Ah, the right back. Perennially seen as the worst player on the pitch, even the position itself is usually followed by a jokey “.. behind the goal!” and yet in the modern game the player forms an integral part of the ebb and flow of the tactical maelstrom, switching from defence to attack in an instant and with as much responsibility of creating chances at one end as stopping them at the other.
Gone are the days of the nightmarish hackers of old: real men … scary men who could grow a full beard at half-time. Men like Claudio Gentile and Ron Harris. They wouldn’t be on the pitch five minutes these days and instead we’ve seen the position evolve into something … well, beautiful.
Until you look closely at Gary Neville’s face, that is …
My Top 4 Right Backs … Ever.
The most-capped French footballer of all time, Thuram was a real powerhouse who charged up and down the right flank like a steam train, terrorising left backs as much as the wingers in front of them. Although he played for nearly 20 years, the majority of his appearances were for just three clubs: Monaco, Parma and Juventus, winning the French cup, the Italian cup, Serie A and the UEFA Cup along the way. For France, he was part of the superb team that won the World Cup on home soil in 1998 but actually went on to play for Les Bleus for another ten years finishing on 142 caps, such was his longevity. Like many great full-backs, he moved infield to central defence, perhaps prolonging his career in the process, and enjoyed an Indian summer with Barcelona before finally calling it a day after being diagnosed with a heart defect.
Another Duracell bunny, only at the end of the 2012/13 season did Zanetti finally suffer a major injury, namely a cruciate tear .. but the doughty Argentinian swears he’ll return fitter than ever.
Who’s going to argue with him, even at the grand old age of 39 ? With 145 caps – and presumably we’re still counting – he’s easily the most-capped player for his country. Equally adept in midfield or defence, and on the right flank or the left, he’s played most of his career for Internazionale. In March of this year he played his 600th Serie A game for the club, with 834 appearances in total, a club record. A Champions League winner, a UEFA Cup winner and the holder of five Serie A winner’s medals, perhaps the only real disappointment in his career is that he never won the World Cup despite playing in strong sides in both the 1998 and the 2002 tournaments. Even if he recovers in time for Brazil 2014, it’s doubtful he’ll be called up again for the national team, although he could still be playing club football well into his 40s …
If Zanetti was the prototype versatile full-back of the modern era, Phillip Lahm is the finished article. Captain of both the all-conquering FC Bayern team and his country, the Germany international has seen and done it all, yet still looks about 12 years old. Now in fact 29, he has amassed 98 caps and made it into the teams of the tournament at Euro 2008 and 2012, as well as the 2006 and 2010 World Cups. With pace to burn, an excellent first touch and the dribbling skills of a winger, Lahm can run a match from the full-back position, both nullifying the opposition while setting up chances for his own team at the same time, such is his quality.
The classic Brazilian full-back able to attack and defend in the time-honoured tradition of his predecessors Carlos Alberto and Junior, Cafu was a devastatingly effective footballer for 20 years. Indefatigably energetic, he ran the right side of the pitch in the same way that Roberto Carlos did on the left, effectively giving the national side two extra men in the middle of the field in the process, with their perpetually lung-busting surges up and down the flanks.
With two World Cups to his name, Marcos Evangelista de Moraes – like Thuram – ended his career with 142 international caps, yet again a national record. What is it with right-backs ?
He also made an incredible 21 appearances at World Cup tournaments alone and he’s the only player in history to have played in three World Cup finals. Oh, and he also holds the record for the most finals games won, with 16.
As for his playing style ? Well, he basically redefined the position of full-back by de-constructing the defence/attack balance, such was the power of his non-stop overlapping and willingness to join the fun at the other end of the pitch. Like many other players in this list, he would also be a strong candidate for captain of the team … in short, a legend of the game.
Honourable mentions: Giuseppe Bergomi, Gianluca Zambrotta, Carlos Alberto, Eric Gerets, Danny McGrain and … Gary Neville