With goalkeepers, left-backs and centre-backs out the way, those of you who are keeping up with our current positional series will have known that right-backs were up next.
Somewhat to my surprise, this has probably been the most controversial series we have done yet, but maybe I shouldn’t be so surprised given that it concerns only high profile players that everyone is familiar with, has an opinion on and those opinions are often influenced by the clubs people support.
Rest assured, the club I support have about as much chance of featuring in this series as Phil Bardsley, so there’s no bias on my part.
Here are my views on the 7 best right-backs in world football:
7. Aaron Wan-Bissaka
We start with the least well-known player to feature in this entire series, well – outside of England at least – in the form of Aaron Wan-Bissaka. Now, I had to think long and hard about whether or not to include Wan-Bissaka over the players who will feature in our honourable mentions, partly because he is so inexperienced and hasn’t played any European or international football, and partly because I always seem to say Won-Bissaka instead of Wan-Bissaka when pronouncing his name… for some unknown reason.
Anyhow, I have to pick the players who I think are the best in the order I truly believe in, regardless of how popular it’s likely to be, and there has be no better full-back in purely defensive terms over the last 12 months in the Premier League than Aaron Wan-Bissaka.
Although the Crystal Palace man previously played on the wing in youth football, it’s his defensive solidity that has really made him standout since making his Premier League debut in February 2018. I think Joel Ward is a thoroughly capable top flight full-back, but Wan–Bissaka’s brilliance has restricted him to the bench.
Although the 21-year-old is as yet uncapped, he is bitterly unlucky to be playing in the most competitive position in the England squad. Since breaking into the Crystal Palace side, he has been much more dependable than Kieran Trippier at Tottenham and more formidable defensively albeit a little less threatening going forwards than Trent Alexander-Arnold, and Palace fans have a right to feel that there may be a bit of big club bias involved in his lack of a call-up.
6. Santiago Arias
Atletico Madrid have the most competitive right-back position in world football, probably followed by Barcelona, with Santiago Arias and Juanfran competing for a starting berth. As a rule, Diego Simeone will tend to go for Juanfran as the more defensive option and Arias if he wants to have a little more invention and penetration going forwards.
In truth, although different sorts of full-backs, there isn’t a great deal to split them talent wise. Simeone has edged towards Arias for the big games this season, and we’d tend to do the same. The 27-year-old Colombian international joined Atletico from PSV in the summer, and he has registered 27 appearances in all competitions.
A good runner who loves to get forward, Arias’ defensive nous should come on leaps and bounds alongside the likes of Diego Godin and Jose Gimenez, and under the tutelage of Diego Simeone.
5. Kyle Walker
Played at centre-back at the World Cup, a position which really doesn’t get the best out of him, I’ve no doubt Kyle Walker’s inclusion in fifth place will divide opinion both in favour and against the England man. Sensational for Manchester City last season and so quick to pick up on the way in which Pep Guardiola likes his full-backs to play, some began to describe him as the best right-back in the world.
This season has been rather more of a mixed bag, playing some brilliant football at times but also being dropped for Danilo at one stage of the campaign. The £50 million man has since re-asserted himself as Guardiola’s go-to full-back though, and he’s such a handful on his day.
Walker’s lightning pace makes him a nightmare to live with on the overlap for opposition full-backs as well as acting as a get out of jail free card when found wanting at the back. As I said earlier, I’d say Aaron Wan-Bissaka has been the most formidable Premier League full-back defensively over the last 12 months, but in terms of all-round play, I’d still just about go with Walker as the division’s – and indeed England’s – best right-back.
4. Nelson Semedo
We briefly mentioned Barcelona’s competition for the right-back spot when talking about Santiago Arias earlier, and that competition is between Nelson Semedo and Sergi Roberto. Now, Roberto is a player we like a lot, and I’d say he was a better footballer than Semedo, but I’m not sure he’s a better right-back.
The La Masia graduate has looked a little shaky there at times this season, and I think it’s obvious that he feels most comfortable in the centre of midfield. Semedo, meanwhile, has gone from strength to strength in his second season at the Camp Nou, receiving plaudits for his pace, understanding and intelligent runs down the right flank.
Capped 8 times by Portugal, the 25-year-old joined Barca for over €30 million from Benfica in 2017, but as one of the best right-backs in the world with a lot of football ahead of him, that probably wasn’t a bad deal.
3. Joao Cancelo
Portugal are spoilt for choice in the right-back position with Ricardo Pereira, Nelson Semedo, Cedric Soares and Joao Cancelo all available for selection and all but Soares aged 25 or younger. Cancelo is the youngest of the trio, but he appears to be the one who Fernando Santos rates the highest, and we’d just about go with the 64-year-old Portugal boss on that one.
Although he came through the youth ranks at Benfica, Cancelo made his name with Valencia, before signing for Juventus in a €40 million deal last summer. A regular fixture under Massimo Allegri since then, Cancelo is a right-back very much in the mould of the modern day attack-minded full-back.
He’s quick, good on the ball and he loves to get forward. Defensively, there’s plenty of room to improve, but he’s a really bright talent and he’s the man who gets us started with our top three.
2. Joshua Kimmich
Now, it was a tight call between our top two, and certainly good arguments can be made for both. I’d say Joshua Kimmich has been the best right-back in the world so far this season, and he’s getting mightily close to being the best right-back around full stop. The one thing holding Kimmich back at times is his defensive positioning and somewhat dubious attempts to mark an opponent, but there are so many positives.
When Germany and Bayern Munich lost an all time great in the form of Philip Lahm to retirement, they could scarcely have dreamed for a finer replacement than Kimmich. Having been tried out in a variety of positions as a promising youngster, he settled at right-back under Pep Guardiola.
It’s possible that he would be an even more accomplished player if the Spaniard had stuck around in Bavaria for a little longer, but even now, only Jordi Alba can really rival Kimmich in terms of attacking output by a full-back at the highest level. Jadon Sancho is the only player with more Bundesliga assists this season, a reminder that Kimmich is a defender might be timely here, and his work rate and composure are both first class.
Kimmich only just turned 24, and there should be no way in which he doesn’t become the best right-back in the world in the next 12-18 months.
0. Honourable Mentions
Before we conclude with our top spot, we ought to acknowledge some honourable mentions, in what was yet another really tough seven to put together. I’ll start with Italy and Roma right-back Alessandro Florenzi, who is quick, purposeful and a fine crosser of the ball, but just a little too naive defensively even at the age of 28 and in this era of such attack-minded full-backs to make our seven.
Trent Alexander-Arnold probably falls into a similar boat, although he has rather more time on his side to become more assured at the back. Nevertheless, the Liverpool regular is already an outstanding full-back who came very close to beating Wan-Bissaka into seventh place. Staying in the Premier League, we could mention the likes of Kieran Trippier, who had a brilliant World Cup but has let his standards drop this season, Ricardo Pereira who we mentioned earlier and even the likes of Pablo Zabaleta and Man City backup Danilo.
In Spain there is Danish international Daniel Wass at Valencia, who can play in just about every position on a football pitch but looks like one of the best right-backs in La Liga when played there. There’s also Nacho at Real Madrid, Juanfran at Atletico and indeed Sime Vrsaljko who is contracted to Atletico but is currently on-loan and out injured at Inter Milan.
Other players we must give quick mentions to include the likes of Dani Alves and Thomas Meunier at PSG, Elseid Hysaj at Napoli, Sergi Roberto at Barca if one calls him a right-back along with Mario Fernandes, Daniel Caliguiri and Diogo Dalot.
We’re bound to have missed some there and of course we can’t acknowledge every decent right-back on the planet, but please do let us know your top sevens in the comments. Remember, it’s based neither on current form nor on past glories, but simply on ability. And if you enjoyed the video do let us know, since it tends to only be the angry people who bother to comment at times…
Right, here is your top spot…
1. Dani Carvajal
The prevalence of Real Madrid players in this series may continue to baffle those who can’t hear me when I say the inclusions are based on how good I think the players are and not just current form, for those of you with ears, you won’t be too surprised to see Dani Carvajal become the second Real player to top one of these sevens.
Now, it was a tight call between Kimmich and Carvajal, but right now we think the Spaniard is more convincing defensively and as such just about the right choice. Despite being Real Madrid’s first choice right-back for the last five seasons, making more than 200 appearances and winning four Champions League trophies as a remarkably assured and consistent right-back, Carvajal has never really attracted a great deal of fanfare or plaudits.
Presumably this is because the 27-year-old isn’t as flashy as someone like a Dani Alves, but his performance levels over an extended period of time at the highest level have been top drawer. Joshua Kimmich is the more technically gifted footballer, and that’s why we think he should soon exceed Carvajal, but at the time of recording he deserves the top spot.
It isn’t the first time I’ve pointed this out, but the fact that Carvajal has never made the FIFPro World XI makes a mockery of the ceremony as much as Messi being named as the fifth best player in the world.