Years ago, right-backs were reserved for the least talented players in a soccer team. But their role has completely evolved in the modern era.
Right-backs are now defensive-minded players who are adept at attacking like a winger yet still capable of defending.
The right back’s primary objective is to prevent the opposing team’s attackers from advancing and creating scoring opportunities, while also providing support for their own team’s attack by overlapping with the right winger or midfielder.
Right backs also need to be able to deliver accurate crosses into the opposing team’s penalty area, contributing to their team’s scoring opportunities.
Typically, a great right-back possesses strength, pace, toughness, courage, and the ability to overlap and put in a cross.
Furthermore, quality right-backs are more common than left-backs due to the fact that about two-thirds of footballers are right-footed.
They also mostly wear the No. 2 jersey.
Here, TOP SOCCER BLOG compiles the top 10 best right-backs in soccer history.
Throughout history, Brazil have produced more high-quality right-backs than any other country in the world. And it’s not surprising that they dominate this list.
In the number 1 spot, we have Cafu, who is also arguably one of the greatest soccer players of all time.
Cafu was elegant, dynamic, graceful and made the right-back role adorable.
He was also renowned for his speed, agility, and athleticism. He had incredible pace and stamina, which allowed him to run up and down the field effortlessly, making vital tackles and interceptions, and overlapping with the attack.
Like most typical right-backs, Cafu wore the number 2 jersey for most of his career.
He represented the likes of AC Milan and AS Roma at club level, but it was on the international stage with Brazil that he became iconic.
He represented Brazil at 4 FIFA World Cups between 1994 and 2006 and is the only player in history to have appeared in 3 CONSECUTIVE World Cup finals.
Cafu won the title in 1994 but ultimately cemented his legacy by captaining Brazil to World Cup glory in 2002.
Furthermore, he is the most-capped player for the Brazil national team, with 142 appearances.
2. Philipp Lahm
One of the most versatile players on this list, Philipp Lahm could operate at right-back, left-back or defensive midfield — making him a manager’s dream.
Lahm’s tactical awareness and sound understanding of the game regularly saw him use his intelligence to cover for his lack of speed and physical strength.
Moreso, his ability with the ball at his feet made him such a joy to watch, but he also rarely committed a foul.
The German international was a technically gifted player with excellent ball control, dribbling skills, and passing accuracy. He was also able to deliver pinpoint crosses and long-range passes.
Lahm captained Bayern Munich for a long time, leading them to numerous honors, including the 2013 UEFA Champions League as part of the Treble.
He also captained Germany to glory at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.
Lahm was included in the World Cup team of the tournament in 2006, 2010, and 2014, and the UEFA Team of the Tournament in 2008 and 2012, as well as in the UEFA Team of the Year in 2006, 2008, 2012, 2013 and 2014.
3. Lillian Thuram
Lillian Thuram was a quick, powerful, and versatile defender capable of playing both as a center-back and as a right-back and was equally competent offensively and defensively.
His heavy marking of opponents and aggressive tackling made him difficult to beat in one on one situations. He was also very good in the air.
The Frenchman also played as a wingback, and is said to be one of the greatest wingbacks in soccer history.
As a full-back, Thuram was known for his ability to make attacking runs up the flank and contribute to his team’s offensive play after winning the ball back.
He played for Monaco, Parma, Juventus, and Barcelona and won several trophies.
With France, Thuram was a key player for the teams that won the 1998 FIFA World Cup and UEFA Euro 2000, as well as finishing as runners-up at the 2006 World Cup.
He is the second most capped player in the history of the France national team, with 142 appearances.
4. Dani Alves
Dani Alves is the most decorated player in the history of professional soccer, with 41 titles at senior level and 43 official titles overall.
Regarded as one of the best full-backs of his generation — and of all time — Alves plays as an offensive right-back or wing-back.
He is famous for his pace, stamina, overlapping attacking runs, and technical skills — which also enable him to play in midfield or as a winger.
Additionally, he is gifted with good crossing accuracy and distribution, which allows him to link up with midfielders and makes him an effective assist provider along the right flank.
The greatness of Dani Alves could only be explained by the fact that despite being a defender, he was a standout star in the greatest club side ever (Barcelona 2008-2012).
The Brazilian would spend the majority of his time on the pitch in the opposition half, creating chances for his team’s forwards.
His link-up play with Lionel Messi at Barcelona was extraordinary.
5. Javier Zanetti
He might not be exciting as the other full-backs on this list, but that takes nothing away from the greatness of Javier Zanetti.
He was notable for his longevity; his career lasted over 22 years — incredibly, at the highest level.
He wore the number 4 jersey for most of his career.
Zanetti was a mainstay in Inter Milan’s defense for almost two decades, making over 850 appearances for the Nerazzurri and becoming the most iconic captain in the club’s history.
The Argentine was known for his versatility as well as his adeptness on both the left and right wing, having played as a full-back on both flanks in addition to being a midfielder.
Zanetti was a quick, strong, and physically fit player in his prime, with outstanding physical attributes, excellent ball control, dribbling, technical ability, and acceleration.
6. Carlos Alberto
Scorer of one of the most iconic goals in football history against Italy in the 1970 FIFA World Cup final, Carlos Alberto was also an inspirational leader for the Brazilian national team.
Carlos Alberto, also known as “O Capitão do Tri”, is considered one of the greatest right-backs in soccer history because he was an excellent defender who could read the game well, anticipate the opponent’s moves, and make crucial tackles and interceptions.
He was also adept at marking opposing players and preventing them from advancing down the right flank.
Along with his ability to strike a ball beautifully, Alberto was blessed with exquisite control and playmaking ability to go with his expert anticipation and timing.
7. Giuseppe Bergomi
Giuseppe Bergomi spent his entire 20-year club career at Inter Milan, making more than 850 appearances.
Primarily a right-back, Bergomi was an extremely versatile defender who was capable of playing anywhere along the backline and adapted to any formation.
He was a quick, athletic, consistent, and hard-working player who was also very strong in the air.
In addition to his defensive ability as a full-back, he was also known for his strength, stamina, and his ability to make attacking runs up the flank.
Moreso, he was also capable of contributing to his team’s offensive plays with goals and assists, courtesy of his good right foot, crossing ability, and powerful shot from outside the area.
Above all, Bergomi was known for his excellent man-marking skills as a “stopper.”
8. Djalma Santos
Djalma Santos was a quick and physically strong defender who was known for his stamina, marking, and tackling ability. He was also very effective in the air.
With excellent ball control, good dribbling skills, creativity, and accurate distribution, he often took on opponents with the ball when under pressure in one on one situations, even in risky situations inside his own penalty area!
Furthermore, he was also one of the first full-backs to venture forward and make overlapping attacking runs down the flank in order to contribute to his teams’ offensive plays.
Santos was also an accurate penalty kick and set-piece taker and was particularly known for his ability to take long throw-ins.
Along with Franz Beckenbauer and Philipp Lahm, he is one of only three players to be included in 3 FIFA World Cup All-Star teams (in 1954, 1958, and 1962).
9. Phil Neal
Phil Neal won 7 First Division league titles, 4 League Cups, 5 FA Charity Shields, 4 European Cups (now UEFA Champions League), 1 UEFA Cup, and 1 UEFA Super Cup during his 11 glorious years at Liverpool — making him one of the most successful English soccer players ever.
During his Liverpool career, Neal was ever-present in the starting line-up for several seasons.
He played 366 CONSECUTIVE league matches (a club record and among the highest in English football history) from December 1974 until September 1983, when he suffered an injury against Manchester United that forced him to miss the following week’s match against Sunderland.
10. Gianluca Zambrotta
Gianluca Zambrotta turned out for the likes of Juventus, Barcelona, and AC Milan.
He excelled at both offensive and defensive play, which made him tactically versatile, allowing him to be deployed on the left as well as on the right side of the pitch — as a full-back or wing-back in a 4 or 5-man defense or even as a winger or wide midfielder.
His main attributes were his pace, marking ability, tackling, strength, intelligence, tenacity, discipline, and stamina — which allowed him to make surging, overlapping attacking runs with the ball up the flank after winning back possession.
On the international stage, Zambrotta was a mainstay in the Italian national team, where he won 98 caps.
He was part of the team that reached the final of the Euro 2000.
At Euro 2004, he was named in the Team of the Tournament for his performance, despite Italy crashing out in the group stages.
Although injured, Zambrotta was named to the Italian team for the 2006 FIFA World Cup.
He repaid the faith shown in him with some exciting performances throughout the tournament as Italy won the title.
Furthermore, he was named to the FIFA All-Star Team.
The same year, he was named in the Fifpro World XI and the UEFA Team of the Year.