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Greatest Premier League Left-Back

Updated on February 6, 2013

Greatest Left-Back Of The Premier League Era

I have scoured, read and re-read stats, stories and opinions before making my choices of the greatest left backs of the Premier League era. I have to admit the pickings where not exactly bountiful, there has been many good left backs, and there seems to be a few more coming through at the moment. But as for names which will still be household in another 20 years time, I don't personally think there has been an abundance. Gareth Bale and Leighton Baines haven't made my list for a few reasons, Bale because of his change of position, and Baines because he has only just started to establish himself in the league, winning caps for England and admiration from several top clubs.

I hope you find my list either useful or informative, and as always opinions, discussions and disagreements with my list is always helpful. After all what would football be without debate? Here are my choices in no particular order are:-

1 - Nigel Winterburn

Winterburn started his professional career at Birmingham City, though he made no first team appearances. This was also the case for his next club Oxford United. However, in 1983, Dave Bassatt of Wimbledon signed him on a free, bringing him into an up and coming team which was rising through the divisions.

Winterburn and Wimbledon earned promotion into the old Division 1 in 1986. In their first season they achieved a top half finish, with Winterburn earning England Under-21 honours. In 1987 George Graham of Arsenal was seeking a long term replacement for club captain Kenny Sansom and bought the emerging talent of Winterburn for £350,000.

It was at right-back that the heavily left footed Winterburn started his Arsenal career as emergency cover for Viv Anderson. He settled as best he could, but it wasn't really until the following season that he began to show his full potential. With Sansom leaving in the summer of '88 Winterburn moved to his preferred left-back role, with Lee Dixon at right-back and Tony Adams and David O'Leary between the two. The back line gained Steve Bould in 1989, with all 5 defenders often being fielded at the same time.

His form earned him a full England cap in 1989, though this was to be one of only two appearances he would make for his country. Unfortunately for Winterburn, England managers of the time decided he was third choice left-back, behind Stuart Pearce and Tony Dorigo. He was given a brief recall to the England squad for a mini tournament in the U.S. but only made a substitute appearance in a game against Germany. He was later called up for England for a friendly game against France, but spent the entire game on the bench, behind Graeme Le Saux.

Arsene Wenger arrived at Highbury in 1996, bringing with him new dietary and training methods, which allowed the ageing Arsenal back-line to prolong their careers. Two years later Arsenal achieved a League and F.A. Cup double. However in 2000 Winterburn was deemed surplus to requirements at Arsenal, who had Sylvinho and an emerging Ashley Cole pushing him down the pecking order. After 429 league appearances and 8 league goals Winterburn moved to West Ham for £250,000. He made a further 94 Premier League appearances scoring one more goal before retiring in 2003.

Although never making an impact on the national team, I believe his part in the formidable Arsenal back line of the 90's earns Winterburn a nomination for one of the greatest left-backs of the Premier League era. He finished his career with 3 League titles (only one in the Premier League), 2 F.A.Cups ('93 and '98), and League Cup ('93) and a European Cup Winners Cup ('94).

2 - Graeme Le Saux

Greame Pierre Le Saux signed for Chelsea in 1987 after being talent scouted at a local tournament by then manager John Hollins. He made his debut two years later against Portsmouth, before establishing himself as a regular starter by the '90-'91 season.

He then joined Blackburn in 1993, after becoming agitated at continually being substituted. This came to a head when he stormed past manager Ian Porterfield, throwing his shirt to the ground after being substituted against Southampton.

He joined a Blackburn team being put together by Kenny Daglish, with a little help from the coffers of wealthy benefactor Jack Walker. In his first full season Blackburn finished runners up to Manchester United. The next season, however, they managed one better by winning the league, with Le Saux as the established first choice left-back.

The '95-'96 season was not a good one for Le Saux, however. He broke his ankle, causing him to miss the second half of the season. This injury also forced him out of England's Euro 96 squad. He was also again courting controversy after fighting with teammate David Batty in a Champions League game against Spartak Moscow.

I 1997 he became the most expensive defender in English football after a £5 million return to Chelsea. An almost ever-present, apart from regular injuries and suspensions, he won a League Cup, a European Super Cup and a European Cup Winners Cup in 1998, followed by an F.A. Cup in 2000. He missed 2 of these finals through injury.

After 6 seasons back at Chelsea he moved to Southampton in 2003 as part of a deal which sent Wayne Bridge in the opposite direction. He stayed for 2 seasons before retiring in 2005.

Le Saux made 36 appearances for England, scoring his only goal against Brazil. He played every game for England in the 1998 World Cup. He was also voted into the PFA Team of the Year twice, in 1995 and 1998. He made a total of 403 League appearances, scoring 20 league goals in his career.

3 - Denis Irwin

Denis Joseph Irwin started his career at Leeds Utd. He made 72 appearances over 3 years, before moving to Oldham Athletic on a free transfer in 1986. He spent 4 years at Oldham, helping them to an F.A. Cup semi-final and a League Cup final in 1990, before moving to Manchester United for a fee of £625,000.

He stayed at Old Trafford for 12 years, making 296 Premier League appearances. During this time he won 7 League titles, 3 F.A. Cups, a League Cup, a Champions League and a Cup Winners Cup.

Mr Dependable during his Manchester United years, he became the clubs second most decorated player. Irwin scored 22 times for Manchester United in the Premier League before moving to Wolves in 2002, helping them to promotion in his first season, before retiring at the end of the following season. During his return to Old Trafford he was given a standing ovation as he lined up for Wolves against his old club.

He made 32 appearances during his final season in the Premier League, before deciding to hang his boots up after Wolves were relegated in 2004.

4 - Ashley Cole

Ashley Cole started his playing career at Arsenal in 1999, though made only one appearance before joining Crystal Palace on loan. He had a bit of fortune during the 2000-2001 season as Sylvinho, who was first choice left-back at Arsenal, suffered an injury meaning Ashley Cole had a chance to deputise and, ultimately, shine in his new role. When Sylvinho had regained fitness he found himself below Ashley Cole in the pecking order.

Ashley Cole established himself as a world class defender during the following seasons, winning the F.A. Premier League title twice (2002 and 2004) and 3 F.A. Cups. He also played in the UEFA Champions League final in the 2005-2006 season, though he did spend much of that season sidelined through injury.

His talent and ambition drew the attention of other big clubs, with speculation linking him mainly with Chelsea. This escalated to an infamous 'tapping-up' case, which saw fines for illegal meetings with Chelsea representatives. Ashley Cole and Jose Mourinho were amongst those fined for these hotel meetings.

Cole did eventually sign for Chelsea, but only after lengthy negotiations. Arsenal valued Cole at £25 million, while Chelsea offered only £15 million. Eventually, on transfer deadline day in 2006, Ashley Cole moved to Chelsea in a deal including £5 million and William Gallas moving the opposite way.

Cole has since made over 200 appearances for Chelsea in the Premier League, adding to his tally of 156 for Arsenal. He has won another Premier League title with Chelsea, 4 more F.A. Cups, a League Cup and a Champions League.

Ashley Cole has also won a century of caps for his country, wining his 100th in a game against Brazil. He is still going strong having signed a contract extension at Stanford Bridge where he remains a fan favourite.

Ashley Cole has made a total of over 350 League appearances, scoring 15 times so far. This will undoubtedly be added to in the coming seasons as he remains Chelseas first choice Left-Back at the age of 32, and will surely feel he has a few seasons at the top left in his untiring legs.

5 - Stuart Pearce (MBE)

Stuart Pearce had a less than magical start to his footballing career, failing a trail at Queens Park Rangers before turning down an offer from Hull. In 1978 he decided to join his local side, Wealdstone, while training as an electrician and plumber.

In 1983 an unexpected offer from Coventry of £30,000 was offered for Pearce after he had impressed the Sky Blues manager during a League game. He stepped immediately into Coventry's first team, establishing himself as an uncompromising full-back.

In 1985 Brian Clough brought Peace to Nottingham Forest for £300,000. He was to spend much of the next 12 years as club captain. He won two League Cups with Forest, and also a Full Members Cup. He was also one of the players involved in Hillsborough disaster, lining up for Forest against Liverpool.

Pearces scored a free-kick for Forest in the 1991 F.A. Cup final, but ended up on the losing team as Spurs came back to win 2-1. He was also in a losing cup final team the following year, this time losing 1-0 to Manchester United in the League Cup final.

Pearce and Nottingham Forest were relegated in 1993, but won promotion back to the Premier League the following season, managing to finish 3rd in their first season back. Pearce was appointed caretaker player-manager in 1996 with Forest bottom of the league. He won his first game 2-1 against Arsenal but couldn't help Forest avoid relegation from the top flight.

Pearce joined fellow ageing footballers John Barnes and Ian Rush at Newcastle United in 1997, appearing in the F.A. Cup final the following year, though again on a losing side. Following Kenny Daglish leaving Newcastle and the appointment of Ruud Gullit, Pearce felt he was being pushed out, being made to train with the reserve team.

Pearce left Newcastle the following season, and joined Man City in 2001. He captained the club to a First Division title, though on a sour note missed a penalty on his final appearance which would have brought his career goal tally to 100.

Stuart Peace gained the nickname 'Psycho' during his time at Nottingham Forest. This nickname was later taken up by England fans, where his undeniable drive and determination earned him the acclaim of both fans and players. Roy Keane referred to him as a 'man amongst boys' during his time ad Forest, and Matt Le Tissier described him as his scariest opponent.

Pearce made 78 appearances for England, and at 37 years and 137 days became the third oldest outfield player ever to take the field for England. As for Premier League stats, Pearce made 202 appearances in the League, scoring 22 goals.

Who is your choice as Greatest Left-Back in Premier League history?

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    • J D Hastings profile image

      J D Hastings 

      3 years ago

      I think Winterburn did well because Arsenal had an amazing defence. Unfortunately as well as Playing for Arsenal, he performed the biggest U turn when confronting Paulo Di canio during the infamous Paul Alcock pushing incident he appeared to be the aggressor then turned chicken when Di Canio confronted him. I know it does not detract from his record for me that is how I remember him

    • Talty profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Preston

      The Right back article is half done, though there is a player or two who are pretty much filler. As for centre backs, it is the position I played when I was younger, so I admired a lot of players in that position, so I think I'll have a facebook debate before deciding what to do with it. But after that I have the fun of choosing midfield, wingers and strikers. Try narrowing that down to 5 for each position! Will definitely leave a few players out who people will argue should be there.

    • adambarker97 profile image

      Adam Barker and Dean Barker 

      5 years ago

      Just do an article about Gary Neville for the right back article!! I can't think of too many who have performed anywhere near him! Central defence is hard, might take a list of ten for you to even get going..I could name at least 12 off the top of my head right now who would challenge for the crown. I'll enjoy to see who your choices are, and if I agree with them =D

    • Talty profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Preston

      Baines will definitely be remembered as one of the best, probably more so if he makes a big move soon. Players are all to often judged on caps and medals, and he has been unfortunate on both fronts.

      My next posts will be right-back and centre-backs, and I'm still unsure on names. Especially at centre-back, as there has been so many good centre backs, I don't know wether to mix the names ina hat and choose my two lists of 5 like that, or choose between the first 10 years and the years since then. Let me know what you think?

    • adambarker97 profile image

      Adam Barker and Dean Barker 

      5 years ago

      This is a decent list, and I was torn between Pearce and Cole, however chose Cole due to him being probably THE outstanding Left-Back in the Premier League, if not the World of the last 10 years.

      I agree with you not having Gareth Bale as a name on this list. Bale plays as an attacking midfielder these days, and was at times abismal when he played Left-Back. He started to shine when his forward play developed, hence now playing even on the Right Wing or even as a Second Striker. I do however advocate that Baines could be added to a list such as this pretty soon in the future.

    • Talty profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Preston

      If you disagree with my list, or would like to comment about why or for whom you voted, please do so. What is football without discussion and disagreement?


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