Carlos Alberto Torres
Now “Carlos Alberto” as he was known, was a true rock at the back for the legendary Brazilian sides of the late 60s and early 70s. He captained the iconic 1970 World Cup winning team, scoring one of the most famous goals in history in the final against Italy. Carlos Alberto combined incredible technique, strength, and leadership to boss that right flank. His marauding runs forward added a real threat too. He left us way too soon after retiring at just 29, but his legacy as one of Brazil’s finest defenders endures to this day.
“Nealio” as he was affectionately known, was a mainstay for Liverpool throughout the 70s and 80s, helping them dominate Europe. This guy had it all – great technique, tireless work rate, an eye for goal, and the leadership skills of a veteran. He formed a near telepathic understanding with Alan Kennedy down that right side. And can we talk about those free kicks?! Phil banged in so many crucial goals, including some absolute stunners. A true Anfield great and undoubtedly one of the best attacking right backs England has ever seen.
Nicknamed “The Black Pearl”, this Brazilian pioneer redefined what was possible from the full back position back in the 50s and 60s. With silky skills, searing pace, and a rock solid defensive work rate, Djalma dominated the right flank for almost two decades. He won back-to-back World Cups with the legendary Brazilian sides of 1958 and 1962. The guy was a true artist with the ball at his feet. Djalma gets huge credit for being the original prototype of the modern attacking fullback – what a player!
Giuseppe Bergomi was a mainstay for Inter Milan throughout the 80s. With incredible anticipation, tough tackling, and elegant ball playing skills, Bergomi formed the bedrock of some great Inter and Azzurri sides. He oozed class and composure at the back. Not the most physically imposing, but Bergomi more than made up for that with his football IQ and consistency. He won everything on offer at club level and was the rock in some great Italy teams too. A true master of his craft.
This guy could play anywhere across the backline or midfield, but it was at right back where he truly shone. Zambrotta combined incredible engine and work rate with silky technique, making him a nightmare for opponents. He dominated both flanks for club sides like Juventus, Barcelona, and Milan, as well as the Italian national team. A true winner too, with major trophies including the World Cup. One of the most well-rounded defenders of the modern era for sure.
With incredible technique, anticipation, engine, and leadership, Lahm bossed that right back spot for club and country for over a decade. Whether for Bayern or Germany, Lahm was the beating heart of the team – a true captain fantastic. He seamlessly transitioned to midfield late in his career too. Simply one of the finest all-round defenders Germany has ever produced. His list of honours speaks for itself, including that 2014 World Cup where he was simply immense.
Lilian Thuram was blessed with incredible pace, strength and defensive instincts, Thuram formed an impenetrable wall for club sides Parma and Juventus, as well as Les Bleus. He dominated that right side for over 15 years at the highest level. And incredibly, he scored the most international goals of any defender ever! A true giant of the game and one of the best pure defenders of the modern era. What a player he was.
Known as “El Tractor”, Zanetti just kept on going and going for two decades at the highest level. With incredible engine, technique and leadership, he was a rock at right back or in midfield for Inter Milan. Zanetti won the lot with Inter, including that famous Champions League title in 2010 where he was simply immense. He combined Argentine flair with Italian grit and defensive nous to dominate Serie A for almost two decades – what a servant to his club. A true legend of the game.
Dani Alves redefined what an attacking right back could be in the modern game. With incredible technique, crossing ability, engine and tenacity, Alves dominated that flank for nearly two decades at the highest level. He won everything going for Barcelona and Brazil, while still finding time to put in match-winning performances. Simply a joy to watch with the ball at his feet. For creativity, consistency and trophy haul – Alves has to go down as one of the greatest full backs of the modern era. What a player!
Now this guy had it all – incredible technique, engine, defensive nous, leadership – you name it. He dominated that right flank for club and country for almost two decades. Cafu was the beating heart and captain of some of the finest Brazilian and Roma sides ever. He combined marauding attacking runs with rock solid defending to shut down wingers game after game. And incredibly, he played in three World Cups, winning two – what a big game player. Simply the most complete right back of all time in my view. A true icon of the Brazilian national team and one of the greatest leaders the game has ever seen. Pichichi for me!
While right back may not always get the limelight, these 10 legends have left an indelible mark on the game in their own ways. From pioneers like Djalma Santos to modern greats like Dani Alves, each combined incredible skill, engine, consistency and big game mentality to dominate the position for club and country. They are surely some of the finest fullbacks to ever grace the beautiful game. The debate around the order may rage on. But one thing is for sure – this list contains some of the most complete and successful defenders of all time.