When evaluating full backs, it’s easy to get drawn towards attention grabbing attacking play rather than defensive consistency. The highest profile left back of the modern era – Roberto Carlos – had a reputation founded on this sort of thing. But whether he was a better defender than Bixente Lizarazu, or even Graeme le Saux, was overlooked.
So in picking the left back for our World XI we have to be wary of such players, whose cavalier instincts distract from their failure to function as an effective roundhead when needed. This is why Gaël Clichy and Philipp Lahm don’t make the cut. Similarly with Éric Abidal, whose defensive liabilities have forced Pep Guardiola to dust off the 34 year old Sylvinho in recent months.
This left me with a short list of Ashley Cole, Patrice Evra and Gianluca Zambrotta. The criteria were defensive reliability, experience, pace and the ability to genuinely hurt the opposition in the final third. First to go was Zambrotta. As much as his versatility and reliablity – not to forget his World Cup winners’ medal – counts for, his lost pace puts him behind the Premier League options.
Choosing between Cole and Evra is difficult. There’s one inch between them in height. six months in age, two Premier League titles each. They’ve both been exceptional for the last year or so: defensively flawless, incisive in attack, and able to keep competent deputies out of the side – forcing Mikaël Silvestre and Wayne Bridge to move to Arsenal and Manchester City respectively.
But I’m just going to go for Patrice Evra. As good as Cole has been, the quality of Evra in the last year or so has been phenomenal. His pace and energy – ninety minutes of full length pitch sprints twice a week – is reminiscent of the great Cafu. His runs into the final third – dragging the right back wide – creates the space for Cristiano Ronaldo to gallop into. And his crossing is better than most top flight midfielders.
Jack’s Word XI
- Iker Casillas (Real Madrid and Spain)
- Patrice Evra (Manchester United and France)