World Football: Ranking the 3 Best Wingers in World Football

Amogha Sahu

The winger has been an integral part of world football for many years. The showmanship and the tricks of these players were highlighted in the oft-used 4-4-2 formation, which employed right and left wingers outside of two central midfielders.

Wingers used to have more of an effect on the game tactically. For example, in the late 1960s English game, wingers were the main source of creativity. The central playmaker so prevalent in modern football was much rarer.

The origins of the winger can be traced back to the very genesis of the game, in England. Formations like the 2-3-5 and the 3-2-5—some of the most popular a century ago, relied heavily upon wide players who could both attack and defend their flanks.

It was here that you could find an early winger, then called an outside-left or an outside right, on either side of a centre forward.

The role of these players was to cross the ball to a central forward who would then score, assisted by the two inside lefts and inside rights behind the forward.

Soon, players like the esteemed Eddie Hapgood and Cliff Bastin made their mark on world football as Herbert Chapman's Arsenal Invincibles started to dominate the English game.

Of the aforementioned players, the latter stood out as a new type of player: The "inverted winger." Cliff Bastin was the first known exponent of this position from the wings. He, however did not foresee the great revolution he would inspire, the aftershocks of which are still seen today.

In the 50's and 60's, wingers were relied upon deliverers of crosses, who beat their markers and got to the touchline before providing service to the onrushing attackers.

Great wingers of this era fit the bill.

Take Garrincha for example, he is the exception that proves the rule. The Brazilian genius shot from distance, dribbled his marker, and shot. Shot. Shot. Shot.

In fact, Garrincha was so ahead of his time that the premise that wing tactics hinged on at the time: beating one man, mostly through pace and only getting a little bit ahead of him, almost did not apply to him, as he left his marker standing flat on his face most of the time, so superb was his trickery.

This allowed him time to take a characteristically lethal shot with either foot. The same applies for Manchester United winger George Best. The Northern Irishman, however, had a game predicated upon link-up play and runs into the penalty area, as opposed to Garrincha.

In the 70's, Ajax and Bayern Munich dominated world football, and installed revolutionary ways to play the beautiful game.

Ajax introduced the 4-3-3 to World Football, with Rinus Michels was its inventor. Here, wingers often played ahead of their strikers, cutting inside to dangerous levels with the center forward Johan Cruyff dropping back into midfield.

It was a tactical change with the same impact of Garrincha—it changed the game, and its reverberations are still felt today.

Bayern Munich started off with a 4-4-2, which was the gold standard for years in world football.

Munchen then had Franz Beckenbauer—one of the all-time greats—as a playmaking center back (modern-day defensive midfielder) along with a more defensive center back in Georg Scwarzenbeck.

Beckenbauer was adept at leading the Bayern attack from deep. Full backs like Paul Breitner attacked high up the pitch in a system that was slightly reminiscent of Herrera's Catenaccio all those years ago.

After the German dominance of the mid to late 70's, came the English (read: Liverpudlian) dominance of the European game, which started with the defeat of Borussia Moenchengladbach by a Kevin Keegan-led Liverpool side.

Then followed two more triumphs for Liverpool, as well as Brian Clough's consecutive victories with Nottingham Forest.

Even Aston Villa won the European Cup in 1982!

These English teams played a style with two hard-working engine room central midfielders, creative crossing wingers, and a target man-poacher combination. It worked brilliantly.

Later in the 80's and the 90's, Michel Platini's Juventus and Sacchi's AC Milan thrust Serie A into the world spotlight.

The Italian style of football, a little bit in the 80's, but much more so in the 90's, used full backs as the main source of width, with wingers often tucked inside. This made using tucked wingers a little bit of a trend across Europe where German side use sweepers to great advantage(see: Borussia Dortmund and Matthias Sammer as well as Lothar Matthaus and Bayern Munich)  

Arjen Robben

Robben won plaudits during his time with Jose Mourinho's Chelsea, where he played in the Portuguese tactician's then-uncommon 4-3-3 system (At least in England, where the 4-4-2 was still the modus operandi).

The Dutchman next moved on to Real Madrid, where he was one of the byproducts of president Florentino Perez's Galactico policy, albeit a less-hyped companion to the Beckhams and Owens.

He didn't exactly tear up the record books while at Madrid, but was always one of the world's best. He is now at Bayern Munich, having lead them to a Champions League final two seasons ago.

Robben is a winger who likes to cut in and shoot. Much can be made of that statement. Robben has the dribbling bravado rarely seen in a European player.

He is technically gifted, but not in the samba "Brazilian" flamboyant style. He is quick with his feet and is just very, very fast.

With Robben, an oft-repeated term used to describe his unique talent is "weapon". This word takes into account his shooting ability, which comes into play anywhere 30 yards from goal. His shot is multi-faceted, equally capable of that poacher-esque 1-on-1 "firm tap" finish and the net breaking 30-yarder, as well as the delicate chip, so often and so beautifully employed (at the expense of trying any other shot) by Arsenal's (now on loan at Real Sociedad) Carlos Vela.

What is astounding about Robben is the sheer quantity of his end product.

In the two games he has played so far this season, Robben has the delivered—of any Bayern player—the most key passes, most crosses, most through balls, most shots on goal, most successful dribbles, and a goal and an assist. This, taking into account that most Bayern players have played a game more than him and he has just come back from an injury, is amazing.

Robben  plays in a 4-2-3-1 system with Munich. Behind him is the double pivot of Luiz Gustavo and Bastian Schweinsteiger, with the No. 6 distributor slotted slightly ahead of Gustavo in the Ballack role, sharing some of the defensive responsibilities with Gustavo as well as taking some of the playmaking responsibility with Gustavo and Robben himself. 


Nani really came of age last season.

Arriving at Manchester United in 2007, Nani was immediately immersed in the shadow of Cristiano Ronaldo—the comparisons were inevitable seeing as how Nani was Portuguese, had come from the same club (Sporting Lisbon) and, most importantly, because he plays in the same position as the Portuguese superstar.

Ronaldo was then in the form of his life, gliding past defenders like they weren't there, shooting from distance and scoring, getting all his free-kicks on target and getting a very good return on them. He was an unceasing threat.

After Ronaldo left United in summer 2009, the goalscoring pressure rested on the young, but nevertheless capable shoulders of Wayne Rooney, who racked up 26 goals in the 2009-10 season, earning mention as one of the players of the season.

Many plaudits were also won by the quiet performances of Luis Antonio Valencia, whose crosses lead to many of Rooney's goals. However, Nani also played a key part, getting 4 goals and 10 assists that season.

The Portuguese with baby-sitter name is dangerous anywhere in and around the box, as he is skillful and can beat players very effectively indeed. He will not hesitate to make piercing runs and explode into action. He is unselfish, as he will also look for the through ball and is pinpoint with his crossing ability.

His assists (last season) consisted of crosses in the majority, for Berbatov or Rooney to tap in or volley in. Some of his assists involve him leaving the opposition full backs for dead and finding space down the right and flashing through balls through the box for a striker to tap in.

Nani plays in a 4-4-2 system at United, which turns into a 4-2-3-1 with Rooney dropping back and the new signing Ashley Young as well as Nani himself playing higher up the pitch next to Rooney , making a bank of 3 attacking midfielders with Rooney as the playmaker.

Cristiano Ronaldo

Nani's erstwhile wing partner and compatriot is now making his dangerous runs with Real Madrid.

However, he was at his peak at Manchester United, where he reached unprecedented heights as a player during the 2007-08 season, when United won the Champions League, and it was widely acknowledged that the star of the show was Cristiano Ronaldo.

Sure enough, he received the premier award for European football players, the Ballon D'or in 2008.

At Real Madrid, he has broken the record fro most goals ever scored in a la Liga season, beating the likes of Hugo Sanchez, the iconic Mexican Real Madrid striker, by scoring 40 in the 2010-11 season, beating Lionel Messi, who was leading the table for most of the season. For the last part of the season, Ronaldo was playing as a center-forward.

Ronaldo is a classic winger with incredible amounts of skill and guile. He has a huge repertoire of tricks at his disposal, with lightning fast step overs being his trademark move. He is also adept in letting the ball rest on his feet and flicking it past defenders.

Ronaldo's primary virtue is his pace. He is probably one of the fastest, but not the quickest (acceleration),players in the world. He is very skilled, though he uses his pace quite a lot to get past people. He has incredible close control, as he can use his quick feet to quickly glide past players.

Ronaldo's shots are those of a poacher, as he is capable of all kinds of finishes, he has all the qualities of an advanced forward and a complete forward. He is one of the greatest penalty takers in the world, thanks in no small part to his extraordinary composure. He is good at both taking, and getting on the end of the set pieces. His free kicks are almost legendary , better than almost any player in the world, surgical in their accuracy and delicate in their curling. The final, and most recognizable aspect of his overall play are his long shots, which are labelled "Ronaldo Rockets".


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