Six years ago, Jamie Carragher brutally dismissed the full-back as either failed wide midfielders or unsuccessful centre backs, claiming “nobody wants to grow up to be Gary Neville”.
This statement may have held some truth back in Carragher’s formative years but in recent years, the decline of out and out wingers has led to a significant increase in the importance of the full-back position in the modern game. It’s more fashionable now than it’s ever been.
With an increasing amount of forwards exhibiting a tendency to drift inside, full-backs perform the vital function of providing their teams with the necessary width to both attack and defending cohesively.
Carragher’s claim about the position lacking acclaim is also contentious. Yes, maybe no one did grow up wanting to be the better Neville brother back in the early 2000s, but walk around the streets of Liverpool and you would find hundreds of youngsters who consider Trent Alexander-Arnold to be their idol.
The full-back role is at the apex of its relevance in the modern game, but who is the best in the position in the world? Here’s the ranking of the current top 25.
25. Jesús Navas
?Like a fine wine or a nice cheese, former Manchester City man Jesús Navas appears to be maturing with age at Sevilla.
The 34-year-old has captained Los Palanganas’ in all of their league games this season, helping his side record the fourth best defensive record in ?La Liga.
24. Álex Grimaldo
?Benfica’s flying left-back produced his best performances yet last campaign, racking up a 12 assists – the third highest in Liga Nos and just one shy of Bruno Fernandes’ tally.
He has continued in a similar vein this time out and with a rumoured €60m release clause in his contract he could be on the radar of several clubs next summer.
23. Kyle Walker
?Once upon a time ?Kyle Walker might have made a claim for a top 10 position of this list but a few shaky campaigns means he only just breaks into the top 25.
It will be an interesting off season for Walker with Manchester City’s transfer ban forcing him to consider his future at the club.
22. Lucas Digne
?Since switching Camp Nou for Goodison Park in 2018, Digne has been one of ?Everton’s top performers.
He is a good all-round full back who also has a penchant for dead balls – especially 25 yard free kicks which we absolutely love.
21. Ben Chilwell
?Ben Chilwell is the most exciting graduate of Leicester City’s youth academy for many years. He may not be the finished article but improvements to the defending and decision making are still very much possible.
It will be interesting to see how he gets on during his return to the ?Champions League next season – if Leicester make it. Or, if he moves. Chelsea and Manchester City, I hear?
20. Aaron Wan-Bissaka
?Aaron Wan-Bissaka is a mutant. No one should be able to tackle like he does.
Many forwards have tried to slip past his octopus-like legs and very few have been successful. Imagine if he was any good going forward – he’d probably win the Ballon d’Or.
19. Kieran Trippier
?Kieran Trippier is loving his time at ?Atletico Madrid. He’s grown his hair out longer to disguise his elf-like head and he’s playing pretty well too.
Having a defensive minded coach like Diego Simeone is exactly what the Englishman needed and he is showing ?Tottenham what they’re missing this season.
18. David Alaba
?The first of two Bayern Munich players whose inclusion is somewhat controversial…
?After filling in at centre-back during an injury crisis near the start of the season, David Alaba has been almost exclusively deployed in the role. Technically though, he can still be categorised as a left-back, so he makes the list.
The Austrian’s performance levels rarely dip below a seven out of ten and he has been a reliable piece of the Bayern puzzle for just over a decade now.
?17. Alex Sandro
?Now in his fifth season with ?Juventus, some say Alex Sandro has benefited greatly from a lack of competition at left-back throughout his Bianconeri career.
However, the Brazilian rarely lets his side down and is irresistible going forward. He deserves to be considered among the world’s greats in his position.
16. Alex Telles
The numbers Alex Telles has been producing this season are nothing short of sensational.
The left-back has registered ten goals and nine assists for Porto, and with the Brazilian only having 15 months left to run on his contract it’s looking increasing likely that he’ll depart the club in the summer.
15. Raphael Guerreiro
?An undervalued part of Dortmund’s scintillating attack this season has been the contributions of Raphael Guerreiro at left-back. Okay, left wing-back. He still counts though.
The Portugal international has hit five goals and three assists – not bad for a full-back. Okay, okay – wing-back.
14. Robin Gosens
?Atalanta might be the most exciting football team in the history of space and time. A big reason for them being so entertaining is the industrious performances of Robin Gosens down the left flank.
The flying German has seven goals and five assists in Serie A this season, it’s just shame that he wears number eight… that’s just not right for a defender.
13. Alphonso Davies
In a two years time we would not be surprised to see Alphonso Davies at the top of this list, such is the 19-year-old mouth watering potential.
Davies has burst onto the scene with Bayern this season and already looks certain to go down in history as the best left-back, with the second name Davies, of all time. Sorry Ben mate, you had a good run.
12. Theo Hernández
Milan have not been very good this season, that’s a given. But amid this shower of mediocrity the performances of left-back Theo Hernandez have stood out like a sore thumb – in a good way of course.
Still only 22, Hernandez is destined for a big future in the game. Probably not with the Rossoneri though, unless they seriously improve.
11. Ferland Mendy
Blessed with blistering pace and deceptively technical, Ferland Mendy has settled down into the Real Madrid squad nicely since arriving in the summer.
With Marcelo back from injury he faces a battle to nail down a regular starting spot at left-back – though there is little doubt that the Frenchman represents Los Blancos’ long term future in the position.
10. Nicolás Tagliafico
A vital part of Ajax’s heroic run to the ?Champions League semi final last season, Nicolás Tagliafico has been equally impressive during the current term.
The Argentine is a robust defender with supreme positional sense who has also shown himself capable of pitching in with goals and assists when required.
?After reigning as king of the full-backs for several years, Marcelo has to settle for a space just inside the top ten these days.
Injuries have wreaked havoc with the Brazilian’s season so far but he has returned to the Real Madrid side recently and celebrated with an assist against Celta de Vigo last weekend. He’s still got it.
8. Ricardo Pereira?
Forget Caglar Soyuncu, forget Jamie Vardy, the real standout of Leicester’s surprise success this season has been Ricardo Pereira.
Relentlessly consistent at right-back, the Portugal international has missed just one game for the Foxes and would be a shoo-in for the Premier League team of the season, if it wasn’t for the performance of a certain Liverpool-born star.
7. Dani Carvajal
?Real Madrid’s dependable right-back for many years, Dani Carvajal has now racked up over 250 appearances for Los Blancos.
Carvajal is enjoying a tremendous season this time out, as his five assists can attest.
6. Benjamin Pavard
Strings to Benjamin Pavard’s bow include: left-back, centre-back, right-back. This guy can play anywhere.
Though he lacks a bit of pace, the Frenchman more than makes up for it with his near perfect reading of the game. One of the most hard to beat defenders in world football.
Plus, remember that goal he scored against Argentina? Cor. That’s worth 5 places alone.
5. Jordi Alba
?Often looking like a sprightly attacking midfielder thrusted into the left-back position, Jordi Alba’s technique is a joy to watch.
The timings of his runs from deep have gifted his side countless goals over the years and he looks set to continue his fine form for many seasons to come. Long may it last.
4. Achraf Hakimi
?After a somewhat uneventful first season at Borussia Dortmund, Achraf Hakimi has been a revelation at Signal Iduna Park this campaign.
The Moroccan has racked up no less than ten assists from right-wing back. Will BVB be able to extend his stay past the expiration of his loan deal in the summer? Probably not, no.
3. Andy Robertson
?The flying Scotsman’s rise to be the best left-back in the world has been absolutely remarkable.
Since arriving at Anfield in 2017 and displacing Alberto Moreno from the first team, Robertson has won the Champions League, Club World Cup and will – barring a cataclysmic collapse – lift the ?Premier League trophy at the end of the season.
2. Joshua Kimmich?
?Yes, yes, yes we hear you shouting. Joshua Kimmich may be being used as a central midfielder these days but he’s still played parts of this season – and the majority of his career – at right-back, meaning he qualifies for the list.
Okay? Good. I’m glad we agree.
And why is he one the list? He’s obscenely good. One of the most complete footballers in the world and still only 25, who knows what the future holds for the Germany international.
1. Trent Alexander-Arnold
It had to be Trent Alexander-Arnold didn’t it?
The Liverpool right-back has helped make the position sexy again with his physics-defying cross field passes and humble charm.
TAA has racked up 12 assists this season and has also come on leaps and bounds defensively with the Reds comfortably conceding the least goals in the Premier League.
This fella is 21-years-old don’t forget. What a freakishly good footballer he is.
For more from Matt O’Connor-Simpson, follow him on Twitter!