Football has become increasingly universal, meaning old stereotypes no longer hold.
One pertinent example is how defenders are now a credible threat in the opposition half, as well as being a presence in their own.
It’s no longer shocking to see regular attacking contributions being made by members of the backline and, with certain managers embracing attack, we are seeing full-backs effectively become auxiliary wingers.
This is explicitly displayed when glancing over the Premier League‘s most creative defenders; the top 10 — according to the league’s official website — either play at right or left back.
In fact, given their respective conversion from a forward role at Old Trafford, we choose to omit both Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia as they never exclusively played in defence throughout their careers.
Just two current Premier League stars make the cut with Trent Alexander-Arnold, Kyle Walker and Andrew Robertson missing out for now.
10. César Azpilicueta
Premier League appearances: 262
Affectionately nicknamed “Dave” by his Chelsea teammates, César Azpilicueta currently occupies the final spot with Robertson and Walker currently one assist behind. It took awhile for him to settle at Stamford Bridge but once the Spaniard did, he has not looked back since. A two-time Premier League winner, Azpilicueta now leads Frank Lampard‘s men into battle.
9. John Arne Riise
Club(s): Liverpool, Fulham
Premier League appearances: 321
Liverpool have been blessed with stellar full-backs down the years, but not many packed a punch like Norwegian left-back John Arne Riise, whose rocket of a left foot became legendary. After a number of excellent seasons at Anfield, Riise moved to Roma before returning to England‘s top division with Fulham, though his best days were somewhat behind him.
8. Ashley Cole
Club(s): Arsenal, Chelsea
Premier League appearances: 385
Ashley Cole was on course to becoming an immortal at Arsenal given his stature as one of the world’s leading full-backs as well as being homegrown, but that all changed when he decided to swap north London for west. It was at Chelsea that Cole secure more honours as well as continue his duel with the league’s premier star Cristiano Ronaldo.
7. Gary Kelly
Club(s): Leeds United
Premier League appearances: 325
At the turn of the millennium, Leeds United were seemingly destined to compete with Arsenal and Man Utd for top billing. A young and vibrant team under former central defender David O’Leary, they quickly became renowned for their attacking transitions. Gary Kelly, their right-back, would chip in with a few assists in a personal battle with his mate on the opposite flank, reminiscent of Alexander-Arnold and Robertson at Liverpool today.
6. Dan Petrescu
Club(s): Sheffield Wednesday, Chelsea, Bradford, Southampton
Premier League appearances: 215
Dan Petrescu truly made his name at Chelsea where he was part of the club’s emergence as a Premier League force. A 95-time capped international with his native Romania, he’d famously score against England at the 1998 World Cup, a tournament that also saw him — and his teammates — bleach their hair blond.
Subscribe to Squawka’s Youtube channel here.
5. Gary Neville
Club(s): Man Utd
Premier League appearances: 400
A graduate of Man Utd‘s fabled Class of 92, not many banked on Gary Neville enjoying an illustrious playing career. Deemed too short to play centre-back, Neville reinvented himself at right-back, closely studying teammate and multifunctional full-back Denis Irwin, and would strike up a legendary tandem on the right flank with David Beckham.
4. Ian Harte
Club(s): Leeds United, Sunderland, Reading
Premier League appearances: 237
Ian Harte was known more for his scoring during his time at Elland Road, particularly from dead ball situations, but like his fellow compatriot (and full-back) Kelly, the Irishman didn’t need a second invitation to maraud into the opposition half.
3. Andy Hinchcliffe
Club(s): Everton, Sheffield Wednesday
Premier League appearances: 219
A set-piece master, Andy Hinchcliffe came through at boyhood club Manchester City, but would join Everton a few seasons before the Premier League’s formation. He’d spend the majority of the 1990s at Goodison Park until seeing out his career at Sheffield Wednesday.
2. Graeme Le Saux
Club(s): Chelsea, Blackburn Rovers, Southampton
Premier League appearances: 327
Graeme Le Saux was part of Blackburn’s Premier League-winning side under Kenny Dalglish, a stint that was sandwiched between spells at boyhood club Chelsea, during that run he’d collect 36 England caps with his only goal coming against Brazil.
1. Leighton Baines
Club(s): Wigan, Everton
Premier League appearances: 417
During the 2010/11 season Leighton Baines registered 11 assists, the most by a defender in a single Premier League campaign equalling former Toffee full-back Hinchcliffe (1994/95), that was until Alexander-Arnold burst onto the scene. Now in the twilight of his career he still remains a useful hand for manager Carlo Ancelotti.