Defending in football has undergone some sort of transformation in recent years. Defenders are now expected to build play from the back, central defenders, and also contribute in attack fullbacks whilst doing their most important job, which is stopping the opposing players from scoring.
Previously a non-existent position in the 1960s due to teams favoring a three-man lineup at the heart of their defense, the right-back position has evolved. Some of the most gifted players have made the position fun by showcasing their attacking talents alongside their defensive prowess making the position one of the most valuable and indispensable positions in a squad. And with the current crop of right-backs currently playing professionally, one could argue a lot of young kids out there now look forward to becoming top right-backs in the future.
Enough said here are some of the best right-backs to ever play the game of football. Mind you our list only considers players who have retired, leaving out a great player like Dani Alves who’s a top-five right-back of all time.
The argument could be made that Philipp Lahm was a left-back or even a defensive as we saw at the latter part of his career but the former Germany captain has let it be known to those who would listen, that he’s a right-back and through. Born on 11 November 1983, in Munich, Germany. Lahm is unarguably the greatest right-back Germany has ever produced. He spent his entire professional club career at Bayern Munich (asides from the two years he spent on loan at VfB Stuttgart) and Captain the Bavarian giants for six-and-a-half years.
Lahm also played at all levels of German football; U17, U18, U19, U20, and U21 but his finest moment for Die Mannschaft came in 2014, where he captained Germany to the World Cup success in Brazil. He was voted into the team of the tournament at every major international competition he played, three World Cups (2006, 2010, and 2014), and the UEFA European Championships in 2008 and 2012. His first Champions League game was as a starter against Manchester United in 2003. Lahm won eight Bundesliga titles with Bayern, and also led his side to UEFA Champions League success in 2013.
Before becoming the television pundit that everyone loves to hate but wants to listen to, Gary Neville was a brilliant right-back for Manchester United. Known for his outstanding ability to cross the ball, Neville was also a tenacious and hard-tackling defender. He created a deadly partnership on the right flank with David Beckham during their latter’s time at Manchester United, both of whom were best of friends off the pitch.
Gary spent his entire professional career playing for Manchester United having come through the club’s academy and he’s a member of the famed “Class of 92”. He made over 400 appearances for Manchester United, before calling time on his career in 2011 having won 20 trophies, including eight Premier League titles and two UEFA Champions League crowns.
Gary Neville also made 85 appearances for the senior England national team between 1995 & 2007.
Born as Marcos Evangelista de Morais but popularly known by his nickname, Cafu, the Brazilian was as good as it gets when it comes to playing as a right-back. With 142 games for the Brazilian senior national team and four World Cups (1994-2006) he remains the country’s most capped international player. He was a part of the Brazil team that won the World Cup in 1994, and also captained the Selecao to glory eight years later in Korea & Japan. He played professional club football for 19 years playing for the likes of São Paulo, AS Roma, and AC Milan along the way. Cafu was also inducted into the Hall of Fame for both AS Roma and AC Milan. He's also the only player ever to play the FIFA World Cup three consecutive games. Apart from being regarded as one of the best footballers of his generation, he has also been mentioned in articles about the history of Latin American football as one of the players who has had a long-term impact on the development of the sport in the region. Cafu possessed intelligence, pace, stamina, and exceptional technical skills all of which contributed to making him the perfect full-back.
Carlos Alberto Torres
Nicknamed “O Capitão”, Carlos Alberto Torres was named into the World Team of the 20th Century in 1998. He captained the Brazilian national team to World Cup glory in 1970, scoring one of the greatest goals in World Cup history which was the fourth goal in the 4-1 demolition of Italy. An excellent penalty taker and exceptionally gifted player, Carlos Alberto scored over 70 goals in his career and is regarded as one of the best defenders football have ever seen.
Carlos Alberto spent the majority of his club football career in Brazil (1963-1977), before a five-year stint in the United States, playing for the likes of New York Cosmos and California Surf. Before passing on in October 2016, due to a sudden heart attack, Carlos Alberto was an inductee into the Brazilian Football Museum Hall of Fame and the U.S. National Soccer Hall of Fame.
If your dream is to put on the no. 4 shirts as a professional footballer for Italian giants, Inter Milan, you might need to reconsider because that ship has sailed. Javier Zanetti saw his no. 4 jerseys retired by Inter Milan in 2015, after 19 years with the Italian club. Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Zanetti joined Inter in 1995 after three years of professional football with Argentine clubs, Talleres and Banfield.
Nicknamed “El Tractor” for his tirelessness and stamina, Zanetti could cover the entire right flank making impactful contributions to both defense and attack. Manchester United legend, Ryan Giggs once labeled Zanetti as his most difficult opponent, citing the Argentine’s speed, intelligence, and power.
Zanetti is Inter Milan’s record appearances holder with 858 across all competitions and remains the only player to captain the club to a treble (league, cup, and Champions League success). He also made 143 appearances for the Argentina senior national team and participated in the 1998 and 2002 FIFA World Cups.
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