With goalkeepers, right-backs and centre-backs done and dusted, today we round off our back four with a look at the finest left-backs of the last 10 years. For those of you who are new to this series, I’m taking a look at the best footballers in each position during the 2010’s as we head into a new decade, building up to a best XI of the decade sometime around or on New Years Day.
If you are one of those who are new to the series, I would suggest going back and watching the goalkeepers seven first, since I laid out my criteria more comprehensively in the introduction there. As I’ve pointed out with all of these sevens to avoid confusion, a brilliant left-back in 2010 like Ashley Cole or a brilliant left-back in 2019 like Andy Robertson haven’t been consistently excellent throughout the whole decade so won’t make this seven. To be clear, both Robertson and certainly Cole are better left-backs than some of the players in this seven, but I’m not looking at a players peak during the last decade, but rather their form over the entire ten year period.
Here are my views on the 7 best left-backs of the decade:
7. Ricardo Rodriguez
Aged 27, Ricardo Rodriguez is the youngest player in this seven and the joint youngest in this series so far, given that he was just 17 when the decade began. The Swiss international was actually promoted to the FC Zurich first team in 2009, aged 16, and he made his debut in March 2010. That means he only missed a couple of months of this decade, although it would be fair to say he has been playing at a much higher level since his transfer to Wolfsburg. Rodriguez was signed by the Bundesliga club in January 2012, still aged only 19, for a fee of £7.5 million.
He made a big impression during his five-and-a-half seasons at the Volkswagen Arena, even hitting double figures in terms of goals in the 2014-15 season. Rodriguez is unusual inasmuch as his strength and athleticism have seen him deputised at centre-back, whilst his attacking intent and wonderful deliveries into the box have also seen him tried out on the left flank. Capped 67 times by Switzerland, Rodriguez joined AC Milan for a potential €17 million in 2017, where his goal scoring returns have been greatly diminished. Nevertheless, Rodriguez has had a fine decade, he has consistently been among the top ten to fifteen best left-backs in the world and he still is right now, so he gets us started with this seven.
6. Alex Sandro
Alex Sandro is a very talented full-back, and were he a little older, I suspect he may be a couple of places higher in this seven. Sandro is 28, a year older than Rodriguez, and he began the decade as a teenager with Atletico Paranaense. His playing rights were purchased by an investment company in February 2010, who let him join Santos on a two-year loan deal a month later. In July 2011, the company got a healthy return on their investment when Porto came calling, and €9.6 million was enough to bring the Brazilian to Europe.
He made his senior Brazil debut in November 2011 despite fierce competition in that position, and the calibre of competition he faces mean that he has only won a further 20 caps since then. In just three full seasons with Porto, Sandro made the Primeira Liga Team of the Season twice, and a move elsewhere seemed inevitable. Juventus won the race in August 2015, getting their man for a very reasonable €26 million.
Now in his fifth season with Juventus, I don’t think it would be hyperbole to describe Sandro as one of the outstanding full-backs of his generation. Defensively, Sandro is very adept, having learnt from some of the best in Turin. Quick, strong and smart, Sandro is good on the ball and rarely flustered. He has twice made the Serie A Team of the Season, and he’s restricted to sixth simply because he hasn’t been playing at the highest level for as long as others.
5. Leighton Baines
Everton fans who felt Seamus Coleman was hard done by in the right-back seven will hopefully now see that I have nothing against the Toffees, as Leighton Baines takes fifth place in this seven. Baines is a veteran now, soon to turn 35, and he was already midway through his third season at Goodison Park at the start of the decade. The former Wigan Athletic star joined Everton for just £6 million, and it would be fair to say he has proved to be a shrewd addition on Merseyside.
He has been the outstanding left-back in the Premier League over the last ten years, and one of the most creative full-backs in Europe. Baines has a wand of a left foot, and like Rodriguez, he is a real set piece specialist. He scored 17 goals in just three seasons for Everton at the start of the decade, and he has the most assists and the fourth most goals of any defender in the top flight of English football during the Premier League era.
Baines has faded towards the end of the decade which is unsurprising given his age, and the fact that he now has to compete with Lucas Digne for a starting berth. Baines also has to be marked down for the fact that he has never played in the Champions League and has only had two seasons in the Europa League, unlike the rest of this seven. He has won 30 caps for England, however, and for at least the first half of this decade he could have graced most teams in Europe.
4. Aleksandar Kolarov
Serbia great Aleksandar Kolarov is a little under a year younger than Leighton Baines, and he is still a regular fixture at the highest level. Kolarov’s peak probably wasn’t as exceptional as the Englishman’s, but he has been more consistent and has played more football throughout the decade. First capped by Serbia in 2008, Kolarov began the decade at Lazio, but he was one of a raft of new signings brought in by Manchester City in the summer of 2010.
Kolarov may seem like the least spectacular of those four arrivals pictured alongside Roberto Mancini in terms of their respective contributions to the game, but Kolarov would go on to make almost 250 appearances in seven seasons with the Citizens. He fought and largely saw off competition from the likes of Wayne Bridge and Gael Clichy, until Pep Guardiola decided he wanted more youth and athleticism from his full-backs.
A first class professional and a threat when pushing forward, Kolarov is the third set piece specialist in this seven, and his left foot can be devastating at times. Even after his departure from the Etihad, Kolarov’s career certainly hasn’t petered out. Roma pulled off a real coup signing the Serbian for just €5 million, and Kolarov scored nine goals last season alone. He may be 34, but he might even better that record this season, having scored 4 goals from 16 games already this season.
3. Jordi Alba
The top three in this seven were never in doubt, but I suspect there will be some debates about the order of them in the comments, which is how it should be. All three have been the best left-back in the world at one stage or another, and that’s certainly true of Jordi Alba. Aged 30, this decade has coincided perfectly with Alba’s career, and it was in January 2010 that he started to become a regular fixture at Valencia.
Alba was absolutely superb at Euro 2012, making the team of the tournament and scoring a superbly taken second goal for Spain as they beat Italy 4-0 in the final. His runs down the left flank were impossible to contain, and Alba had agreed to join Barcelona before the tournament began. Barca had been so dominant over the last few years, and Alba seemed to be the icing on the cake. There would be a slight Guardiola hangover, but the left-back has still won 14 trophies in seven seasons at the Camp Nou.
Alba has searing pace, fantastic energy and is – I would suggest – the most intelligent full-back in the world when it comes to his movement and timing his runs. Alba hasn’t had a perfect decade, there was a bit of a wobble between 2015 and 2017, but overall it has been pretty special, and he’s back to being a formidable full-back again now at the age of 30.
2. David Alaba
As I said, the calibre of our top three is extraordinarily high, and there was a time when David Alaba looked a safe bet as the outstanding full-back in world football for the next ten years. Just a couple of months older than Ricardo Rodriguez, that was back in the 2011-12 season, which was Alaba’s first season as a regular at Bayern as a teenager. Often lauded as the future of Austrian football in his formative years, Alaba lived up to the billing at the Allianz Arena, and would be named as the 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016 Austrian Footballer of the Year.
Alaba is, in many respects, the complete full-back. He possesses tremendous pace, he has a fantastic work ethic and he’s a real threat when overlapping down the left flank. He made the UEFA Team of the Year in 2013, 2014 and 2015, but suffered a dip in form in 2016 following Pep Guardiola’s departure in Bavaria. Alaba’s many talents have seen him play in midfield for Austria, and he perhaps forgot the fundamentals of his game for a couple of seasons.
He has been very much back in business during the last few campaigns, playing his natural game at full-back and looking so comfortable there. Alaba played very little football during the first year of this decade, which does have to be factored in, but he has been a regular ever since and he’s still only 27. Alaba had all the tools to go down as the best left-back in the decade, but he did have a little wobble, and that means he takes second.
I don’t think there’ll be too many surprises with regards to top spot, and that is because when everything is taken into account, Marcelo has surely been the outstanding left-back of the 2010’s. The 31-year-old began the decade with Real Madrid, having joined the club in 2007 and having been a Brazilian international since 2006. He was viewed as a long-term replacement for Roberto Carlos by both club and country, and whilst those are big boots to fill and it would take some time for Marcelo to reach those heights, he has proved himself to be a worthy successor.
Marcelo has spent pretty much the entire decade as a first team regular with one of the strongest teams on Earth, with the exception of an injury during the 2012-13 campaign and a few stints in and out of the team following Real’s struggles last season. The ultimate modern day full-back in many respects, Marcelo is as good technically as almost any winger on the planet, he is explosive going forward and his deliveries into the box are superb.
Defensively, Marcelo isn’t the best left-back in this seven, not to put it too bluntly. He is the type of full-back who thrives in a team that is dominating but can be exposed in one that is faltering, but thankfully for the Brazilian, Real have dominated for much of this decade. Marcelo has been a key cog in a Los Blancos side that won the Champions League four times during the 2010’s, and the La Liga title twice. Marcelo himself has made the FIFPro World XI six times this decade, which you don’t need me to tell you is more times than any other left-back. Marcelo isn’t the perfect full-back, but in many ways he is a generation defining one, and as far as I’m concerned he is the only man who can top this seven.
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