Hello and welcome back to HITC Sevens, I hope you all enjoyed the first part of this brief new series taking a look at the seven best footballers this decade in each position.
If you didn’t watch that video, which was about the seven greatest goalkeepers between 2010 and 2020, I’d suggest checking that out first and then watching todays video, since I went into a bit more detail with regards to the format and my plans there.
If you are someone who did see that video, or someone who is exclusively interested in right-backs for no apparent reason, then do continue. I will very quickly clarify that quality and quantity are the two criteria here, so don’t expect a brilliant right-back in 2010 like Maicon or a brilliant right-back in 2019 like Trent Alexander-Arnold to feature, since neither have been playing at the highest level for more than half of the previous decade.
Here are my views on the 7 best right-backs of the last decade:
7. Cesar Azpilicueta
It can be difficult assigning Cesar Azpliicueta a position, since the Spaniard has played right across Chelsea’s backline since arriving at the Bridge in 2012, and he played some of his best football as a left-back and as a centre-back as part of a back three. Nevertheless, if you had to nail him down to a single position it would be his most natural position at right-back, so that is where he features in this seven. The fact that Azpilicueta isn’t a bonafide out-and-out right-back like most of this seven may count against him, but he still does enough to see off the likes of Kyle Walker, Bacary Sagna and Seamus Coleman to come in at seventh place.
Capped 25 times by Spain, Azpilicueta began the decade with Osasuna, but he signed for Marseille in the summer of 2010. Two years later he joined Chelsea for just £7 million, in a deal that must go down as one of the bargains of the decade. Azpilicueta has played over 350 games for Chelsea, he was the club’s Player of the Year in the 2012-13 season, and he recently took over as club captain following Gary Cahill’s departure. Azpilicueta is a real work horse with a terrific attitude, he is defensively astute and he’s a good crosser of the ball. He may not be as spectacular offensively as some of the others in this seven, but he’s one of the most formidable when facing his own goal and his consistency over the last 10 years means he has to feature.
6. Branislav Ivanovic
There are a lot of similarities between Cesar Azpilicueta in seventh and Branislav Ivanovic in sixth. Both spent the bulk of the decade playing for Chelsea, both could play in other positions and both were beacons of consistency throughout the decade. Branislav Ivanovic joined Chelsea in January 2008 having played largely as a centre-back for Lokomotiv Moscow, and the big Serbs first half-season at the Bridge would be a complete write-off. He almost left the club the following summer but didn’t, but eight months after his arrival he made his debut in the League Cup against Portsmouth.
He became a regular during the second half of the 2008-09 season, and he went on to rack up 377 appearances for the Blues as a stalwart in the first team up until 2017. That was when he made a return to Russia, this time with Zenit St Petersburg, where the full-back has since registered over 100 appearances and added a Russian Premier League title to a trophy cabinet that already included three Premier League titles, a Champions League, a Europa League and six other trophies.
Ivanovic is 35 now, and obviously coming towards the tail-end of his career, but at his best he was a really strong, determined and uncompromising competitor. Ivanovic was never afraid to put his head where it hurts, so to speak, whether that was defending his own goal or attacking the oppositions, and he has scored an impressive 74 goals throughout his career. He’s also won more than 100 caps for Serbia, and I think he’s good value for sixth place in this seven.
5. Dani Carvajal
A real unsung hero of Real Madrid’s four Champions League triumphs in just five seasons, Dani Carvajal is or was the complete full-back at his best. Aged 27, he is the youngest player in this seven, and that means he was just 17 when the decade began. He spent the first couple of years of the 2010’s playing for Real Madrid Castilla, before leaving his boyhood club for Bundesliga side Bayer Leverkusen. Real Madrid inserted a buy-back clause in that deal, which they exercised just one year later in 2013.
Carvajal has been a mainstay in the Real side ever since, racking up 250 appearances in just six-and-a-bit seasons. A terrific athlete, Carvajal brings real energy and stamina to the right flank, capable of making intelligent overlapping runs and putting a decent ball into the box. He’s also pretty solid defensively by modern standards, and isn’t one to shirk a challenge. If this were a seven of the best right-backs between 2013 and 2020, Carvajal would make the top three at least, but the fact that he didn’t start playing top flight football until 2012 limits him to fifth.
4. Pablo Zabaleta
In the annals of Manchester City history, Pablo Zabaleta must go down as an all time great. The Argentine international arrived at the Etihad from Espanyol in 2008 for just six-and-a-half million pounds, peanuts by the Citizens standards. He went on to play some 333 games for the club, the vast majority of which came during this decade. Zabaleta’s powers have obviously been on the wane for the last couple of years, now aged 34, but at his best he was one of the most formidable full-backs in the world.
Dogged in his duties, tireless in his running and relentless in his appetite to win the ball back, Zabaleta endeared himself to the Man City faithful. He was thrice named as the Citizens Player of the Month, and he was the only Man City player to make the 2012-13 Premier League Team of the Season. Zabaleta has also won 58 caps for Argentina, with whom he reached a World Cup final in 2014, and he joined West Ham United in 2017. Zabaleta had a very impressive debut campaign at the London Stadium, but his pace has no doubt deserted him a little in more recent times. Nevertheless, he’s my choice as the fourth greatest right-back of the 2010’s, and I think his consistency and quality over a sustained period of time warrants it.
3. Łukasz Piszczek
Into the top three, and our bronze medalist is Lukasz Piszczek. A tremendous servant to Borussia Dortmund this decade, Piszczek has also shown remarkable consistency over an extended period of time. He is the same age as Pablo Zabaleta, but he’s maintained his high standards a little longer than the former Man City star. Piszczek actually began the decade with Hertha Berlin, but he joined Dortmund on a free transfer in May 2010.
Since then, he has played 338 games for the club, winning six trophies, including two Bundesliga titles, and twice making the Bundesliga Team of the Season. A really industrious footballer, Piszczek’s work ethic is unquestionable. Diligent in his defensive duties whilst maintaining a threat going forward, Piszczek also won 66 caps for the Polish national team between his debut in 2007 and his retirement from international football in 2019. Piszczek has announced that he will retire at the end of this season, and he will do so as the third best right-back of the last decade as far as I’m concerned.
2. Philipp Lahm
The top two in this seven were always absolutely nailed on, I don’t think any sensible person would dispute that, but how to order them is a matter that is much more open to debate. Ultimately, Philipp Lahm retired in 2017, and whilst I think he is the best right-back in this seven, that is a significant chunk of the decade in which he played no football at all – so he has to come second.
The only player in this seven who featured in my 2017 video on the seven greatest right-backs of all time, in which he came fifth, Lahm is the most complete full-back of the modern era. A diminutive full-back at just 5’7, he was quick, intelligent, good on the ball and so precise in the tackle. Lahm spent the entire 2010’s at Bayern Munich, and indeed his entire career, barring a couple of seasons on-loan at Stuttgart.
He spent a lot of time playing at left-back during his early years at Bayern, and was later deployed in central midfield. That is testament to Lahm’s tactical intelligence and his technical prowess, but personally I always liked to see him giving a masterclass in full-back play at right-back. He made 517 appearances for Bayern, mostly in the 2010’s, and won 113 caps for Germany, 50 of which came during this decade. An eight-time Bundesliga champions who also won the Champions League and the World Cup, Lahm made three separate World Cup Teams of the Tournament.
1. Dani Alves
Dani Alves is without doubt one of the two finest right-backs of his generation, and although I think Lahm was the superior full-back, his retirement in 2017 means Dani Alves is the obvious and the right choice as the best right-back of the 2010’s. Oddly enough, Alves is actually slightly older than Lahm, but whilst the German retired two-and-a-half years ago, Alves has gone boldly on, adding more and more silverware to one of the largest trophy cabinets a footballer has ever assembled.
Alves began the decade and will forever be best associated with his time at Barcelona. He joined the Catalan giants in 2008, and stuck around until 2016. In eight seasons, he won 23 trophies, averaging almost a treble a season. The three-time Champions League winner is a fantastic modern full-back who had pace, dynamism and creativity in the final third. What made him so special at Barcelona was the little relationships he built all over the pitch, particularly his one with Lionel Messi when the little Argentine was playing wide on the right in front of Alves.
He left Barca to spend a season at Juventus in 2016-17, followed by two seasons with PSG, adding eight new trophies during those three seasons. Last summer, he added a second Copa America to his list of accomplishments, being named as the tournament’s most valuable player at the age of 36. Alves has had a sensational decade, the finest of any full-back in world football as far as I’m concerned.