Best wingers in football history

Cristiano Ronaldo reacts to a missed chance for Portugal at Euro 2004 as Luis Figo looks on in the background.
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Everyone loves a winger and few things get football fans on their feet like a bit of pace or trickery out wide.

The evolution in formations and tactics throughout the years has seen wingers playing in different positions, often operating as wing-backs in five-man back lines or as wide forwards as part of a front three.

But they remain an important part of football today, Here, we take a look at the very best in the history of the game...

36. Pierre Littbarski

Pierre Littbarski in action for West Germany at the 1990 World Cup.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

After featuring for West Germany at the 1982 and 1986 World Cups, it was a case of third time lucky for Pierre Littbarski.

A diminutive, tricky winger who was at his best cutting in from the flanks to create in central positions around the area, Littbarski saved his finest form for international football and scored 18 goals in 73 appearances for West Germany between 1981 and 1990.

35. Dejan Savicevic

AC Milan's Dejan Savicevic holds the European Cup aloft after victory over Barcelona in 1994.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Dejan Savicevic honed his skills playing street football as a youngster and went on to become one of the game's most exciting attacking players in the 1990s.

A skillful dribbler with great vision and excellent close control, he helped Red Star Belgrade win the European Cup as a left winger in 1991 and went on to win the trophy again at AC Milan three years later.

34. Helmut Rahn

Helmut Rahn takes a shot for West Germany against France in 1958.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Helmut Rahn scored twice in the 1954 World Cup final as West Germany came from two goals down to beat Hungary 3-2.

That match became known as "The Miracle of Bern" and Rahn was one of the chief architects of the comeback. He also helped West Germany to the semi-finals four years later and is considered the greatest German winger in World Cup history.

33. Franck Ribery

Franck Ribery holds his shirt up to the Bayern Munich fans after scoring on his last Bundesliga appearance for the club, against Eintracht Frankfurt in 2019.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Franck Ribery won a record 24 trophies at Bayern Munich in a successful 12-year spell at the Bundesliga giants between 2007 and 2019, scoring an impressive 124 goals in 425 games for the club.

Ribery was also part of the French team which reached the 2006 World Cup final in Berlin, losing to Italy on penalties. A tricky and skillful winger, he is one of the best in recent times.

32. Sadio Mane

Sadio Mane in action for Liverpool in the 2022 Champions league final against Real Madrid.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

A high-intensity, intelligent, speedy winger with excellent technique and a superb goals record, Sadio Mane was a hugely popular player at Liverpool.

The Senegal attacker scored 120 goals in 269 games during his time at Anfield and helped the Reds challenge for – and win – the biggest prizes in that time. He also led Senegal to African Cup of Nations success in 2021.

31. Bruno Conti

Bruno Conti in action for Italy at the 1982 World Cup.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Bruno Conti is the greatest Italian winger of all time and a big reason behind the success of the Azzurri at the 1982 World Cup.

Conti, a skillful winger who could play on either flank, set up one goal against West Germany in the final, was involved in the move for another and won a penalty too. He is also a legend at Roma, where he won the Coppa Italia on five occasions.

30. Piet Keizer

Wim Rijsbergen of Feyenoord and Piet Keizer of Ajax compete for the ball in a Dutch league match in 1973.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Often known as the foil for Johan Cruyff at Ajax, Piet Keizer was an exciting winger for the Amsterdam club in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

One of the greats in Dutch football's rich history, the left-sided player won six league titles and three European Cups with Ajax. He was also prolific in front of goal, scoring 189 times in 490 official matches.

29. Vinicius Junior

Real Madrid's Vinicius Junior kisses the Champions League trophy after victory against Liverpool in the 2022 final.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Vinicius Junior faced ridicule from opposition supporters in his first few years at Real Madrid due to his wayward shooting, but those fans are not laughing now.

As time went by, the Brazilian forward found his feet and his composure in front of goal as he became one of the best wingers in the world. His winner in the 2022 Champions League final against Liverpool is the highlight so far.

28. Riyad Mahrez

Riyad Mahrez kisses the Champions League trophy after Manchester City's treble triumph in 2023.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Riyad Mahrez won Premier League titles with both Leicester City and Manchester City – and was part of the Sky Blues' treble triumph in 2022/23.

A left-footer playing on the right, the Algerian is a technically gifted creator with an eye for goal. One of the world's best modern-day wingers.

27. Son Heung-min

Son Heung-min celebrates a goal for Tottenham in November 2023.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Be it as a wide forward or as a winger, Son Heung-min will go down as a Tottenham Hotspur legend and a Premier League icon.

The South Korean has scored over 100 goals in the competition and won the FIFA Puskas award for his solo strike against Burnley in 2019. He is considered one of the greatest Asian players in history.

26. Angel Di Maria

Angel Di Maria celebrates after scoring for Argentina in the 2022 World Cup final against France in Qatar.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

A tricky and talented winger with quick feet and excellent dribbling ability, Angel Di Maria crowned a superb career with victory in the 2022 World Cup final against France.

The Argentine attacker scored in that match in Qatar and now has the international honours to sit alongside the host of silverware he has won at Benfica, Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain.

25. Jimmy Johnstone

Jimmy Johnstone in action for Scotland against England in 1971.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Jimmy Johnstone was one of the great wingers of the late 1960s and helped Celtic win the European Cup in 1967.

Nicknamed "Jinky" due to his unique dribbling style, Johnstone was also a prolific scorer. He netted 129 goals in 515 games for Celtic and was voted the club's best-ever player in 2002.

24. Robert Pires

Robert Pires on the ball for France against Ukraine in 1999 as Andriy Shevchenko gives chase.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

An exciting left winger who played with skill, style and flair, Robert Pires joined Arsenal after spells at Metz and Marseille.

Pires won two Premier League titles and three FA Cups in north London and was voted sixth in the list of the Gunners' best-ever players. He was also part of the French sides which claimed the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000. 

23. Amancio Amaro

Amancio Amaro is congratulated after scoring for Spain against Switzerland at the 1966 World Cup.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Amancio Amaro joined a Real Madrid team in transition in 1962, after four years at Deportivo La Coruña, but went on to be hugely successful for the Spanish side.

Amaro, nicknamed "El Brujo" (The Wizard), was part of the side which won the European Cup in 1966 and claimed nine league titles with Los Blancos. He scored 155 goals in 471 games in 14 seasons at Madrid overall and was named in the team of the tournament after helping Spain win the European Championship in 1964.

22. Zoltan Czibor

Hungary's Zoltan Czibor in action in a match in 1953.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Zoltan Czibor formed a key part of the great Hungary team of the 1950s and is considered the nation's best-ever winger.

A superb dribbler with an excellent goalscoring record who was twice named Hungary's best player, Czibor won a gold medal at the 1952 Olympics and two La Liga titles in a three-year spell at Barcelona.

21. Jose Macia Pepe

Brazil greats Jose Macia Pepe with Pele, Jose Altafini and Zito ahead of the last ever game at the Friends Arena in Stockholm in 2012.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Jose Macia, better known as Pepe, was one of Brazil's most talented players of the 1960s and a legend at Santos, where he scored an amazing 405 goals in 705 games.

Considered one of the greatest left wingers of all time, Pepe won the 1958 and 1962 World Cups, although he did not play a single minute in either tournament due to injury. He scored 22 goals in 41 appearances for Brazil.

20. Kurt Hamrin

Kurt Hamrin scores for Sweden against the Soviet Union in the 1958 World Cup.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

A pacy and elegant winger, Kurt Hamrin is best remembered for scoring the goal against the Soviet Union which took Sweden to the 1958 World Cup final.

He spent much of his career in Italy, with Fiorentina, Juventus, AC Milan, Napoli and Padova, and is still one of Serie A's top scorers to this day with an impressive 190 goals in the competition.

19. Gareth Bale

Gareth Bale celebrates after scoring for Real Madrid in the 2018 Champions League final against Liverpool.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Gareth Bale was a much-maligned figure during the latter years of his career as a Real Madrid player, but the Welsh winger was a key part of the club's success and scored in a number of major finals for Los Blancos.

A five-time Champions League winner with Madrid, Bale hit a memorable overhead kick in the 2018 final against Liverpool and a super winner in the 2014 Copa del Rey showpiece versus Barcelona. He also shone at Spurs and led Wales to the semi-finals of Euro 2016.

18. Neymar

Neymar in action for Brazil against Uruguay in a World Cup qualifier in October 2023.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

It is hard to know where to place Neymar on a list like this one. An outrageously talented forward for Brazil and his club sides, the feeling remains that his has been a career somewhat unfulfilled.

Not always a winger of course but often operating out wide, Neymar scored over 100 goals each for Santos, Barcelona and PSG. He won a treble at Barça on the left of a three-man attack and is Brazil's all-time top scorer.

17. Tom Finney

Tom Finney leads out his team at his testimonial match in 1960.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Tom Finney did not win any silverware in a career spent almost entirely at Preston North End in the 1940s and 1950s, but the England winger was one of the finest footballers of his generation.

A powerful attacking player who could operate on either flank or as a centre-forward, Finney had an explosive shot and scored 30 goals in 76 games for the Three Lions.

16. Rivaldo

Rivaldo in action for Barcelona against Leeds United in 2000.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Rivaldo played in a variety of attacking positions during a long career, but many of his most memorable performances came from out wide.

A skillful dribbler and fantastic free-kick taker, the Brazilian often operated on the left at Barcelona and scored an impressive 130 goals in 235 appearances for the Catalan club. He won the Ballon d'Or in 1999 and the World Cup with Brazil in 2002, although he was used in a more advanced position in Japan and Korea.

15. Arjen Robben

Arjen Robben on the ball for Bayern Munich in the 2013 Champions League final against Borussia Dortmund.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Arjen Robben won multiple trophies with PSV Eindhoven, Real Madrid, Chelsea and Bayern Munich in a long club career – and came close to the biggest one of all with the Netherlands.

While he will be recalled by many for his miss against Spain in the 2010 World Cup final, he scored the winner in the 2013 Champions League final with Bayern Munich and netted 37 goals in 96 appearances for the Dutch national team. He deserves to be remembered as one of the game's great wingers.

14. Eden Hazard

Eden Hazard celebrates after Chelsea beat Arsenal in the Europa League final in 2019.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Eden Hazard's time at Real Madrid was forgettable following a disastrous move to Spain in 2019, but at Lille and Chelsea he was elite.

Although he often operated centrally, many of Hazard's best performances came out wide. Fast and skillful with great vision, he is one of the Premier League's all-time greats and has often been described as Belgium's best-ever player.

13. Julinho

Julinho (number 7) in action for Brazil against Switzerland at the 1954 World Cup.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Julinho represented Brazil between 1952 and 1965 but did not feature in either of the nation's World Cup wins in that time.

In 1958, he would have been first choice on the right ahead of Garrincha, but did not take part in the qualifiers and was spending most of his time in Italy, where he played for Fiorentina. Described in his obituary in The Guardian as "an outside-right of tremendous pace, power and skill," he is considered one of the greatest wingers of all time.

12. Cristiano Ronaldo

Cristiano Ronaldo in action for Manchester United against Newcastle in 2008.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Cristiano Ronaldo was a winger in the early years of his career and excelled in that role at Manchester United. Later, he became a wide forward and eventually a penalty-box number nine.

In those years at United, he was an extraordinary talent. Fast, strong and skillful, he improved his end product and also became a great goalscorer. He even won the Ballon d'Or in 2008, though he was playing in a slightly different role by the end of his first spell at Old Trafford.

11. Ryan Giggs

Ryan Giggs in action for Manchester United against Lyon in 2008.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Ryan Giggs played for most of his career as an out-and-out winger and made an incredible 963 professional appearances for Manchester United.

A hard-working player with bags of pace, good vision and a strong scoring record, Giggs was a fixture in Sir Alex Ferguson's great United sides for over two decades, winning 13 Premier League titles and two Champions Leagues in his time at Old Trafford.

10. Lionel Messi

Lionel Messi celebrates after scoring for Barcelona against FC Basel in 2008.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

If this were a list of the greatest footballers of all time, Lionel Messi would be at the top. No question about that.

There have been several different versions of the Argentine attacker over the years. As a winger in the mid-to-late 2000s, Messi was a phenomenon for Barcelona. But his best years came later, as a false nine, a playmaker and a forward. The complete player.

9. Mohamed Salah

Mohamed Salah celebrates a goal for Liverpool against Brentford in November 2023.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Mohamed Salah might be considered a striker by many, but the Egyptian forward has always referred to himself as a winger and he will go down as one of the very best.

Blessed with pace, excellent dribbling ability, ball control and fantastic finishing, Salah is one of the greatest African players of all time and a Liverpool legend after helping the Reds win Champions League and Premier League titles under Jurgen Klopp.

8. Jairzinho

Jairzinho celebrates after winning the 1970 World Cup with Brazil.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

As a young player at Botafogo, Jairzinho idolised Garrincha and he went on to replace the legendary winger for both club and country.

A quick, powerful and skillful right winger with an impressive eye for goal, Jairzinho netted 33 times in 81 games for Brazil and hit six in Mexico to help his nation win the 1970 World Cup. One of the best ever.

7. Luis Figo

Luis Figo in action in a friendly against England in 1998.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

One of the most talented footballers in the modern era, Luis Figo was an extraordinary player in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

A key part of Portugal's "Golden Generation", Figo helped his nation to the final of Euro 2004 and the semi-finals of the 2006 World Cup. Outstanding at both Barcelona and Real Madrid, he controversially crossed the Clasico divide in 2000 and won the Ballon d'Or that same year.

6. Dragan Dzajic

Yugoslavia's Dragan Dzajic (right) holds off West Germany's Berti Vogts at the 1974 World Cup.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Dragan Dzajic was dubbed "the Magic Dragan" by the British press after lobbing England goalkeeper Gordon Banks en route to the final of the 1968 European Championship.

An impressive dribbler with wonderful technique and crossing ability, he is considered by many to be the finest footballer to emerge from the Balkan nations and is perhaps one of the most underrated players in history.

5. Paco Gento

Paco Gento (centre) with Alfredo Di Stefano and Raymond Kopa at Real Madrid in 1965.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Paco Gento won a record six European Cups and 12 La Liga titles for Real Madrid in an extraordinary career in the 1950s and 1960s.

A winger with exceptional pace, Gento was also a prolific scorer and became a key player for Spain too. He won the European Championship with La Roja in 1964 and was later voted the best Spanish player of the 20th century.

4. Stanley Matthews

Stanley Matthews in action for Stoke City in 1938.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Legend, pioneer and consummate professional, Stanley Matthews was knighted while still a player, represented England as a 42-year-old and extended his career until the age of 50.

Blessed with speed, skill and excellent crossing ability, Matthews is also a legend at Blackpool and Stoke City. He was honoured with the first ever Ballon d'Or in 1956.

3. Ronaldinho

Ronaldinho in action for Barcelona against Celta Vigo in 2005.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Ronaldinho played in a number of different attacking roles throughout his career, but the Brazilian's best performances came as a winger or a wide forward for Barcelona and his national team.

Outrageously skillful and brilliant fun, he helped Brazil win the 2002 World Cup and claimed a Champions League crown in a memorable spell at Barça. He also took home the Ballon d'Or in 2005 and was named FIFA World Player of the Year in both 2004 and 2005.

2. George Best

George Best in action for Manchester United against Leeds in 1969.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

George Best is Northern Ireland's greatest-ever player and during his prime, he was considered one of the world's finest footballers.

A skillful dribbler, creator and scorer of spectacular goals, Best was a key part of the Manchester United side which won the European Cup in 1968, before a decline due to alcoholism in the 1970s.

1. Garrincha

Garrincha embraces Pele of Brazil during the West Germany World Cup 1974. Germany (Photo by Alessandro Sabattini/Getty Images)

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Nicknamed "The Little Bird", Garrincha had one leg shorter than the other and was not expected to become a footballer. He became one of the greatest ever.

His unusual bowed legs made him unpredictable and he developed a unique dribbling style. He helped Brazil win two World Cups and was one of the great entertainers before fading later in his career due to injuries and alcoholism.

Thank you for reading 5 articles this month* Join now for unlimited access

Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription

Join now for unlimited access

Try first month for just £1 / $1 / €1