Ranked! The 10 best right-backs in the world
These are the best right-backs around – in one of the most rapidly evolving positions in football
Discussing the world's best right-backs was not something most would have considered doing even 15 years ago. Famously, no one “grew up wanting to be Gary Neville”.
Well, the times, they are a-changing – even since Trent Alexander-Arnold’s incredible rise from debates about whether he was a midfielder to winning Champions League titles. This is a position in which crossing machines bomb up and down the flank (see the likes of Achraf Hakimi), playmaking starlets glisten (Joshua Kimmich or Trent, anyone?) and intelligent defenders lock down a couple of roles at once (think Kyle Walker or Takehiro Tomiyasu).
So ranking these players in some kind of order is… difficult. We’ve gone with the players with the most influence, consistency and overall quality. Argue among yourselves @FourFourTwo as to the order and omissions…
The best right-backs in the world
10. Giovanni Di Lorenzo
Napoli have been the surprise story of European football this season, demolishing all in their path with ease and thrill that we haven’t seen since the days of Sarriball. Sure, it’s the free-scoring attack that are writing the headlines – but the defence has been solid, too.
Inheriting the captaincy in the summer, Giovanni Di Lorenzo has been a rock in I Partenopei’s backline. An intelligent reader of the game who equally relishes attacking and defensive situations, he’s been one of the most quietly consistent defenders in Serie A this season and one of Napoli’s more underrated players. The world is waiting for them to clinch the Scudetto once more.
9. Malo Gusto (Lyon)
Chelsea have been a completely different team without Reece James at right-back this season. When the England man is injured, it's been difficult to replicate just how good he is going both forwards and backwards.
Malo Gusto has been superb for a while now at Lyon, however. The Frenchman is defensively adept, great going forward and though the Ligue 1 giants have fallen off the pace in the last couple of years, unable to challenge for the title any longer, Gusto has been a standout product of their academy. He's more than earned the big move.
8. Joao Cancelo
One of few players to be genuinely world-class in two different positions on a football pitch, Joao Cancelo only really plays right-back for his country. Perhaps the evergreen Kyle Walker has pushed him to left-back – Manchester City’s pursuit for Marc Cucurella in the summer certainly suggests so.
From the left of the pitch in the last couple of seasons, we've seen a version of Cancelo who drifts into Jack Grealish’s space and pings balls with the outside of his right foot if need be. From the right, we see a more simplified Cancelo: fewer trivelas, more tirelessness in bombing forward, keeping to the width of the pitch and stretching opposition before using his sublime incision. The Portuguese is devastatingly dynamic.
The fall from grace over the last few months has come out of nowhere but it seems as tactical as anything else – Trent Alexander-Arnold, likewise, has had blips when the Liverpool system hasn't covered for him. The point remains, however: talent-wise Cancelo is outstanding and still worthy of a spot on this list.
7. Ben White
Some doubted whether William Saliba would be staying at Arsenal beyond this summer. The French wonderkid arrived back after three impressive years on loan attempting to displace either Gabriel or Ben White – two players Mikel Arteta had spent the best part of £75 million and a season integrating into his defence.
The answer was simple: move White out to the right. But while it looked like a quick fix until Takehiro Tomiyasu got up to speed, the England international has been exceptional. His passing range is delightful, he excels in 1v1 battles and the overlaps he’s provided to Bukayo Saka have kept Arsenal’s game unpredictable in the final third.
White was a little rash and reactive when he first arrived at the Emirates Stadium but shifting to right-back has allowed him to embrace the fiery, confrontational side of his game. How long before we call him a quality right-back in his own right and not just a centre-back playing out of position?
6. Trent Alexander-Arnold
2022 might just have been the most difficult year in Trent Alexander-Arnold’s career. Never has he come under quite so much scrutiny for doing his job; never has the very premise of his role been questioned quite so much.
A playmaker from full-back, Alexander-Arnold has never been one of the game’s greatest defenders – but frankly, that doesn’t matter when you consider what he is and not what he isn’t. The upside of a player with this ability is his knack for always putting the ball on a patch of the pitch better than where he received it from. His passing is now legendary.
And for a trying year, it’s come with its fair share of gold. Alexander-Arnold was arguably the best player on the pitch in the FA Cup final against Chelsea and despite Liverpool’s current malaise, he’s still Jurgen Klopp’s most trusted creator. He’s a superb footballer but as is the modern game, the criticism has been a little over-the-top… right? At least he's looking a little more his old self since the turn of 2023.
5. Kyle Walker
Few predicted the journey that Kyle Walker would go on as a footballer, improving to incredible levels under Mauricio Pochettino and becoming a £50m full-back by the time he was just about hitting his stride.
At the Etihad, he seems to have thrived under just about every role that Pep Guardiola could throw at him, learning to invert and developing a sumptuous passing range to accompany his monster physicality. Nearly 33, he’s now the elder statesman of his defence, using that electric recovery acceleration to become an old-school full-back more content with pocketing wingers than doing laps up to the byline and back.
We all thought he’d lose a yard by now but Walker is maturing like a fine Merlot. It’s a very ‘Dani Alves’ trajectory.
4. Jules Kounde
Ridiculously, Barcelona have conceded a total of just eight goals in 24 La Liga games. That's one conceded every three matches.
Barça being Barça, though, they can thank both the attack and defence for that one. Defending starts from the front and the attack starts from the back – with another natural centre-back in Jules Kounde spending much of the season on the right of the back four. He's flawless in possession, superb one on one, strong aerially and had an excellent World Cup, too.
His recent performance against Real Madrid in a 1-0 victory displayed exactly why he's been quite so hyped for so long, dominating the defence from the centre this time but with an array of talents that he's shown at full-back all term. After a few false starts at right-back, Barcelona seem to have found the long-term successor (assuming he stays in the role).
3. Kieran Trippier
Managers’ first signings at a new club say a lot about them. Eddie Howe’s choice to bring Kieran Trippier in has been nothing short of a complete masterstroke, with the former Atletico, Tottenham and Burnley man offering something that the Toon sorely lacked in their squad.
His experience precedes him by now, while his crossing ability is among the best that England has ever produced in his position. Trippier is a menace from dead-ball situations, has the creativity to unlock defences and with a stint in La Liga, has become one of the most rounded defenders in the league, thanks to Diego Simeone’s school of deep blocks.
A few years ago, Tripps’ credentials as a serious England starter were being questioned. Well, they’re certainly not anymore. He's undoubtedly been the best right-back in the Premier League this season: it's not even a contest.
2. Reece James
Chelsea spent £60m on Cucurella. Though the Spaniard hasn't repaid the fee just yet, goes to show quite how much the Blues value Reece James, in a funny sort of way, given that they were so willing to shell out megabucks for a player who could replicate the No.24’s game on the opposite side of the pitch, in terms of his ability to lock up attackers and offer an option on the ball.
Thomas Tuchel arrived and immediately made James the jewel in his side, switching to a back three and asking him to complete just about any task that needed to be done. James has been the right-sided centre-back in a back three, shutting down wingers with ease on nights that Chelsea haven’t had the ball. He’s been an integral man in possession, inverting, dropping deep and enabling the Blues to switch from fours to threes at the back. He’s even been a source of goals when Tuchel needed him to be, while his final third output has put him into conversations and comparisons with certain other England right-backs tasked with creative duties.
James's all-round game is arguably the most impressive of any full-back in Europe right now, right or left, and Gareth Southgate’s England squad is significantly weaker without him. At the same time though, James is 23 – it’s incredible to think what an option he could be for club and country in another two years, let alone four.
1. Achraf Hakimi
Achraf Hakimi has played for Real Madrid, sparkled in the Bundesliga, won a Scudetto and starred in a Hollywood attack alongside the likes of Kylian Mbappe and Lionel Messi. Most recently, he's been the superstar in the first-ever African World Cup semi-finalists' side. Incredibly, he’s still not turned 24, yet.
Instead of building around Messi or Neymar, both Pochettino and new manager Christophe Galtier both looked to implement systems around Hakimi’s power and might down that righthand flank and though he’s been criticised for his defensive nous – well, who hasn’t on this list? – he’s the ultimate tool for a possession side to throw forward. Look at how Morocco used a central midfielder to drop into Hakimi's spot in defence in order to let their talisman bomb forward.
The Moroccan feels like a throwback in a way – not to the defensive full-backs of Premier League years but the carefree, bullet-train wide-men that flanked classic Brazilian sides. And that perhaps understates his tactical intelligence and technical brilliance. Scarily, he’s perhaps nowhere near his peak, either.
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Mark White has been a staff writer on FourFourTwo since joining in January 2020, writing pieces for both online and the magazine. An encyclopedia of football shirts and boots knowledge – both past and present – Mark has also been to the FA Cup and League Cup finals for FFT and has written pieces for the mag ranging on subjects from Bobby Robson's season at Barcelona to Robinho's career. He once saw Tyrone Mings at a petrol station in Bournemouth but felt far too short to ask for a photo.