I left a slightly longer gap than usual between my video on the 7 greatest right wingers of the past decade and today’s video on the 7 best left wingers, since I was rifling through this series a little too quickly. For those of you who are new to the series and/or channel, over the month of December I am taking a look at the 7 best players in each position over the entire decade, building up to a world team of the decade on New Years Eve or New Year’s Day.
As I always say, if you are new, I recommend starting with the goalkeepers seven and progressing through that way so you understand my selection criteria, but just as a reminder… a great left winger in 2010 like Robinho or a brilliant one in 2019 like Sadio Mane won’t necessarily make this seven, which is based on performances over the entire decade rather than peak level of performance at any stage over the last ten years.
Here are my views on the 7 greatest left wingers of the decade:
7. Ezequiel Lavezzi
Narrowly seeing off the competition of Nani and Douglas Costa to get us started in this seven is Chinese Super League star Ezequiel Lavezzi. Now, the fact that Lavezzi plays in China, and has done since 2016, naturally counts against him. However, looking at the Argentines decade as a whole, he’s probably good value for a spot in seventh.
A diminutive but explosive wide man with quick feet, fantastic acceleration and the ability to score and create goals, Lavezzi was aged 24 when the decade began. By that stage, he was already three years into life in Naples, having previously played for Estudiantes and San Lorenzo in the 2000’s. He had two-and-a-half excellent years in Serie A during the 2010’s, and he won his only trophy in Italy during his last season with Napoli, lifting the Coppa Italia in 2011-12.
In the summer of 2012, Lavezzi joined PSG for a potential €30 million, where he was united with his former Napoli teammate Edinson Cavani a year later. Lavezzi won nine trophies in three-and-a-half seasons in the French capital, as well as featuring in all but one of Argentina’s games as they reached the 2014 World Cup final. He moved on once again in 2016, joining Hebei China Fortune, where he became one of the best paid players on Earth. Lavezzi has unsurprisingly been a star of the Chinese game, but that ought to be taken with a pinch of salt in comparison to the level most players in this seven have played at for the entire decade.
I have a sneaking suspicion that Pedro will go down as one of the most underappreciated footballers of the 2010’s, and that is a real shame. Although Barcelona had more illustrious attacking trios like Henry, Eto’o and Messi or Neymar, Suarez and Messi, they played their best football as an attacking unit with a front three of Pedro, Messi and David Villa, and that was no accident.
To flourish under Pep Guardiola, you have to understand the way in which the Spaniard wants you to play. Pedro understood that better than most, and between 2009 and 2014, it is no exaggeration to say he was among the best and most certainly among the most effective wide players on the planet. The movement of those three bamboozled defences, and Pedro scored 19 goals or more in three separate campaigns, despite being far from Barca’s primary goal scorer.
Quick, versatile and incredibly intelligent, Pedro can play anywhere across the front line, and he started for Spain when they won the 2010 World Cup final, and he came on as a substitute when they won the Euro 2012 final a couple of years later. Half-way through the decade, Pedro joined Chelsea, where he has been impressive if a little less spectacular. The 32-year-old has won three trophies in four seasons with the Blues, and he made the Europa League Squad of the Season last season.
5. Franck Ribery
Only persistent injury problems prevent Franck Ribery from coming fourth and maybe even third in this seven, with the veteran wide man having had a particularly intermittent second half of the decade. Ribery began his professional career almost two decades ago in the year 2000 with Boulogne, but it was during his early 20’s that people really started to sit up and take note of the man many felt was Zinedine Zidane’s heir apparent in the French national team.
Ribery was 26 when the decade began, and he had already had two absolutely sensational seasons at Bayern Munich. Between 2010 and 2014 at least, Ribery was certainly among the finest wide players on the planet, along with his teammate Arjen Robben on the opposite flank. Incredibly quick and brilliant on the ball, at the peak of his powers, Ribery was a real joy to watch, full of invention and capable of hitting double figures almost every season.
He didn’t hit double figures during the second half of the decade, rarely going an entire campaign without being sidelined, but he was still a key man at Bayern Munich. In total, Ribery won 23 trophies in Bavaria, 20 of which came during the last decade. With France, Ribery was never able to fill Zizou’s void, but he was still a three-time French Footballer of the Year and he came third in 2013 Ballon d’Or voting.
4. Alexis Sanchez
In my head before I made this seven, I was of the opinion that Franck Ribery had 100% been better than Alexis Sanchez over the course of the last decade as a whole, but when you dig a little deeper it’s clear that perception isn’t quite the case. Sanchez has obviously faded since his 2017 transfer to Manchester United, but prior to that he was utterly superb. For Alexis Sanchez, the last decade includes one tremendous season in Italy with Udinese, a big money move to Barcelona, three excellent trophy-laden seasons in Catalonia, another big money move to Arsenal, three seasons as one of if not the best player in the Premier League, and a single season in which he scored 30 goals as a wide player.
Now, obviously, post-Arsenal Sanchez has seen his club career take a minor detour off the edge of a cliff, but he has still been excellent for Chile. I suspect a lot of you, like me, will initially feel as though Ribery must have been better than Sanchez over the last 10 years, and I think that’s partly because it is difficult to isolate a period of time like ten years without a bit of research. It’s a bit like people who were outraged Maicon didn’t make the right-back seven even though almost all his best football came in the 2000’s, and someone even said Fabio Cannavaro should have made the centre-back seven… just as a reminder, Fabio Cannavaro played about 25 games over the last decade, 16 of which were for Al-Ahli in Dubai!
Anyhow, back to Sanchez, who is currently looking to revive his career back in Italy with Inter Milan. The Golden Boot winner at the 2016 Copa America which Chile won, Sanchez has already won more caps and has scored more goals for Chile than any other player in history, with a record of 43 goals from 132 caps at the age of 30. His faltering at Manchester United was surprising, to me at least, since Sanchez is typically such a dogged and determined character who just keeps on plugging away. Had he maintained his 2010-2017 form beyond his Arsenal exit, he may have found himself even higher than fourth.
3. Eden Hazard
The second youngest player in this seven, with the youngest still to come, Eden Hazard was just 18 when this decade began. However, the Belgian wide man had already been playing top flight football since 2007 and had been a full international since 2008, so he certainly didn’t miss any football due to his age. Touted as a future star from the age of 13 or 14, Hazard made good on that early promise during his early years with Lille.
The 2011-12 season was his last in France, and a tally of 22 goals which saw him named as Ligue 1 Player of the Year for the second consecutive season at the age of 20 meant Hazard was among the most sought after players on the planet. Manchester United came close, but it was Chelsea who signed the Belgian for £32 million, and he went on to become one of the greatest players the Blues have ever had.
In seven seasons at Stamford Bridge, Hazard scored 110 goals in 352 games. He made the Premier League Team of the Year four times, he won six trophies and he twice finished in the top ten of Ballon d’Or voting. In the summer just gone, Hazard left Chelsea for Real Madrid in a deal which could be worth as much as €146 million subject to add-ons. While his attitude and application has occasionally been questioned, Hazard is a world class technician, a fantastic creator and a fairly prolific scorer from the left flank, and he takes the bronze medal here.
When I said the youngest player in this seven was still to come, I suspect a fair few of you knew who I was alluding to. Brazilian superstar Neymar was just 17 when this decade began, yet he had already scored 14 goals in 46 appearances for Santos, and he became a full Brazilian international in August 2010. Between 2010 and 2013, Neymar scored 122 goals in 177 games for Santos. I think it’s worth accompanying that stat with a reminder that Neymar only turned 20 in 2012, to really drum home quite how staggering that record is.
He joined Barcelona in 2013, forming one of the greatest attacking trios of all time alongside Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi. During four seasons in Catalonia, Neymar scored 105 goals in 186 games, making a fool of those who claimed that he would struggle with the step up from the Brazilian to the Spanish game. In the summer of 2017, Neymar became the most expensive footballer of all time in a €222 million move to PSG that caught a lot of people by surprise. Neymar’s relationship with the Parisians since then hasn’t always been a happy one, but he has still scored a tremendous 58 goals in 68 games from the left flank.
In addition to his magnificent club form, Neymar has also scored 61 goals from 101 caps for Brazil this decade, well on course to become their all time leading appearance holder and record goal scorer. Neymar is quick, clever and plays with a classical Brazilian combination of flair, arrogance and audacity. A phenomenal dribbler of the ball, Neymar’s numbers in terms of goals and assists show that he is also incredibly effective, and he can hold a strong claim to have been the third best footballer of the decade in any position. The closest Neymar has come to winning the Ballon d’Or has been third-place finishes in 2015 and 2017, and I’d be interested to know in the comments whether you think he’ll ever get his hands on the accolade.
1. Cristiano Ronaldo
It’s no secret that when the history of the 2010’s is told, two players will stand out head and shoulders above all the rest. Indeed, when the entire history of football is told, both will be mentioned among the greatest exponents the sport has ever seen. Lionel Messi topped our right wingers seven, even though he could have featured as a striker or even as a midfielder, and Cristiano Ronaldo tops our left wing seven, although he too could have featured in the centre-forward seven. Over the entire decade, however, Ronaldo has played more football on the left than he has done through the middle, so I think this is where he belongs.
Ronaldo was 24 when the decade began, but he had already won the Ballon d’Or at 22. He was the most expensive player on the planet at the start of the 2010’s, having joined Real Madrid from Manchester United in 2009. He was an immediate success in the Spanish capital, and his relentlessness in terms of goal scoring in particular has been quite spectacular. During his nine seasons in Madrid, Ronaldo scored 450 goals in 438 games. Forget about comparisons with Messi, just think about that record individually and on its own merits, and it is truly special.
In 2018, Ronaldo left Real in a move to Juventus, setting the Old Lady back €112 million even at the age of 33. Ronaldo has been brilliant at Juve, but admittedly not quite as brilliant as he was in Madrid. It’s worth remembering that the Portuguese superstar is 34 now though, and yet he is still among the most prolific and dangerous marksmen on the planet. A five-time Ballon d’Or winner and a 13-time FIFPro World XI inclusion – including in all ten years of this decade – Cristiano Ronaldo is an absolute freak and the only answer to who has been the outstanding left winger of the last ten years. He will make my Team of the Decade, and if he didn’t you would all have every right to unsubscribe.