Once upon a time, wing-backs were were perhaps underappreciated position, with managers more concerned about their midfielders and star strikers. In the modern game, wing backs are one of the most valuable players on the pitch. Used to bolster attacks yet still provide cover at the backs, wing-backs are now expected to be one of the most versatile players on the pitch. It’s a role that requires great skill to perfect and needing a unique blend of skill, stamina, pace and poise. Now being such a prominent role in the modern form of the game, just who are the best wing-backs of all time?
Who are the best wing-backs ever?
Djalma Santos (Brazil)
Really a pioneer in his era, Djalma Santos redefined just what a full-back could do. Playing primarily on the left, Santos was a key part of a Brazil team in the 1950s and 1960s that dominated world football. His tackling and technique was almost unmatched and he was always one of the quickest players up and down the touchline. So good was Santos was that the legend became the first player to reach 1000 professional games and was never sent off one during his career! A true professional on every front.
Giacinto Facchetti (Italy)
Giacinto Facchetti is generally seen as the first and one of the best attacking wing-backs in European football and it’s not hard to see why his style was so unique. Facchetti was exceptionally quick for his size and became a key part of an Inter Milan side that won 4 Serie A titles between 1962-1971.
He was also an extremely composed individual who was always a voice of reason rather than a voice of anger. It was why he captained both Inter Milan and Italy for the majority of his career and became the first Inter player to have his number retired in 2006 shortly after his death.
Javier Zanetti (Argentina)
A few decades later, Inter would be blessed with yet another world class full-back in the shape of Javier Zanetti. The Argentine right back had almost limitless energy as he was almost bombing down the touchline keen to link up with teammates on the flank. With excellent technique, Zanetti also was an excellent passer who could split defences with a cross-field pass without much effort.
With 5 Serie A titles, a Champions League victory and FIFA World Club Cup title under his belt, the right back truly had done it all at club level. With his number 4 retired in 2014, Zanetti is classed as one of the best wing-backs of his generation.
Roberto Carlos (Brazil)
Despite being classed as a defender; Roberto Carlos is best known for his attacking abilities. The Brazilian left-back had one of the deadliest left-foots in the game and could strike a ball with immense power and technique. His free-kicks were some of the deadliest ever taken and the swerve generated on the ball during its flight often defied the laws of physics.
Having been successful in many top teams like Palmeiras and Real Madrid, very few players were spared the destructive prowess of Roberto Carlos who once hit a ball clocked at travelling 105mph (170kph). A true legend no matter where he played on the pitch.
Paolo Maldini (Italy)
Considered the ultimate professional, there were very few things that Paolo Maldini couldn’t do. The Italian defender was strong in all areas and could thrive on the left or right flank depending on who he was taking on. With excellent touch and composure, he could easily start moves in his own area and also supply assists in the final third.
Maldini’s success on the left was even more remarkable considering that he was right-footed making him even more unique when playing on the opposite side of the pitch. His all-round skillset made him one of the most influential players of all time and helped captained AC Milan to both Serie A and Champions League glory as well as leading Italy to the 2006 World Cup final. One of the finest defenders to have ever graced the game in any position and certainly one of the best wing-backs ever.
Philipp Lahm (Germany)
If you need to find anyone this century who defines the term versatile – then look no further than Philipp Lahm. Starting off as a right-back, Lahm’s pace and excellent passing skills also saw him moved onto both the left-flank and used as a defensive midfielder. His ball skills were some of the best in both the Bayern Munich and Germany squads making him a king for assists as well as a considerable threat from set-pieces.
Lahm is also one of the most successful footballers in European history having won 8 Bundesliga titles, a Champions League trophy as well as the 2014 World Cup before retiring at the end of the 2017. With Lahm having been classed as an honorary citizen of Munich in 2019, it showcases just how influential Lahm was to his club and his country.
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