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5 best left-backs of all time

Roberto Carlos
Roberto Carlos
Shambhu Ajith
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Left-back might not be the most glamorous position on a football pitch but these players have been adept at stealing the ball back and have also contributed generously in attack.

The role of full-backs has become one of the most demanding ones in modern football. The full-backs are expected to be as involved in defence as they are in attack.

They are tasked with shuttling up and down the flanks for the length of the game, helping out the team when the opposition have the ball and motoring forward otherwise to whip crosses in and also score a few thunderbolts when afforded the opportunity.

Suffice to say that left-backs have to be well-rounded footballers who are technically proficient and physically resilient. Without further ado, let's take a look at five of the best left-backs of all time.


#5 Ashley Cole

Chelsea v Tottenham Hotspur - Premier League
Chelsea v Tottenham Hotspur - Premier League

Inarguably the best left-back that has graced the Premier League, Ashley Cole was an absolute menace down the left for Arsenal and, later, Chelsea. Cole rose through the ranks at Arsenal. He first proved himself on a loan spell with Crystal Palace. After earning a place in the Arsenal first-team, there was no looking back.

Ashley Cole was an invaluable part of the 'Invincibles' and won two Premier League titles and three FA Cups before moving to Chelsea in 2006 in a move that was much derided by the Gunners' fanbase. They gave Ashley Cole the nickname 'Cashley Cole' but the Englishman did not let it affect him as he kicked on in the same vein for the Blues.

Cole went on to win one UEFA Champions League title, one Premier League title, one Europa League title, one League Cup and four FA Cups during his stint with Chelsea. By the time he retired from the English national side, Cole had been capped more than 100 times.

He never let his standards drop and was equally lethal in attack and in defence for about a decade and a half. Cole went on to play for AS Roma, LA Galaxy and Derby County before hanging his boots in 2019.

#4 Giacinto Facchetti

Giacinto Facchetti (cred: TheseFootballTimes)
Giacinto Facchetti (cred: TheseFootballTimes)

Giacinto Facchetti is one of the most influential players as far as the legacy of the left-back position is concerned. Facchetti was one of the earliest and greatest attacking left-backs in the game and standing at 6"3, he was a colossus of a footballer who matched his physicality with technical proficiency.

A one-club man who spent his entire career at Inter Milan, Facchetti could let absolute thunderbolts fly with his left-foot. In addition to winning four league titles, an Italian Cup and two European Cups, the Italian also made it to the finals of the World Cup in 1970 after captaining side to glory at the Euros in 1968.

#3 Paul Breitner

Gerd Müller (l) and Paul Breitner (R) celebrate after West Germany's 2-1 victory over Holland in the 1974 FIFA World Cup Final
Gerd MΓΌller (l) and Paul Breitner (R) celebrate after West Germany's 2-1 victory over Holland in the 1974 FIFA World Cup Final

One of the very few players to have scored in two FIFA World Cup finals, Paul Breitner is one of the best attacking left-backs of all time. The man scored a whopping 103 goals in 369 league appearances in his 13-year career.

Considered one of the best players of his era, Breitner scored a goal in the final of the World Cup against the Netherlands in 1974 as Germany won the biggest prize in football. He was also part of the German side that finished as runners-up eight years later.

Breitner played for Bayern Munich, Real Madrid and Eintracht Braunschweig and has won numerous trophies at club level. He has five Bundesliga titles, one European Cup and two DFB Pokals. With Real Madrid, he won two La Liga titles, and one Copa Del Rey.

Breitner was an unorthodox left-back who was a bit of a free-roamer and was usually heavily involved in action in the final third. He was also named the German Footballer of the Year in 1981.

#2 Roberto Carlos

Roberto Carlos of Real Madrid
Roberto Carlos of Real Madrid

The younger generation will be familiar with Roberto Carlos' thunderous free-kicks and strikes from distance. But there was much more to Roberto Carlos' game than the incredible screamers he used to score.

Roberto Carlos epitomizes the modern-day full-back with electrifying pace and unmatched tenacity. He would bomb down the left flank and try to cue himself up in dangerous areas before going hell for leather, sending shots towards the goalkeeper anyone would want to get out of the way of.

Carlos spent the best years of his club career at Real Madrid, making 524 appearances and scoring 69 goals, winning four La Liga titles and three UEFA Champions League titles.

Roberto Carlos was also an integral part of the Brazil team that won the World Cup in 2002 and has also won two Copa Americas. Roberto Carlos' standout moment on a football pitch was his outrageous free-kick against France on the 3rd of June 1997 where he produced a stinger that curled around the wall and ended up in the back of the net in the blink of an eye.

#1 Paolo Maldini

Paolo Maldini
Paolo Maldini

The general consensus is that Paolo Maldini is not only the best left-back to have played the game but is also one of the greatest centre-backs of all time. Il Capitano is an absolute legend and while he was not renowned for his attacking impetus, there was simply no getting around the man.

Paolo Maldini was an integral part of the AC Milan backline that conceded just 14 goals in 30 matches in the 1987/88 season. AC Milan also incredibly won the Serie A after scoring just 36 goals in a 34 game season in 1994. They conceded just 15 goals that season.

Maldini is also a one-club man and spent 25 years at AC Milan, winning five European Cups, seven Serie A titles and one Coppa Italia. Maldini performed at the highest level for two and a half decades and that kind of longevity hardly ever comes by.

Edited by Shambhu Ajith
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