Top 10 Best Left-Backs In Soccer History
Over the years, the role of left-backs has become increasingly important in soccer. Along with right-backs, left-backs are no longer just defensive players staying in their own half and covering for their teammates.
Modern-day left-backs must contribute just as much, if not more, in attack as they do in defense.
There are some incredible left-backs in soccer today, the likes of Jordi Alba, Andrew Robertson, Alphonso Davies, Theo Hernandez, and Joao Cancelo.
But there were many others who have preceded them in giving joy to fans on the left-hand side of the pitch throughout football history.
In this article, TOP SOCCER BLOG brings you the top 10 best left-backs in soccer history.
1. Paolo Maldini
Paolo Maldini is not just regarded as the best left-back in soccer ever but also as one of the greatest defenders of all time.
He spent his whole 25-year career at AC Milan, where he won 26 trophies.
His versatility and ability with both feet allowed him to play anywhere along the back line.
Maldini was renowned for his technical ability, athleticism, sliding tackles, stamina, composure, and fast, energetic forward runs as a left-back.
Furthermore, he was also an excellent crosser of the ball, and was an effective attacking threat, scoring and assisting several goals throughout his career.
With Italy, Paolo Maldini took part in 4 FIFA World Cups and 3 UEFA European Championships.
Although he did not win any tournament with Italy, he reached the final of the 1994 World Cup and Euro 2000, and the semi-final of the 1990 World Cup and Euro 1988.
He was elected into the all-star teams for each of these tournaments, including Euro 1996.
Following his retirement in 2009, AC Milan retired Maldini’s number 3 shirt.
For some, he is one of the greatest soccer players of all time.
2. Paul Breitner
Paul Breitner was a free-roaming left-back who is as likely to score from the left side of attack as to stop an opposition attacker in his own penalty area.
Later in his career, he moved to midfield and also became one of the best midfielders in the world.
Breitner was capped 48 times for West Germany and was an integral part of the team that won the 1974 FIFA World Cup, scoring in the final.
He also scored in the final of the 1982 FIFA World Cup, making him one of only 5 players to have scored in two different World Cup final matches — the others being Pele, Vava, Zinedine Zidane, and Kylian Mbappe.
Moreso, Breitner was famous for his partnerships with Franz Beckenbauer and Berti Vogts in defence for the West German national team, and his midfield combination with Karl-Heinz Rummenigge at club level for Bayern Munich.
During his club career, he won 7 league titles with Bayern Munich and Real Madrid, the Champions’ Cup, as well as the German and Spanish cups.
3. Roberto Carlos
Once described as the “most offensive-minded left-back in the history of the game,” Roberto Carlos was known for his overlapping runs throughout his career.
He was nicknamed El Hombre Bala (“The Bullet Man”) due to his powerful bending shots and free kicks — which have been measured at over 105 miles per hour (169 km/h)!
At club level, Roberto Carlos joined Real Madrid from Inter Milan in 1996 and spent 11 highly successful seasons with the Spanish giants.
He played 584 matches in all competitions and scored 71 goals.
The Brazilian is said to be one of the best wingbacks in soccer history.
At Real, he won 4 La Liga titles and the UEFA Champions League 3 times.
Carlos played in 3 FIFA World Cups for Brazil, helping his country reach the final in 1998 in France and winning the 2002 tournament in South Korea and Japan.
He was named in the FIFA World Cup All-Star Team in 1998 and 2002.
Furthermore, Roberto Carlos was runner-up in the FIFA World Player of the Year in 1997.
Carlos’ speed and agility were instrumental in his ability to track back and defend quickly, as well as in his offensive contributions, as he was able to make overlapping runs and create scoring opportunities.
4. Nilton Santos
Nilton Santos was a member of the Brazilian squads that won the 1958 and 1962 FIFA World Cups.
In a match against Austria at the 1958 World Cup, Santos famously dribbled his way through the whole field to score a goal!
This almost drove his coach, Vicente Feola, crazy. The coach was shouting at Nilton to return to defense and release the ball but was ignored until the goal was scored.
Santos was a pioneering attacking left-back, being one of the first to make attacking runs down the wing to support the forwards.
He was called “The Encyclopedia” because of his knowledge of soccer.
He was simply world-class both at defending and attacking and possessed very good technique.
5. Giacinto Facchetti
Giacinto Facchetti played 634 official games for Inter Milan, scoring 75 goals.
He was a member of the “Grande Inter” team, which won 4 Serie A titles, a Coppa Italia, 2 European Cups, and 2 Intercontinental Cups.
He came second in the Ballon d’Or in 1965.
Facchetti captained Italy to the nation’s first-ever UEFA European Championship title on home soil in 1968, where he was also named in the Team of the Tournament.
He is regarded as one of the best left-backs ever due to his pace, technique, intelligence, physique, and stamina.
6. Bixente Lizarazu
Regarded as one of the best left-backs of his generation, Bixente Lizarazu was an attacking left-back who was known for his passing, technique, pace, stamina, and ability to get up the flank and provide accurate crosses from the touch-line.
In addition to his offensive prowess, he was also known for his defensive abilities.
His diminutive stature, along with his speed, allowed him to easily track back when he overlaps.
He played for Bordeaux, Athletico Bilbao, Marseille, and Bayern Munich — where he won the UEFA Champions League in 2001.
In a 12-year international career from 1992 to 2004, Lizarazu played in three European championships and two FIFA World Cups for France — winning the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000.
He also won the FIFA Confederations Cup in 2001 and 2003.
Known for his offensive capabilities, trickery, and technical qualities, Marcelo is often regarded as one of the greatest left-backs of all time.
He spent most of his career with Real Madrid, becoming the club’s most decorated player with 25 trophies.
Marcelo was named in the FIFPro World XI 6 times and the UEFA Team of the Year 3 times.
The Brazilian was an attack-minded full-back or wing-back who specialized in creating goalscoring opportunities
He is renowned for his passing, technique, speed, ball control, endurance, and capacity to advance up the wing and deliver precise crosses from the touchline.
8. Ashley Cole
“He is a defender who simply loves to attack. Defends, because he has to defend and because it is part of his job. Everybody loves to play with [him] because as soon as you won the ball back, he was up there to attack.”
— Arsène Wenger on Ashley Cole.
Ashley Cole played for Arsenal and Chelsea and won almost every available trophy at club level, including the UEFA Champions League.
With 7 winners’ medals, he won the FA Cup more times than any other player in history. He is one of just two players — along with Nicolas Anelka — to have won the Double (Premier League and FA Cup) with two clubs.
Ashley Cole won 107 International caps, making him England’s most-capped full-back.
Cole was a masterful defender who had the ability to anticipate opponents’ moves and make critical tackles and interceptions, earning him a reputation as one of the most reliable and consistent defenders of his generation.
Moreso, he is renowned for making timely goal-line clearances and “cutting out danger.”
9. Emlyn Hughes
Emlyn Hughes’ versatility allowed him to play at left-back and central defense. He established a reputation for charging upfield from his defensive position on long runs and for constantly berating referees.
Hughes made 665 appearances for Liverpool and captained them to 3 league titles and an FA Cup victory in the 1970s.
Added to these domestic honors were 2 European Cups (including Liverpool’s first in 1977) and two UEFA Cup titles.
He completed a full set of English football domestic honors by winning the League Cup with Wolverhampton Wanderers in 1980.
Despite being a defender, Emlyn Hughes won the Football Writers’ Player of the Year in 1977.
10. Antonio Cabrini
Antonio Cabrini was a fast and powerful attacking left-back who is considered one of the greatest of his generation and of all time, as well as being regarded as one of the best defenders in the history of Italian football.
As a former left winger, he was also capable of playing on the left side of an attacking trident.
Cabrini’s attacking prowess, eye for goal, intelligence, and crossing ability — along with his passing, flair, and technical ability — enabled him to revolutionize the role of the modern full-back in Italian football.
He was nicknamed “Bell’Antonio” (Beautiful Antonio) because of his popularity as a charismatic and good-looking football player.
Additionally, he is remembered for forming one of the most formidable defensive units of all time with Italy and Juventus — alongside goalkeeper Dino Zoff, as well as defenders Claudio Gentile and Gaetano Scirea.
Cabrini won the Best Young Player Award at the 1978 World Cup after helping Italy manage a fourth-place finish, and also represented Italy at Euro 1980, once again finishing in 4th place.
He is one of the few players to have won all UEFA Club competitions, an achievement he managed with Juventus.
In 2021, Antonio Cabrini was inducted into the Italian Football Hall of Fame.