Ranked! The 10 best right-backs in the world

Ranked! The 10 best right-backs in the world
(Image credit: Future)

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

Hirving Lozano and Giovanni Di Lorenzo of SSC Napoli celebrate after scoring a goal to make it 2-1 during the Serie A match between SSC Napoli and Bologna FC at Stadio Diego Armando Maradona on October 16, 2022 in Naples, Italy.

Hirving Lozano and Giovanni Di Lorenzo of Napoli celebrate against Bologna (Image credit: Ivan Romano/Getty Images)

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)

Malo Gusto of Lyon applauds the fans after the Ligue 1 match between Lyon and Troyes on 19 August, 2022 at the Groupama Stadium in Lyon, France.

Malo Gusto of Lyon applauds the fans (Image credit: Leandro Amorim/Eurasia Sport Images/Getty Images)

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

Joao Cancelo of Bayern Munich reacts during the Bundesliga match between Wolfsburg and Bayern Munich at the Volkswagen Arena in Wolfsburg, Germany on 5 February, 2023.

Joao Cancelo in action for Bayern Munich (Image credit: Ulrik Pedersen/DeFodi Images via Getty Images)

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

Ben White applauds the Arsenal fans after the UEFA Europa League group A match between PSV Eindhoven and Arsenal FC at Phillips Stadium on October 27, 2022 in Eindhoven, Netherlands.

Ben White applauds the Arsenal fans  (Image credit: Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)

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

Trent Alexander-Arnold of England poses during the official FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 portrait session on November 16, 2022 in Doha, Qatar.

Trent Alexander-Arnold poses in an England shirt ahead of the World Cup  (Image credit: Mike Hewitt - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

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

Kyle Walker of Manchester City during the Premier League match between Manchester City and Manchester United at Etihad Stadium on October 2, 2022 in Manchester, United Kingdom.

Kyle Walker during the Manchester derby (Image credit: Matthew Ashton - AMA/Getty Images)

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

Jules Kounde in action for Barcelona in the friendly against Manchester City at Camp Nou.

Jules Kounde in action for Barcelona in the friendly against Manchester City at Camp Nou (Image credit: Getty Images)

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

Kieran Trippier of Newcastle United (15) takes a corner kick in torrential rain during the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Newcastle United at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on October 23, 2022 in London, England.

Kieran Trippier takes a free-kick for Newcastle United in the torrential rain  (Image credit: Serena Taylor/Newcastle United via Getty Images)

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

Reece James of Chelsea celebrates after scoring their sides third goal during the UEFA Champions League group E match between Chelsea FC and AC Milan at Stamford Bridge on October 05, 2022 in London, England.

Reece James celebrates after scoring against AC Milan in the Champions League (Image credit: Darren Walsh/Chelsea FC via Getty Images)

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 of Paris Saint-Germain controls the ball during the UEFA Champions League group H match between SL Benfica and Paris Saint-Germain at Estadio do Sport Lisboa e Benfica on October 5, 2022 in Lisbon, Portugal.

Achraf Hakimi of Paris Saint-Germain controls the ball during the Champions League clash with Benfica (Image credit: Joao Rico/DeFodi Images via Getty Images)

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
Staff Writer

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.