Discussing the world’s best right-backs was not something most would have considered doing even 15 years ago.
“Nobody grows up wanting to be a Gary Neville” as the famous Jamie Carragher line goes. He may have had a point, with right-back not always considered the sexiest position on the field in days gone by.
Times are changing, though, with the role having a greater impact on attacking play and team shape than ever before. Here, we take a look at the ten best.
10. Aaron Wan-Bissaka (Manchester United)
Is there a better defensive right-back in the world? Probably not.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka is a ball-winning machine. There’s arguably no one else you want up against a Kylian Mbappe on the left of the pitch – but while there are plenty who claim the 23-year-old is a liability going forward… that’s not wholly true.
AWB is much better in attack than many give him credit for, providing decent crosses for his forwards and supporting his winger on that side well. He’s cruelly unlucky that there are quite so many top English right-backs – perhaps he wouldn’t have his game quite so routinely criticised if he wasn’t constantly being compared to everyone else.
9. Zeki Celik
Zeki Celik was superb for Lille last season as the underdogs lifted the title ahead of Paris Saint-Germain. He’s superb at offering overlapping runs down the right and he’s an asset down that flank.
While a number of clubs looked at him in the summer, Celik stayed at Lille. At just 24, he has plenty of growing to do and could become one of the most reliable full-backs in Europe over the next few years.
8. Reece James (Chelsea)
The fact the Chelsea youngster has forced his way into the England set-up, despite the wealth of right-back options, is testament to his ability and character. James might not have the delivery of Trent Alexander-Arnold, or the lighting pace of Walker, but he’s a better all-rounder than either.
Solid at the back and intelligent going forward, Blues fans will tell you he’s the best right-back in the country. Perhaps that’s a little premature – but at 21, he has plenty of time to develop into a truly magnificent defender.
7. Dani Carvajal
Dani Carvajal is just 29 years old – you may have thought he was older. Though the Spaniard has suffered with injuries recently though, he’s still one of the best right-backs in the world: he was the gold standard during Real Madrid’s threepeat.
Carvajal is a complete player, valuable in any phase of the pitch. He’s one of the most underrated aspects of Real’s side when he plays, as his experience and positioning is invaluable in that backline. When he’s on top of his game, no winger in the world wants to go up against him.
6. Benjamin Pavard
Perhaps your introduction to Benjamin Pavard was during the 2018 World Cup, listening to Mark Lawrenson on the BBC at the end of his tether with the French full-back. He’s a lot better now than Lawro seemed to think in that group game against Australia.
The Bayern defender is the archetypal “soft full-back”, who stays back in build-up, doesn’t overlap his winger often and provides an option inside the pitch. He’s grown into a superb defender over the past few years, allowing Alphonso Davies to bomb up and down the opposite side of the pitch.
5. Kieran Trippier (Atletico Madrid)
How many English players can you fit on one list about the world’s best right-backs, you ask?
The standout right-back in La Liga last season, Kieran Trippier was defensively solid while weighing in with six assists to help Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid side climb to the apex of the Spanish top flight. And there was the small matter of the Euros in the summer.
Tripper isn’t the quickest or strongest right back in the world, but his composure, crossing and pinpoint set-pieces make him a danger going forward, and his positioning means he rarely gets caught out by opposition wingers.
4. Kyle Walker (Manchester City)
For the first time in his Manchester City career, Kyle Walker found a starting berth harder to come by when a new right-back was signed by City. Such has been the excellent form of teammate Joao Cancelo (more on him further down), Walker has watched more than a few games from the bench.
That doesn’t mean he’s regressed, however. He remains the same blend of power, pace and determination he has always been. His delivery can lack at times – he’s managed only 15 assists in more than 175 appearances for his club – but his defensive ability makes him a shoe-in for big games and important assignments. A leader for club and country, Walker would probably walk into almost any back four in Europe.
3. Achraf Hakimi (Inter Milan)
The rumours were that Real Madrid didn’t particularly want to let Achraf Hakimi leave after his blazing loan spell at Borussia Dortmund. After joining Inter Milan in 2020, however, the Moroccan right-back became one of the standouts in Antonio Conte’s side, providing creativity in abundance and even chipping in with goals.
Now he’s part of Les Galactiques in Paris, alongside the likes of Ramos, Neymar and Mbappe, providing overlapping runs for Messi and Di Maria. It says a lot of the Moroccan’s ability that he’s one of the stars of this side, despite the wealth of other superstars in the team. He’s still got his best years ahead of him, too.
2. Joao Cancelo (Manchester City)
It’s not often that a full-back manages to become the outstanding asset in a title-winning side. But watching Joao Cancelo for Manchester City last season, the Portuguese has often been the star of the show.
Cancelo functions as a defender, a midfielder and an attacker all in one. He’s always available for a pass, always where he needs to be and has refined his game to be a go-to man for Pep Guardiola to fashion into whatever City need from him. He’s a superb passer, calm on the ball and resilient defensively, making him excellent in whichever phase of play he finds himself in.
And as if he wasn’t good enough on the right, he can also play at left-back, too. Cancelo has been one of the best players in the world in any position this season and a big reason that City have been so good over the past 18 months.
1. Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool)
Gareth Southgate’s decision to leave the Liverpool starlet out of the England squad during March’s fixtures felt astonishing. No, Trent hadn’t been at his best over the course of the season, but this was one of the best right-backs in the world cast aside ahead of a major tournament.
Trent’s standards became so high that last season in which he’s chipped in seven assists and two goals feels like a disappointment. Liverpool’s makeshift back four didn’t help him play his best football, yet their no.66 was an ever-present, working hard to keep the Red’s Champions League ambitions on course.
Well, he’s back to his best, now. Alexander-Arnold is almost unique in world football as a full-back who acts as a playmaker and he’s started the 2021/22 season with the same verve that he had when the Reds won the league. At 23, he’s only getting better, too.