The full back revolution hasn’t merely been restricted to the right side of the pitch. Although, that is where many of the tagged revolutionaries strut their stuff.
Being deployed at left back was once an insult; it’s where you’d likely see the worst player on the team attempt to impress if you strolled down to your local playing fields on a Sunday morning. It was a position that nobody wanted to play.
However, the rapid evolution of the sport in the 21st century has morphed the left back position into a desirable one. It’s an incredibly demanding function with modern-day tactical obsessives trying their utmost to complicate the role as much as they can. Thanks, Pep.
But their work has brought about a new breed of left back and we’re now blessed with a myriad of stars in that position.
Ranking the top 25 left backs in the world is no easy task, but here’s our attempt at doing exactly that.
This may come as a bit of a surprise, but our ranking begins with Brighton new boy Pervis Estupinan.
The left back made a name for himself while out on loan at Osasuna in La Liga during the COVID-hit 2019/20 campaign. Estupinan assisted five times in the league that season as his precise delivery and proactive defensive style became revered in Spain.
The Ecuadorian is an incredibly energetic full back who excels in all phases of play. He’s an excellent dribbler and proved while playing in the Champions League with Villarreal that he can perform to a borderline elite level in high-pressure moments.
Estupinan has all the makings of an exceptional wing back, and there’s no doubt Roberto De Zerbi will maximise his potential at the Amex.
Philipp Max is one of Europe’s most productive left backs from an attacking sense, but the fact that he no longer competes in one of the continent’s premier divisions has undoubtedly damaged his stock.
Max starred in the Bundesliga with Augsburg – registering 12 assists in 2017/18 and 14 goal contributions in 2019/20 – before he opted to join PSV in 2020.
Max scored five times and added 13 assists in his debut Eredivisie campaign, but has struggled with minor knocks more recently.
Joakim Maehle was one of the protagonists in Denmark’s unforgettable Euro 2020 journey and anyone would think the Dane is among the world’s best at his position if his international form was anything to go by.
Maehle is distinctly talented and his skill set, which includes astute off-the-ball movement, supreme athleticism and an infectious tenacity, appears tailor-made for Gian Piero Gasperini’s high-octane system at Atalanta.
However, Maehle is yet to hit the heights he so often reaches for the national team in Bergamo.
Bullish Argentine Marcos Acuna has been a staple at Sevilla for the past three years. He has done an apt job of replacing Sergio Reguilon, who starred during his loan spell in Seville, without matching the Spaniard’s impressive output during the 2019/20 campaign.
Acuna’s relatively small attacking output is somewhat of a surprise given that he broke onto the scene in Argentina with Racing Club as a left-sided midfielder.
Nevertheless, the Argentine is a physically robust defender who is one of Sevilla’s primary ball-progressors in possession. He’s a sound technician who can play in tight spaces, while he’s also adept at playing over longer distances. Acuna can split defensive lines with his passes and bypass opponents with his dribbling.
Overall, Acuna’s a fine left back and one of the best that La Liga has to offer.
Julian Nagelsmann coaxed every ounce of potential out of Jesse Pinkm– sorry, Angelino during his stint at RB Leipzig. The Spaniard had struggled to settle after joining Manchester City in 2013 before he arrived in Saxony seven years later on an initial loan.
The once-outcasted Spaniard thrived in Nagelsmann’s proactive and vertical three-back system which allowed him to function as a wing back. This allowed Angelino’s forward-thinking instincts to manifest as he scored four times and added four assists in his first full Bundesliga campaign.
He continued to be productive following Nagelsmann’s departure, but he’s since made the switch to Hoffenheim. Angelino’s attacking talents see him make this list because he leaves plenty to be desired going the other way.
Nottingham Forest produced a bit of a coup to sign Atletico Madrid left back Renan Lodi on loan in the summer of 2022.
Lodi performed at the highest level for Atleti and his performance against Manchester United at Old Trafford in the Champions League last season garnered plenty of plaudits.
Admittedly, he has suffered from consistency issues over the past two years after he starred during his debut season in La Liga. Lodi’s a diligent and proactive defender who loves to contribute with the ball and he’s now probably better suited to a wing back role.
He’s shown his attacking quality early in his loan spell with Forest as they look to avoid relegation.
Gian Piero Gasperini’s idiosyncratic system got the very best out of the powerful Robin Gosens. Swift rotations and interchanges meant the German left wing back often found himself behind the opposition’s defence and his output in Bergamo was staggering as a result.
Gosens contributed to 32 Serie A goals over two seasons between 2019 and 2021 as La Dea established themselves as Europe’s supreme entertainers. Atalanta’s demise coincided with the German’s injury woes, and he’s since moved to Inter.
Ivan Perisic’s stellar form meant he rarely featured for the Nerazzurri, but he’ll surely play a big role for Simone Inzaghi’s side moving forward.
There was a point where Sergio Reguilon was considered among the very best left backs. The slight Spaniard’s stock was at an all-time high off the back of Sevilla’s impressive Europa League triumph in 2020 and his Tottenham career started off on the right foot.
Reguilon was among Spurs’ best performers under Jose Mourinho and his energy down the left flank meant he was well-liked among the Lilywhite faithful.
However, the appointment of Antonio Conte altered Reguilon’s fortunes in north London. While he has plenty of admirable attributes, his indecisiveness and inefficiency in the final third are distinct downsides. And given his lack of stature, he’s certainly not your typical Conte wing back.
Ryan Sessegnon and Ivan Perisic have since usurped Reguilon in the depth chart, but there’s no doubt the Spaniard can thrive in the right system and environment.
When Luke Shaw latched onto Kieran Trippier’s teasing delivery to open the scoring in the Euro 2020 final, it was the culmination of the left back’s impressive resurgence having previously been written off at a club level.
Shaw’s majestic Euros had come off the back of a brilliant season – arguably his best – at Manchester United and he was regarded by many at the time as one of the world’s best left backs.
However, Shaw’s fortunes have once again taken a turn. His form took a slide and injuries hampered his 2021/22 campaign. The left back has started well under new boss Erik ten Hag, but there’s plenty of work to be done yet.
David Raum is a relentless supplier of goals.
Following a superb campaign with Greuther Furth in the German second tier, Raum would enjoy an assist-laden season with Hoffenheim before again moving to RB Leipzig.
Raum is a versatile defender who can function in a variety of systems, but he’s undoubtedly at his most effective when he’s given the freedom to advance into the final third.
He’s one of the best attacking left backs in the world, but he does have a couple of defensive drawbacks, including his ability in one-v-one situations.
Marc Cucurella’s rise from Jose Bordelas’ workhorse at Getafe to £60m defender has been swift. The Spaniard excelled as a centre back, full back, and wing back for Graham Potter at Brighton and his stellar form convinced Chelsea to pay a mammoth fee for his services this summer.
Cucurella, in short, is a pest. He’s so tough to play against. Not only is he tenacious out of possession, but he’s so crafty on the ball, too. The Barcelona academy graduate bypasses pressure for fun and it’s easy to see why Pep Guardiola was intent on signing him before Chelsea swooped.
He’s got a great head of hair, too, contrary to what Cristian Romero thinks.
Injuries have disrupted Kieran Tierney’s spell at Arsenal, but there’s no doubt he’s one of the world’s best left backs when fit and firing.
The flying Scotsman was once Arsenal’s primary creative source under Mikel Arteta before the Gunners diversified their work in the final third.
Despite his injury woes, Tierney remains a powerful athlete who loves to maraud up and down the left flank. The Scot is an effective overlapper who can deliver a variety of crosses into the box. His output in north London hasn’t been staggering, but his efficacy has been distinct.
Tierney’s availability – or lack thereof – means he doesn’t quite break our top ten left backs, but his talent and work ethic mean he’s certainly knocking on the door.
Leandro Spinazzola played such a key role in Italy’s Euro 2020 triumph despite picking up a devastating Achilles injury in the Azzurri’s quarter-final triumph over Belgium.
The overlapping runs of the flying left back were crucial to Roberto Mancini’s possession structure, and his reputation soared in the aftermath of the tournament as Italy eventually prevailed.
There are fears he won’t quite be as destructive as he was pre-injury, but he’s still building his way back to the top under Jose Mourinho at Roma.
There aren’t many full backs as dynamic as Borussia Dortmund’s Raphael Guerreiro. The diminutive Portugal international is so fun to watch.
In comparison to his contemporaries, Guerreiro stands out with his efficient work in the final third but he’s also an exceptional ball-carrier. He’s the epitome of a modern-day full back with his positivity in possession crucial in ensuring Dortmund get up the pitch.
While there are physical shortcomings, Guerreiro boasts the defensive nous to ensure such drawbacks are minimised. He’s a shrewd defender, but it’s his stellar attacking work that helps him into our top ten left backs in the world.
Questions were raised over Ben Chilwell’s viability as a £50m full back when Chelsea signed him from Leicester in 2020. His senior career had started brightly at the King Power, but there’s no doubt that the Blues were taking a big financial risk.
However, he quickly took to life in west London and his game was taken to another level after Thomas Tuchel replaced Frank Lampard as Chelsea boss in January 2021.
The England international loves a niggle, however, and seems to run into a fitness issue whenever he builds up some momentum.
David Alaba this, Marcelo that. No. Jordi Alba was the left back of the 2010s. Although, we’re open to debate.
Alba’s form has continued into the new decade and amid a tumultuous period for Barcelona, both on and off the field, the diminutive Spaniard has been a model of consistency.
His attacking output remains superb and last season was the most productive of his entire La Liga career as he notched 12 goal contributions. Alba continues to wreak havoc on the overlap and his ability to make the right decision in the final third is unerringly impressive.
Jose Gaya is one of those guys who has long been respected and he often crops up in rankings just like this.
The Spaniard has been a consistent performer amid a tumultuous period for Valencia and if it wasn’t for the perpetual brilliance of Jordi Alba, he certainly would’ve earned more caps for the national team.
Gaya is revered for his attacking prowess and his energy down the left is infectious. He’s been Valencia’s best player for quite some time now and has served as their skipper since Dani Parejo’s 2020 departure.
There was a time when Mario Rui summed up everything wrong with Napoli. However, he’s turned into a vital attacking presence down the left, forming a fun partnership with speedster Khvicha Kvaratskhelia.
Napoli often attack down the left and Rui can be counted on for defensive resilience and good delivery from out wide.
Underrated for so long, it finally feels like Oleksandr Zinchenko is garnering the plaudits he deserves. The Ukraine international stars for the national team as a midfielder, but the vast majority of supporters regard Zinchenko as an archetypal Pep Guardiola inverted full-back.
He performed such a complex function to an incredibly high standard at the Etihad as he perpetually played an unsung role in City’s four Premier League title wins.
His arrival at Arsenal has arguably thrust Zinchenko more into the limelight and his impact in north London has been immediate. He’s a leader on the field, while many regard him as one of the finest technicians in the sport.
Ivan Perisic has Antonio Conte to thank for his evolution into one of the world’s finest left wing backs. Initially unconvinced by Perisic’s suitability to his 3-5-2 system at Inter, Conte oversaw Perisic’s loan to Bayern Munich for the 2019/20 season.
Returning as a champion of Europe, the Croat emerged as a perhaps unlikely but nonetheless crucial part of Conte’s Scudetto-winning Nerazzurri outfit in 2020/21. The wing back whisperer worked his magic once more with Perisic as the Croatian international notched nine Serie A goal contributions.
Perisic has since re-united with Conte at Spurs and his impact in north London could take the Lilywhites to the next level.
After starring in Ligue 1 with Lyon, Mendy departed for Real Madrid in 2019 and made an immediate impact. With stalwart Marcelo on the decline, the Frenchman was signed to be the majestic Brazilian’s long-term successor at the Bernabeu.
He has certainly shown that he’s capable of performing at the very highest level and he’s had a hand in two La Liga title wins as well as Los Blancos’ most recent Champions League triumph.
Mendy has almost gone under the radar for Real in the past couple of years with his domestic minutes limited by injuries. But he’s stepped up when it has mattered most, and his well-rounded skill set means he’s one of the most complete left backs in the world.
Is it too early to place Nuno Mendes above the likes of Mendy and Alba? We don’t think so. He’s that good.
Like Achraf Hakimi, young Mendes endured a pretty turbulent debut campaign in Paris as he was often deployed in a flat back four by Mauricio Pochettino. The Portuguese international had excelled as a wing back at Sporting CP, and he’s started the 2022/23 campaign off brilliantly with Christophe Galtier switching to a back three.
Despite his youth, Mendes is a two-time league champion in two different countries, and he has all the makings of a superstar. He is as explosive as they come, and his pinpoint crossing ability means his output should explode this season with Galtier giving Mendes more of a chance to showcase his majestic offensive repertoire.
He’s relentless down the left flank and he’ll certainly complement PSG’s star-studded front line with his marauding runs and astute decision-making.
While his stellar contemporaries have often peaked and troughed in recent years, Liverpool’s Andy Robertson has been as consistent as they come.
Signed from Hull for a modest fee in 2017, Robertson has gone on to establish himself as one of the protagonists in a side that has won both the Premier League and Champions League in the past three years.
Robertson has notched double-digit assist hauls in three Premier League seasons and he plays a crucial role in ensuring the Reds are able to suffocate and dominate opponents, which they so often do.
As Bayern Munich were crowned champions of Europe in 2020, Alphonso Davies was on top of the world with many regarding the likeable Canadian as the best left back on the planet.
However, Davies’ rise was brought to a shuddering halt earlier this year as he was diagnosed with myocarditis following complications with COVID-19. He’s back now, though, and he’s looking to reclaim his status as the world’s premier left back.
He stands out in almost every statistical category. He relentlessly contributes in the final third, aids Bayern’s ability to progress the ball down the left, and he can dominate defensively.
Davies is physically imposing and one of the quickest players in world football. His recovery running is something to behold.
6’0 tall and built like a brick you know what, Theo Hernandez is currently the most destructive left back in world football. The Frenchman, who flashed his talent while at Real Sociedad, has blossomed into a borderline superstar at AC Milan.
Theo loves to break forward from defence and he’s, without question, the most proficient ball-carrier among players at his position in world football – just check out his goal against Atalanta last season amid Milan’s Scudetto charge.
The left back has forged a deadly dynamic with Rafael Leao down the Rossoneri’s left and the pair were absolutely pivotal to their title success in 2021/22. Theo can attack on the inside and outside, with the sheer power he possesses often enough to overwhelm opponents.
While many would argue that Robertson is the most complete left back in the world, Theo’s scintillating form over the past 18 months just can’t be overlooked. He’s the best left back on the planet.