With the game of football becoming more intricate, territorial and data-centric, and the 4-4-2 becoming more and more redundant, a myriad of formations and positional tweaks mean wide men now are a different specimen to the classic crossers and providers of the 1990s.
The modern-day wingers have a lot on their plate considering the tasks given to them on both ends of the pitch, making it one of the most difficult and vital positions in the sport. These days, wingers are goalscorers, pressers, raumdeuters and much more.
While the overall criteria for judging wingers remain the same as before, nowadays, they are evaluated based on their goal-scoring abilities and contribution to the team’s overall build-up play in addition to their dribbling and delivering abilities.
Also read: TOP 10 STRIKERS IN FOOTBALL RIGHT NOW
Choosing the best left-wingers
First things first, I’ve tried to walk the divide between “left-sided wingers” and “forwards” very cautiously, since my first objective was to limit this list to genuine wingers. That means the likes of Lionel Messi, Mohamed Salah and Cristiano Ronaldo don’t make this list.
I’ve used metrics like goals scored, assists, non-penalty expected goals (npxGoals), expected goal involvement (xGi), goals-penalty kicks (Goals-PK), shot-creating actions per ninety minutes (SCA/90’), goal creating actions per ninety minutes (GCA/90’), and key passes/90’ to quantify each player’s contributions, but that doesn’t mean whoever has the best stats is the outright winner. I’ve also considered the importance of each player to his team’s cause, overall contribution to his team’s game, and level of competition in the team’s respective leagues.
xG is the probability that a shot will result in a goal based on the characteristics of the shot and the events leading up to it. Every shot is compared to thousands of shots with similar characteristics to determine the probability that this shot will result in a goal. That probability is the expected goal total. An xG of 0 is a certain miss, while an xG of 1 is a certain goal. An xG of 0.32 would indicate that if identical shots were attempted 100 times, 32 would be expected to result in a goal. Now, each penalty kick is worth 0.76 xG since all penalty kicks share the same characteristics. Thus, non-penalty expected goals (npxG) is total expected goals minus total penalty expected goals each player scores in any given period.
Expected Goal Involvement (xGi) is the accumulation of the expected goals and the expected assists of a player in any given period. For instance, if Riyad Mahrez takes three shots in a match, which sums up to 0.41 expected goals (xG), while his creativity and passing lead to 0.21 expected assists (xA), his overall xGi for that match would sum up to 0.68. The “Goals-Penalty Kicks” index allows us to gauge a player’s efficiency in front of the goal with respect to their npxG. The bigger the gap, the more their productivity.
Shot Creating Actions (SCA) and Goal Creating Actions (GCA) mean at least two offensive actions leading to a shot or goal. This includes live-ball passes, dead-ball passes, successful dribbles, shots which lead to another shot and fouls won. In simple terms, it means how involved a player is in their team’s overall offensive build-up play.
And finally, key passes per 90’ gives us the exact number of decisive and probing passes played throughout a 90-minute game. These could vary from playing the final ball in the lead up to a goal or the pass that broke the lines and created an opportunity.
Note: All stats come from FBref.com, Sofascore.com and Statsbomb, and are correct as of the publishing date.
So, without any further ado, let’s dive into it and take a look at the top 10 male left-wingers in world football right now.
#20 Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
#19 Donyell Malen
#18 Wilfried Zaha
#17 Ferran Torres
#16 Lucas Ocampos
#15 Mikel Oyarzabal
#14 Gabriel Martinelli
#13 Jack Grealish
#12 Martin Terrier
#11 Luis Díaz
The top ten
Age: 27 years old
Raheem Sterling’s lack of playing time under Pep Guardiola made a lot of people think that his days at the Etihad could be numbered, with his contract set to run down at the end of the 2023/24 season. And as the opportunity arose, Chelsea, under new ownership, were ready to splash the cash and wasted little time to get the four-time Premier League winner on board.
Now, is Sterling one of the most underrated players of recent times? Well…definitely. Still only 27 years old and at the peak of his powers, he is known for his pace, low centre of gravity and dribbling skills. A versatile player known for his ability to adapt and play across the forward line as a winger, a forward or a creative outlet, Sterling can retain possession in tight spaces or create space for his teammates with his sudden turn of pace. Moreover, despite his diminutive stature, Sterling possesses considerable upper-body strength, which aids him in withstanding heavy challenges and retaining possession. The England international also possesses a decent strike and is capable of taking direct free-kicks.
In 55 appearances across all competitions since the start of the 2021/22 season, Sterling has scored 21 goals and provided 9 assists in what is considered to be his worst productive phase in terms of output. That’s Raheem Sterling for you. He is outperforming his xGi index (+2.3) while playing 1.62 key passes per 90’. He has also attempted 4.4 dribbles per 90’ while having a respectable shot creating actions and goal creating actions tally with 3.44 SCA per 90’ and 0.37 GCA per 90’, respectively. Besides, Sterling is one of those select few players who are almost certain of producing a bulk of the output given the positions they take up both on and off the ball.
Age: 22 years old
Club: PSV Eindhoven
The young 22-year-old Dutchman has shown rapid improvements in his game over the last two seasons. Since making his senior debut during the 2018/19 season, Gakpo has gone on to cement his place as one of the first names on the PSV Eindhoven team sheet. He has been involved in 52 goals (27 goals and 25 assists) in 92 Eredivisie matches. Moreover, this season, in particular, he has taken his game up a notch by scoring 9 goals and providing 6 assists in just 8 appearances across all competitions, turning the heads of some of Europe’s most elite clubs in the process.
Usually deployed as a left-winger, Gakpo often cuts inside on his favourite right foot to move into a more central position, using his pace and dribbling skills to take on his defenders until he finds space to get his shot away or set up one of his teammates. He is a strong dribbler, possesses accurate crossing ability, and has great vision, finding space and teammates in low-block systems or pinging accurate deliveries over the top. Gakpo also likes to shoot from distance as well as drop deep to link up play. However, his defensive contribution has been questioned in the past as he rarely tracks back or drops deep to create an overload for his team and block spaces.
In 39 appearances for PSV Eindhoven since the start of the 2021/22 season, Gakpo has scored 26 goals and provided 19 assists. He has been prolific with his contributions and has outscored his expected Goal involvement (xGi) index rather impressively (+15.2). He has been a force to be reckoned with creatively and has created 24 big chances with 3.09 key passes per 90’. As highlighted earlier, Gakpo is an excellent dribbler, attempting 5.38 dribbles per 90’, while for shot creating actions (SCA) and goal creating actions (GCA), he ranks among some of Europe’s best with 6.02 SCA per 90’ and 1.02 GCA per 90’, respectively. Therefore, it could be as early as next season that we see him plying his trade for one of Europe’s biggest teams.
Age: 23 years old
Club: AC Milan
Rafael Leão is a 6’2″ version of Sadio Mané: he hangs wide off the left and lulls his opponent to sleep before blitzing past them on the inside or outside with ease. The speed in which he operates is frightening, and his deceptive skills are top notch as well. In short, he’s all about efficiency.
Leão makes the game look very easy. He has an aura and arrogance to his game when finishing, passing or even facing his man in a 1v1 situation. He’s most casual and laid-back on the pitch and then all of a sudden he explodes and produces a piece of devastating quality. He’s an output monster, hence the comparison with Sadio Mané. Leão would be wasted if he was a relentless runner who “just” wanted to score goals because, when he hangs wide from the left, his creative and combination-based qualities along with his obvious penetrative qualities make for an unstoppable combination.
In 50 appearances for Milan across all competitions, the Portuguese forward has scored 17 goals and provided 17 assists. What’s also impressive is that he has not scored a single goal from the penalty spot and is massively overperforming his xGi (19.4). In terms of impacting the overall attacking play, Leão is averaging 3.46 SCA per 90’ and 0.66 GCA per 90’, which ranks him among some of Europe’s elites.
Age: 23 years old
Club: Bayer 04 Leverkusen
Moussa Diaby is a top, top player. He’s a world-class ball striker and one of the few left-footed left-wingers in the world who can strike through the ball with his right foot as well as his left foot. This means he’s a goal threat from everywhere. Another thing that is easily noticeable with Diaby is his speed. Profile-wise, Diaby is direct, but he can also combine with those around him. He’s like Mané in the sense that most of his on- and off-the-ball actions are direct, though he combines with short passing too.
This mixture of directness and patience in possession is ideal, as it suggests that Diaby is a transitional and penetrative threat with his directness when operating down the left flank. When playing down the right, he becomes a playmaker — a patient, probing type of threat with his short passing game.
Diaby can dribble infield from the left, particularly from central areas, or bob and weave his way in and out of defenders like Bukayo Saka. He has incredibly quick feet in tight spaces, can operate and receive the ball at all angles, and can also receive centrally with his back to goal. Diaby is a threat from everywhere in the final third: left wing, right wing, or the No. 10 area.
In 52 appearances since the start of last season, the 23-year-old Frenchman has scored 18 goals and provided 17 assists. He has been one of the standout creative forces for Bayer Leverkusen, having created 24 Big Chances with 2.0 key passes per 90’. As mentioned above, he’s a great dribbler with 3.67 attempted dribbles per 90′ (63%), while he’s been directly involved in his team’s final third play as explained by his 3.39 SCA per 90′ and 0.45 GCA per 90′.
Age: 26 years old
Club: Bayern Munich
After breaking through the ranks at Schalke, Leroy Sané secured his move to Manchester City in the summer of 2016 for a reported £37 million fee, with performance-related add-ons taking the figure close to £46.5m. While his first and his final seasons with City were marred respectively by a nasal congestion that required surgery and an ACL injury that made him sit out almost the entire season, for the time when he was fit, Sané was arguably one of City’s most influential players, especially during their record-shattering 2017/18 “Centurion” season.
Following the injury-marred 2018/19 campaign and some friction between him and Pep Guardiola, Sané made the long-awaited switch to the Allianz Arena as Bayern Munich snapped him up on an initial five-year deal for a reported £54.5 million fee. However, he struggled to adapt to life at Bayern as Hansi Flick mostly used him down the right flank, where he isn’t comfortable at all since he hardly uses his weaker foot (right). Julian Nagelsmann, on the other hand, has tried to utilise him in situations that highlight his skillset best.
As a left-winger playing against high blocks, Sané relishes the space offered to him, making frequent runs in behind and between the lines, while against a low-block system, he tends to hug the touchline, dragging the fullbacks along with him, and then either cuts inside to take a shot or makes whipped crosses for the on-rushing runners. He is a master of manipulating space and one of the very best in 1v1 situations.
In 56 appearances for the Bavarians across all competitions, Sané has scored 19 goals and provided 17 assists, outperforming his xGi index (+7.9) handsomely. The Germany international has also created 19 Big Chances while producing 4.69 SCA per 90’ and 0.58 GCA per 90’ respectively. What makes this even more impressive is the fact that nearly one-third of his appearances have come off the bench, highlighting his deadliness in front of goal.
Age: 30 years old
Club: Paris Saint-Germain
Neymar is the only player on this list—and one of only a handful in world football—who can be described as a true phenomenon or unplayable on his days. In recent years, however, those days come few and far between. Neymar stays injured 30–40% of the time, while his performances against some of Europe’s elites have been sub-par in recent times, hence why the magician ranks only fifth on my list.
A far more complete playmaker than most wingers on this list, Neymar is always happy to drop deep and affect his team’s build-up play, which goes some way to explain his less-than-impressive underlying stats. A notable exponent of the rainbow flick, Neymar’s traits are but not limited to his creativity, passing, vision, dribbling, feints, touch and technique. A prolific goalscorer in his own right, he is capable of scoring with either foot and is an accurate set-piece taker. However, he still receives flak for his lack of defensive contribution, while his habit of giving away unnecessary fouls in not going to go away any time soon either.
Despite all of this, in 39 appearances for PSG, Neymar has managed to score 24 goals and provide 16 assists, taking his overall goal involvements tally to 40. He has also contributed 5.98 SCA per 90’ and 0.92 GCA per 90’.
Why is he ranked fifth, then? Because just like his South American teammate Lionel Messi, Neymar has been found wanting in matches which actually matter, while his end product against significantly weaker oppositions in Ligue 1 makes his stats look that much more impressive.
Age: 30 years old
Club: Bayern Munich
On the collective front, the Senegalese forward enjoyed one of his best seasons in professional football last season as he lifted the AFCON trophy earlier this year as well as two domestic cups with Liverpool, although their bid for a historic quadruple fizzled out on the final hurdle with them missing out on both the Premier League and the UEFA Champions League. However, his performances in the past year and a half compared to his exploits of past seasons haven’t been awe-inspiring or jaw-dropping by any stretch of the imagination. Mané has looked one-dimensional on many occasions and has lacked composure in front of goals, something he is renowned for. What I mean is, in 49 appearances last season, he scored 22 goals and provided 3 assists, but at the expense of missing 26 big chances; that alone is quite staggering.
A complete forward who can operate across all three positions up front, Mané is adept at shooting with both feet as well as his head. However, it is the intensity and physicality in his game that stands above the rest. Make no mistake: despite his mini-slump, Mané is a prolific goalscorer whose main traits are his finishing, speed, technique and trickery in possession as well as his decision-making and tactical awareness, creativity, agility, balance and control. Besides, there’s one aspect to his game that I really like, and that is his ability to perform on the big stage, in the biggest of games — something only the elite players possess.
In 65 appearances for Liverpool and now Bayern Munich across all competitions since the start of last season, Mané has managed to score 28 goals and provide 3 assists. However, he is slightly underperforming on his xGi (-0.9), which underlines his lack of cutting edge across the two seasons. He also boasts the second-lowest (0.38) GCA per 90’ on this list, and his creative numbers have also taken a hit as he is registering just 1.26 key passes per 90’ and 15 big chances created, which also has a lot to do with the positions he was occupying under both Jürgen Klopp and now Julian Nagelsmann at Bayern, where he’s largely utilised as a false-nine rather than in the half-space operator role that highlights his strengths best.
Age: 29 years old
Nationality: South Korean
Club: Tottenham Hotspur
While I’m having to write this begrudgingly, given I’m an Arsenal fan, there’s no way I’m going to turn a blind eye towards the fact that Son Heung-min has been simply sensational over the two last seasons and, in my opinion, the best left-winger in the Premier League since 2020/21. Besides, even since Antonio Conte set foot at Spurs, Son has predominantly been used as the second striker alongside Harry Kane. Known as someone with a shy personality, Son can be best described as a smiling assassin. His stats in the Premier League in the last five seasons read as follows:
- 2016/17: 20 goal contributions,
- 2017/18: 18 goal contributions,
- 2018/19: 18 goal contributions,
- 2019/20: 21 goal contributions, and
- 2020/21: 27 goal contributions.
That’s consistency for you.
Known for his two-footedness, explosive pace, positional awareness, movement, close control and finishing, Son can play anywhere across the frontline: as a centre-forward, a second-striker, or in the wings. He is a selfless player who works hard for his team, as seen evident with the defensive duties he carries out each game, while also being a creative outlet apart from his goal-scoring ability. However, last season, the 29-year-old took his game to a whole new level. With Harry Kane fluffing his lines more often than not, it was Son who was bailing out Spurs almost every other week.
In 53 appearances across the two seasons, Son has scored 27 goals and provided 9 assists, outperforming his xGi (+6.9), which shows his lethality in front of goal. Moreover, he has been an effective creative outlet for Spurs despite largely operating as a second striker, creating 12 Big Chances along with 2.13 key passes per 90’, 3.56 SCA per 90’, and 0.43 GCA per 90’. Considering it is usually just Son and Kane as the creative outlets, both the actual and the underlying stats of the former become that much more impressive.
Age: 21 years old
Club: Real Madrid
The young 21-year-old flamboyant winger is doing everything that was expected of Eden Hazard in a Real Madrid shirt. While the Belgian can’t seem to shake off his ever-growing list of injuries, Vinícius Júnior is pulling off performance after performance, that too on such a consistent basis. He has added elements to his game for which he was always criticised and has brought maturity to his game that looks way beyond his years. Besides, he has been electric down the left flank for Carlo Ancelotti’s side since last season, using his directness and inherent Samba skills to change games for Los Blancos like no one else is able to at the moment.
Despite his slender build, Vinícius possesses incredible physical strength, while his explosive acceleration and excellent pace, along with his agility, his balance both on and off the ball, technical ability, dribbling skills, flair and close control at speed allow him to demoralise and terrorise opposition defenders consistently. Regarded as one of the brightest young talents in world football at the moment, Vinícius is dynamic, intelligent, hard-working and nimble with a low centre of gravity, while also possessing great vision, passing and overall match awareness.
In 61 appearances for Los Blancos across all competitions, Vinícius has scored 27 goals and provided another 19 assists as he keeps growing each day at a frightening pace. The 21-year-old also attempts 7.2 dribbles per 90’, which is quite remarkable, while he is also responsible for 5.09 SCA per 90’ and 0.81 GCA per 90’. His game has gone on to another level since the start of last season with 46 goal contributions already. Based on his 2020/21 numbers, he won’t even be in the reckoning to be a part of this list: that’s how good he has been this season, and that is why I have him ranked second.
Age: 23 years old
Club: Paris Saint-Germain
Kylian Mbappé’s game keeps going from strength to strength with every passing season. He was instrumental in France winning the 2018 FIFA World Cup, remembered notably for his scintillating performance against Argentina in the Round of 16. He also lifted the 2021 UEFA Nations League. However, following a turbulent phase during which it was believed that France’s national jewel might make the switch to the Spanish capital, Mbappé ended up signing a deal with PSG that has made him the highest-paid footballer in the world. And while people started labelling this move as a purely financial deal, his 10 goals in 9 appearances since the start of the 2022/23 season have put many such questions to bed.
The way Mbappé led France to their second-ever World Cup title in 2018 as a teenager also led to many people comparing him to the great Pélé and his exploits in 1958. A versatile forward who can operate on either wing due to his two-footedness, Mbappé can cut inside from the left onto this stronger right foot, while also being able to create chances and provide assists for his teammates from the right due to his excellent vision. A highly skilful player, Mbappé is known for his exquisite dribbling abilities, explosive pace and acceleration, agility and quick feet as well as creativity when in possession of the ball. In addition to his technical skills, Mbappé has excellent close ball control when dribbling at speed and great movement both on and off the ball, along with tactical intelligence and ability to beat defensive lines effortlessly, which stand out as some of his best attributes.
In 55 appearances across all competitions, Mbappé has scored 49 goals and provided 21 assists, taking his total goal contributions tally to 70. His technical superiority is further highlighted by the massive gap in his actual goal involvement and expected goal involvement (+17.0). The 23-year-old has also created 33 big chances and produced 4.72 SCA per 90’ and 1.10 GCA per 90’. While people might point to the fact that, just like Neymar and Messi, Mbappé has also been stat-padding in the French league, what separates him from the other two is this: in 20 Champions League appearances since the 2020/21 season, he has scored 17 goals and provided 7 assists, including key contributions against the bigger teams, something his two teammates did not manage to accomplish.