FC 100 best men's soccer right-backs, 2022-23

Illustration by MASA

Right-back was never the most glamorous position, but the game's many evolutions have seen it become a thrilling and unpredictable spot on the pitch. The best in the game will marry a strong positional awareness with blinding speed, as well as the daring to surge forward to support their teams in attack.

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This year's ballot had 50 entries from all over the globe and from all areas of ESPN FC, from writers to reporters, from editors to producers, from behind-the-scenes staff to on-air talent. Gab Marcotti, Julien Laurens, Mark Ogden and Luis Miguel Echegaray were just some of the key voters, along with their FC TV counterparts Craig Burley and Shaka Hislop.

Voters were encouraged to take the following things into consideration when casting their votes: who are the best men's players right now, weighted toward their 2022-23 seasons? Voters were given discretion as to how much injuries played in votes; several players made the cut despite missing chunks of the season given the scale of their contributions and performances when healthy.

Equally, performances in individual competitions (aka Champions League, World Cup) were considered, but were not the overarching factor, in casting a vote. Players whose efforts spanned the largest sample of games should naturally rank higher than those who excelled in short tournament formats.

Is Achraf Hakimi really the best right-back in the world?

Gab Marcotti and Julien Laurens discuss Achraf Hakimi's place at the top of the list for right-backs in the ESPN FC 100.

All player copy written by Bill Connelly, Constantin Eckner, Julien Laurens, Rob Dawson, Alex Kirkland and James Tyler.

10. Jeremie FRIMPONG, Bayer Leverkusen/Netherlands

Why he's on the list:

The more he's asked to do in attack, the better he does, and few Bundesliga players have seen their stock rise as voraciously as Frimpong. The 22-year old right-back came to Leverkusen from Celtic in January 2021 and produced solid numbers in his first full season: 2,061 league minutes, one goal, six assists from 30 chances created in 2021-22. His ferocious speed stood out, and his partnership with winger Moussa Diaby was developing nicely.

In 2022-23, that partnership went to a new level. New manager Xabi Alonso moved Frimpong into more of a wingback/midfield role and asked him to contribute more in attack. He did so. In all competitions, Frimpong finished the season second on the team in goals (nine), second in chances created (66) and tied for first in assists (10). After a dreadful start, Leverkusen charged back to claim a Europa League bid thanks to the Diaby-Frimpong partnership.

Expectations for 2023-24:

Frimpong's breakout campaign certainly made him the subject of quite a few transfer rumors. Manchester United has expressed sustained interest, and both Bayern Munich and Barcelona (of course) have supposedly been keeping an eye on him, too. Whether he stays or goes, though, he will enter next season as one of the more renowned 22-and-under players in the game. His reputation has changed significantly in a short amount of time. -- Connelly

9. Giovanni DI LORENZO, Napoli/Italy

Why he's on the list:

Contrary to many other full backs, Di Lorenzo is not a specialist in any one particular area. He can defend, progress possession, play inside, stay outside, overlap his wingers and more or less everything else you'd want to find in the toolbox of a top-class right-back. He is among the best progressive and combination passers in football right now thanks to his tactical understanding. He might not have been able to show all his tools regularly during Napoli's campaign, but Di Lorenzo was still crucial in the success of the Luciano Spalletti-led side, eventually leading the team as their captain to Napoli's first Scudetto in over three decades.

Expectations for 2023-24:

Di Lorenzo's versatility could offer Rudi Garcia, the incoming Napoli head coach, numerous tactical options. Plus, Garcia can count on Di Lorenzo as a leadership figure inside the locker room as they try to defend their Serie A crown. As he is soon approaching 30, Di Lorenzo does not appear to slow down one bit and if he would, he could still rely on his tactical awareness and potentially move to a centre back position, which he has played on occasions under Roberto Mancini at the Italy national team. -- Eckner

8. Dani CARVAJAL, Real Madrid/Spain

Why he's on the list:

Carvajal has been Madrid's first choice right-back for a decade now, and has been a rare homegrown player in a team of global stars. He's a refreshingly old-fashioned defender, with an aggressive, win-at-all-costs mentality. Carvajal has often been under par over the past few years -- repeated injury problems haven't helped, making just 11, 17 and 20 LaLiga starts over three seasons -- but he has also had a tendency to come good when it matters at the business end of the season.

The defender's influence within the Madrid squad will only increase now that he has been joined by brother-in-law Joselu -- the pair are married to twins -- while he enjoyed the highlight of his international career last month, scoring a bold "panenka" sudden death penalty during the UEFA Nations League final shootout to see Spain beat Croatia for their first trophy in 11 years.

Expectations for 2023-24:

Carvajal is now the third of Madrid's club captains, behind Nacho Fernandez and Luka Modric in a pecking order decided by seniority following the departure of Karim Benzema. He has always been a de facto on-field leader for the team anyway, and he'll remain first choice next season, with no current plans for the club to strengthen at right-back.

If fitness permits, he'll be in the Spain picture for Euro 2024, too, with no obvious, younger candidate emerging to take his place in time. Carvajal might be 31, but his biggest national team rival right now, Sevilla's Jesus Navas, is six years older. -- Kirkland

7. Joao CANCELO, Manchester City/Portugal

Why he's on the list:

Look at the right stats, and you'll see Joao Cancelo just had the best season of his career. He recorded 0.31 goals and assists per 90 minutes, an upgrade over 0.22 in 2021-22, and he pushed the ball up the pitch with more aggression, increasing his average progressive carries per 90 from 10.3 to 12.9. Meanwhile, his rates for both ball recoveries (from 6.1 to 6.4) and defensive interventions (from 12.2 to 12.3) increased as well. An aging player continuing to add tools to his already technically brilliant game? What's not to like?

Expectations for 2023-24:

Look at the actual facts, however, and it's clear this was a ridiculously challenging season for the 29-year old Portuguese star. Cancelo lost his spot in the Manchester City lineup, got frustrated about it and took a loan to Bayern Munich, where things started pretty well but fizzled, just as Bayern's season nearly did the same. Now he returns to Manchester with his reputation dinged up and his future uncertain.

Cancelo is by all accounts available for transfer and because of his obvious upside, Arsenal and Barcelona are among the clubs expressing interest (honestly, who isn't Barcelona interested in acquiring?). But after two different clubs performed better without him than with him this past season, he will have quite a bit to prove wherever he is plying his trade in 2023-24. -- Connelly

6. Trent ALEXANDER-ARNOLD, Liverpool/England

Why he's on the list:

Given his passing range, creativity, vision and attacking prowess, Alexander-Arnold could challenge for the Ballon d'Or ... if only he wasn't a full-back. Blessed with talent from his academy days, Jurgen Klopp & Co. famously pushed the then-midfielder into the right-back role in order to find a way to accommodate him in the first team. And it worked, too, as the Reds racked up trophies (including a first-ever Premier League title, their first league crown since the late-1980s) with an extra playmaker on the pitch in the most unlikely of positions.

However, opposing teams have become all too aware of Alexander-Arnold's lack of awareness, with "play it around TAA or hit the ball into the space behind him" as a very viable tactic to get results. Not wanting to curb his enthusiasm and importance in the final third, Klopp's decision to have the 24-year-old drift into midfield when the Reds are on the ball was an astute one; relieving him of those duties helped the Reds make the most of his passing played a part in Liverpool's resurgence. A run of 25 points from 11 games was a tantalizing proof of concept.

Expectations for 2023-24:

Given what we wrote above, will Alexander-Arnold play more and more as an extra midfielder than a vulnerable defender? Summer signings of Alexis Mac Allister (from Brighton) and Dominik Szoboszlai (from RB Leipzig) suggest a return to Klopp's full throttle, "heavy metal" football and getting the England international out of the back four could become the norm at Anfield rather than the exception. -- Tyler

5. Jules KOUNDE, Barcelona/France

Why he's on the list:

Right-back? Centre-back? Jules Koundé does care and prefers the latter, but his managers, Xavi at the club level and Didier Deschamps with the national team, have a different opinion. They like him as a full-back, where his pace and physicality work well. He often becomes a third central defender like with France and Barcelona, giving more freedom to his usual teammates at left-back, Theo Hernandez (with France) and Alejandro Baldé (with Barcelona). He is disciplined, solid, works hard and is easy to manage. Apart from his dodgy dress sense, everything else is great for him at the moment.

Expectations for 2023-24:

He will continue playing right back next season, even if he is not too keen on the position. He brings more security to Barça and Les Bleus' defences, though he might have to fight for his place: Sergino Dest is returning from his loan at Milan (though is expected to depart again), while Benjamin Pavard is a more natural right-back for France. At 24, he will also have to be more consistent next season, but there's little reason to doubt he can't continue to develop. -- Laurens

4. Reece JAMES, Chelsea/England

Why he's on the list:

At just 23, Reece James is not only one of the best young right-backs, he's one of the best young players in the world. He's already closing in on 150 senior appearances for Chelsea and in September signed a new six-year contract. Chelsea are offloading plenty of players this summer, but James is one incoming manager Mauricio Pochettino will look to build his team around.

"I think Reece is just a fantastic player," said former Chelsea boss Graham Potter in September. "He's developing all the time, he will get better and better as we go. I've really enjoyed working with him, he's got a lot to offer. He's fantastic, he can play in any game in the world, he's just tremendous, tremendous."

Expectations for 2023-24:

Chelsea and James will be hoping for better next season. Chelsea, without European football after finishing 12th in the Premier League, will be under pressure to qualify for the Champions League at the first attempt, while James will be hoping to stay fit. He was restricted to just 24 appearances last season and missed the World Cup in Qatar because of a knee injury.

James will first have to impress Pochettino in the summer, but this season could be the one that really marks him as one of the world's best players. He has every attribute needed to make it happen. -- Dawson

3. Kyle WALKER, Man City/England

Why he's on the list:

Walker turned 33 at the end of May and received several big gifts around his birthday: namely, a fifth Premier League title in six seasons, a first Champions League crown and an FA Cup. The England international is one of the best one-on-one defenders in the game; look how he neutralized Vinicius in the Champions League semifinals, for example. His flank is not the one most opponents target, and with good reason.

Not bad for a kid who started out wanting to play striker when his career began in Sheffield United's academy.

"At first, I thought why am I not playing centre-forward? Why am I not getting the goals and the glory?" he said in an interview with City's website. "But you soon realise it's quite enjoyable. Your role changes in the team and I enjoyed setting people up rather than scoring. I went from getting the odd 10 or 15 minutes in the first four months after I came out of school and into full-time football, to playing every game."

Speaking of playing games: Walker pushed beyond 400 professional appearances this season and has shown himself to be a capable, flexible and hardworking contributor on a team filled with brighter stars.

Expectations for 2023-24?

It sounds strange to say, but expectations for next season might see him playing somewhere else. Walker has been linked with a move to Bayern Munich -- new-ish manager Thomas Tuchel is a big fan -- and some friction in April between the England international and Guardiola also hinted at an exit. What friction, you say? Just that Guardiola didn't think Walker could handle a different role when he shifted his defensive shape in April.

"[Walker] cannot do it. He will always have pace, he will be the fastest in this room at 60," Guardiola said. "[Walker] can play coming inside and he has done it many times, but like in the position of Liverpool with Rodri and John [Stones], he will maybe need time to do it and we don't have time. It's just a question of skills."

Might that lead the 33-year-old to move on this summer? Time will tell. -- Tyler

2. Kieran TRIPPIER, Newcastle/England

Why he's on the list:

Questions were asked about Kieran Trippier's ambition when he swapped Atletico Madrid for a team fighting relegation from the Premier League, but the England defender became a transformative signing for Newcastle. He has been at the club for only 18 months but far from panicking about playing Championship football, he's preparing for a season in the Champions League after helping Newcastle to a top-four finish.

Trippier has been so important for Howe as he and PIF continue to transform the club. Newcastle ended the season with the joint-best defensive record in the league and only Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson supplied more assists from full-back.

Expectations for 2023-24:

Newcastle, part-owned by Saudi Arabia, are expected to invest again over the summer, but Trippier will remain a vital part of the squad. Few players at St James' Park can match Trippier's experience at the highest level, having played in the Champions League before and been part of international tournaments with England.

After such a successful campaign, Newcastle will find it hard to take another step forward -- particularly against stronger top-four challenges from Chelsea, Tottenham and Liverpool -- but in Trippier they have an experienced leader as their captain. -- Dawson

1. Achraf HAKIMI, Paris Saint-Germain/Morocco

Why he's on the list:

Let's face it: PSG has asked a lot of its supporting cast in recent seasons. The attacking trio of Kylian Mbappe, Lionel Messi and Neymar has certainly contributed plenty of goals and assists, but they do the bare minimum in terms of tracking back or helping in defense. And while that has exposed weaker spots on the squad, it has also given Hakimi a chance to prove himself as the best right-back and/or wing-back in the world.

The 24-year old continues to serve up solid numbers in attack -- he has scored between four and seven league goals with 31 to 36 chances created for each of the past four seasons (he had five and 33, respectively, in 2022-23). But his work rate has also increased on defense. He made 8.0 defensive interventions and 4.2 ball recoveries per 90 minutes with Inter Milan in 2020-21, and those numbers have jumped to 9.5 and 4.5, respectively, with PSG in 2021-22 and 9.9 and 5.7 in 2022-23. That he had to do more in defense wasn't necessarily good, but he continues to rise to the challenge.

Expectations for 2023-24:

Summers at PSG are forever a whirlwind of transfer rumors, and while there have been wafts of Hakimi discontent -- he wants to go back to Inter! No, wait! He wants to go back to Real Madrid! -- it appears for now that, with Messi leaving, Neymar perhaps doing the same and the club trying to decide between selling the rights to Mbappe or letting him walk on a free contract next year, Hakimi will likely remain one of the building blocks left behind in Paris. And if his role changes as the squad around him changes, the odds are good that he'll respond with elite play regardless. -- Connelly