EPL Talk Player Profile: The Search for the Premier League's Best Right Back

Ryan Giggs Manchester United 2010/11 Glen Johnson Liverpool Manchester United V Liverpool (3-2) 19/09/10 The Premier League Photo Robin Parker Fotosports International Photo via Newscom

Whether they’re man marking the opposition’s left sided attacking winger or bombing up and down the flank conducting intelligent overlapping runs in support of their right sided midfielder, the modern day right sided full back is an integral part of a team’s make up. Although not a glamour position like that of his brother the winger, a solid right back can add dimensions to a side bereft of natural width or a side facing a dangerous wing attack.

A perfect right back desinged by the football Gods has the lungs of a horse, precise tackling abilities, the speed to cover the length of the pitch in seconds and a right footed cross similar to that of David Beckham’s in his prime. In years past, names synonymous with classy right backs sound something like Cafu, Lilian Thurman, Gary Neville, Christian Panucci and more recently, Sergio Ramos, Dani Alves and Maicon. The latter three are world class, while the former four embodied what makes a modern day full back great while in their prime.

The only problem with the list is that only one of the aforementioned, Gary Neville, currently apply their trade in the Premier League. And while Neville has certainly reached the end of a brilliant career at Manchester United, his culmination gives way to the search for the League’s next great right backs.

During Gameweek 5 of the Barclays Premier League, the following twenty players started for their respective clubs at right back. Although the Premier League witnesses a myriad of defenders fill in at right back from week to week due to injury, fitness and form, the following twenty will serve as a healthy enough assemblage for the comparison:

Robert Huth (Stoke City), Lars Jacobsen (West Ham), Luke Young (Aston Villa), Gretar Rafn Steinsson (Bolton), Stephen Kelly (Fulham), Michel Salgado (Blackburn), James Perch (Newcastle), Tony Hibbert (Everton), Kevin Foley (Wolverhampton), Younes Kaboul (Tottenham), Stephen Carr (Birmingham City), Gonzalo Jara (West Brom), Bacary Sagna (Arsenal), Nedum Onuoha (Sunderland), Glen Johnson (Liverpool), John O’Shea (Manchester United), Micah Richards (Manchester City), Emmerson Boyce (Wigan), Neal Eardley (Blackpool) and Paulo Ferreira (Chelsea).

Picking the one best out of the lot could prove daunting and maybe even a little futile. While we like to focus on brilliant players, many of  the listed possess different qualities which may be a direct result of their background and experience playing in the top flight.

The Obvious

Upon first glance, the usual suspects from England’s traditionally more successful teams come to mind as solid, yet not quite world class, right backs. Liverpool’s Glen Johnson is the England first choice right back while City’s Micah Richards was once spoken as the next big thing for club and country. While both have distinct attributes as it pertains to their qualities, Richards and Johnson have been prone to ‘get caught out’ in defense.

Their pace and abilities to support attacking movements have been lauded in seasons past, yet their completeness as modern day defenders have yet to bear the fruition their potential once promised. Don’t misinterpret the message, they are quality players. Just remember that decent, even good-great players, will always play better if they’re surrounded by other players also considered top in their position. Although I like both immensely for different reasons, the complete product they are not.

The Solid

Does Arsenal’s Bacary Sagna ever really place a foot wrong? I like this player. He’s the type who goes about his job effectively yet quietly while in recent years he’s proved himself as one of Arsenal’s most reliable. He’s got great positional sense as a defender while his crossing isn’t his best attribute. The realist would state Sagna’s lack as an attacking threat as secondary to his defending because of how loaded Arsenal are going forward through the middle. The realist wouldn’t be remiss in that sentiment while a threat he isn’t, solid in support he is.

Luke Young scored the winner in Villa’s recent 1-0 win at home to Everton while he continues to bring more than just the occasional goal to the Villa lineup. Young’s a player of quality that has represented England in years past and is a fan favorite at Villa Park. One tends to hear about the other Young (Ashley) when Villa impress, yet the other fringe England player Luke has value at right back for the Villans.

The Youngster and the Veteran

While Wes Brown has struggled with fitness over the last few years, John O’Shea has been implemented (among others) as cover at right back for United until experience and years fulfill Rafael da Silva’s potential. O’Shea’s a classic utility man who can play center back, right back or defensive midfielder. Although not the quickest on the pitch, he’s a veteran of the Premier League at 29 who’s a decent enough defender. He won’t get forward as much as Rafael, but he won’t get caught out of position as much as the young Brazilian will because of his positional awareness. O’Shea knows his limitations, one of which is his pace. However, he’s a good passer of the ball and a decent crosser with time and space.

I say young, but I’m not quite sure 23 classifies one as a youngster these days. Aren’t 18, 19 and 20 more reasonably suited for the term? Nevertheless, Nedum Onuoha is one to watch over the course of the next few seasons. He’s a Manchester City boy currently on loan at Sunderland where he’ll be able to experience first team football each week. Having been a regular in the England U21 side since ’05, Onuoha’s best position has been said to be center back yet he possesses the qualities in attack that remain ever so important in a modern day full back. Time will tell whether Onuoha settles and finds a home at Sunderland or another club as he’s third or fourth choice in line at deep spending City.


Tottenahm’s Alan Hutton didn’t start on the weekend but scored Spurs third. He’s battled injury over recent seasons but could be one of the league’s strongest at right back if he can reach full match fitness. Tony Hibbert’s been solid at Everton for years while the almost-30-year-old is in fact the longest serving current Everton player. At 34, Stephen Carr has played for a couple of Premier League clubs while he’s now Captain at Birmingham City as his career slows down with age.

Regardless of your pick, there’s still room for a standout world class right back in the Premier League. Although it’s a difficult and demanding position to master, its importance and relevance as it pertains to a side’s shape and balance shouldn’t be overlooked.

15 thoughts on “EPL Talk Player Profile: The Search for the Premier League's Best Right Back”

  1. Sagna is the best all-round RB in the league. Johnson and Bosingwa are the best coming forward. Ivanovic is pretty solid in cover at that role as well.

  2. United won Europe and the League with Wes Brown, so he can obviously do a job. Sadly, he can’t seem to do it for any amount of time.

    My vote goes to Bacary Sagna. Helpful on both ends of the pitch.

  3. No love for Branislav – A convert of course but did a solid Job. Right back is an issue these days for most Premier League teams. Increasingly Centre Halves are being asked to play out there whilst the more recognised full-backs are either crocked or not as good as the centre backs. Of those not detailed above the list is fairly sparse.

    Stephen Carr and Stephen Kelly are solid dependable types, one of the top right backs of recent seasons was Steve Finnan but sadly he’s not the player he was. An under-rated player is Tony Hibbert who I would rate higher than Glen Johnson whose form and attitude have been horrible. Beyond that the pool is really slim. For the future you’ve got Rafael – whoever Arsenal inevitably churn out, Seamus Coleman, McNaughton and Martin Kelly – It is really surprising how many Irishmen i’ve mentioned above, though perhaps they are trying to emulate the greatest full-back in our history Dennis Irwin – If you don’t know who he is, i despair.

  4. yeah RB is unbelievably week in the EPL. honestly Kaboul is playing as good as any even though it isn’t his normal position. every RB that is half decent going forward seems to have glaring faults at the back.

  5. Agreed that right back is weak in the epl this season. It seems like all of them have things they do well and limtations- there is not that all around ideal candidate, unlike left back. If I had to pick one I would take Richards (although not a natural right back) or Sagna- and lean more towards Sagna as he is the better crosser of the ball from what I have seen.

  6. Kudos to Sagna is way overdue. Truly a “solid” RB with good positional sense and aggression in defense; well put – good article.

  7. Ivanovic, Bosingwa, Sagna, and Essien are probably the best options in the PL although Bosingwa is/has been injured for much of the last couple of years, Ivanovic bounces back and forth between CB and RB and Essien hasn’t played RB regularly since Avram Grant.

    1. Essien? That’s a truly odd choice. As a full-back I’d rate Stephen Carr above him. Obviously not as a player though. Essien played centre-back when required and Liverpool tonked them.

      1. Putting Essien at RB would be like being so proud of your Olympic gold medal that you went out and got it bronzed.

        look no further than the Bison to make sense of Chelsea’s flying start. He’s phenomenal. But a waste at RB, even if he could step in and be better than over half the dedicated EPL RBs.

        1. The fact that Essien is better used at other positions doesn’t mean that he isn’t also one of the better RBs or at least when has been employed there sporadically over the last 5 years. He’s also one of the better DMs, CMs, and RMs, and has played competent LB and CAM

          1. Perhaps but a better example was Flamini’s conversion when Arsenal were short. He played possibly a dozen games well there. I’ve


            thought of Essien as a Right-Back though.

          2. even though under grant he played alot of his games under that role? to accomodate ballack and was quite a monster. in all fairness if essien was brazilian he never would have played as a CM only because he comes from africa that he got comfortable there, his pace and strength would have made him an ideal fullback.

            But in terms of pure attacking fullbacks bosingwa is the king in the EPL, comfortably the best in the land before he was injured. a monster going forward and fast enough to be great defensively, suspect positionally but still a more viable fullback then any other.

  8. There’s been some talk that a healthy Steven Taylor might play some RB for Newcastle in an effort to try to get the best 4 defenders on the pitch – which would be Jose Enrique, Coloccini, Williamson and Steve Taylor. Perch has been decent enough though he’s now had 5 matches and 5 yellows, which earns him a suspension. Who knows when Taylor will be able to play again though…

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