 1999 Champions League win.
One of the truly great modern fullbacks, Ashley Cole has enjoyed a highly successful, if at times controversial career at two of the Premier Leagues major powerhouses. Starting at Arsenal, he overthrew both Gunners legend Nigel Winterburn, and fan favourite Sylvinho to earn a consistent starting spot and in doing so, quickly building a reputation as a future England star. A star he became, and since his debut as a 20 year old in 2001, the marauding defender has made 97 full internationals appearances, all in the starting eleven.
Controversy surrounding his move to Chelsea in 2006 seemed to have little effect on Cole, whose consistency across a fourteen year career has been astounding. His performances in last year’s victorious Champions League campaign have led to a wide spread belief that the 31 year old is the finest left back on the planet, who will hope to make his 100th England appearance later this year.
Also-Rans – Nigel Winterburn (Arsenal, West Ham), Patrice Evra (Man Utd), John Arne Riise (Liverpool, Fulham)