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Greatest Left Backs of All-Time

The full-back position is where you slot in a latecomer or a person you don’t like when you and your friends get together for a game of football on a Sunday morning. However, on the professional stage, playing as a full-back is almost as important as any other position on the pitch.

The left-side of the full-back role has seen its fair share of great players over the last century, with some of these players known not just for their defense but their ability to also contribute in attack. Although the modern game boosts a large and young array of talent and promising left-backs like Alphonso Davids; the Canadian and Bayern Munich Revelation. To avoid the endless controversial list we are known for(LOL), we will limit this list to retired LBs.  Here’s a list of the top five greatest left-backs of all time.

Paul Breitner

Not many players can boast of scoring a goal in a FIFA World Cup final, but Paul Breitner finds himself in a special class of players who have scored in two finals. If playing as a full-back was only about defending, then Breitner would be nowhere near this list, as the German is regarded as one of the best attacking full-backs in the history of football. The 1974 World Cup winner scored 103 league goals in his career for the likes of Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, and Eintracht Braunschweig.

Breitner made 48 appearances for the West Germany national team between 1971 & 1982, scoring 10 times in the process. He also won the UEFA European Championships in 1872. He became the infamous “17-hour coach” in 1998 after resigning as manager of the German national team, thanks to backlash from other DFB officials. 17 hours after his appointment by the then German Football Association (DFB) president, Egidius Braun.

Giacinto Facchetti

Getting your number retired by a football club is rare and extremely difficult but no one told Giacinto Facchetti about that when he began his career because his no.3 shirt at Internazionale Milano will never be won by any player, at least not anytime soon.

The late Giacinto Facchetti spent his entire 18-year professional club career with Inter Milan between the years 1960 to 1978. Known for his attacking prowess, he scored 75 goals in 634 games for the Italian club and was a member of the “Grande Inter” team that won four Serie A titles, two European Cups, two Intercontinental Cups, and one Coppa Italia.

Facchetti also made 94 appearances for the Italian national team, winning the UEFA European Championships in 1968 before finishing as runner-up to Brazil in the 1970 FIFA World Cup. He was voted for the Ballon d’Or award in 1965 and served as Inter Milan’s chairman from January 2004 until he died in 2006.

Nilton Santos

Named by Pele as one of the top 125 greatest living footballers in 2004, Nilton Santos is regarded as one of the best defenders in the history of football. The two-time FIFA World Cup winner spent his entire club career playing for Botafogo in Brazil between the years 1948 & 1964 and also won the Copa America in 1949.

The late Nilton Santos was nicknamed “The Encyclopedia” because of his knowledge of football and was revered for his technical ability to defend and attack. He was voted into the FIFA World Cup All-Star Team in 1958 and was named into the World Team of the 20th Century in 1998.

Roberto Carlos

The second Brazilian on this list and the most popular one. Roberto Carlos is widely regarded as the most attacking player to ever play the left-back position. Carlos began his career with Uniao Sao Joao in Brazil in 1991 before joining Palmeiras two years later. An ill-fated spell at Inter Milan followed in the 1995-1996 season before he signed for Real Madrid where he spent 11 years until 2007.

The 2002 FIFA World Cup winner was notorious for his sheer pace and powerful left foot and his style of play defined the modern full-back. Carlos won four La Liga titles and three UEFA Champions League with Real Madrid and finished second in the race for the FIFA World Player of the Year in 1997. He was also named to Pele’s list of 100 greatest living players in 2004 and won the Copa America on two occasions with the Brazilian national team.

Paolo Maldini

Considered to be the greatest left-back, one of the greatest center-backs ever, and one of the greatest players never to win the Ballon d’Or award, Paolo Maldini’s career speaks for itself. The current technical director of AC Milan spent 25 years at the club as a player, winning 25 trophies in the process including five UEFA Champions League titles, seven Serie A titles, and four UEFA Super Cups to mention but a few.

Maldini finished second in the running for the 1995 FIFA World Player of the Year award and was voted third in the Ballon d’Or in 1994 and 2003. He made 126 appearances for the Italian national team between 1988 and 2002 and finished runner-up in the UEFA European Championships in 1988 and 2000.

Maldini holds the record for most appearances at AC Milan with 902 and like Giacinto Facchetti at Inter Milan, his number 3 shirt has been retired by AC Milan.

Honorable Mentions

  • Andreas Brehme
  • Rudd Krol
  • Ashley Cole
  • Jose Antonio Camacho
  • Denis Irwin
  • Antonio Cabrini
  • Bixente Lizarazu