Football was once a simple game. The ball used to get booted out to the skilled wingers who did their thing and crossed a ball or two for a big target man to head home.
The left winger has come in different shapes and sizes down the years, from the silky Brazilian iteration to the direct Englishman. Such variation in profile has only been amplified in the modern day, with the roles these players perform utterly dependent on the system in which they're involved.
Being a left winger in this day and age isn't as black and white as it once was. Still, these players seek to entertain the masses and the game is currently blessed with a plethora of talent in the position.
Here are our top 25 left wingers in the world as part of our 2023 Welcome to World Class series.
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25. Filip Kostic
Winger-cum-wing back Kostic only got better during his eight-year Bundesliga spell which culminated in a Europa League triumph with Eintracht Frankfurt.
The Serbia international has always been good for a handful of goals every season, but his elite crossing ability means he's a perennial assist provider.
Kostic is a throwback winger in that he loves to dart down the left flank, hit the byline and produce crosses at will. He made the switch to Juventus and there should be better to come after a modest first season.
24. Yeremy Pino
One of the many, many, many talented young Spain players who has burst onto the scene in recent seasons, Pino has regularly performed at a hight level for Villarreal over the last four years.
He's taken that form onto the international scene too, bagging a goal in the Nations League finals recently for Spain.
23. Stephan El Shaarawy
Stephan El Shaarawy has been around for absolutely ages now and some may think of him as a second-rate winger who used to be exciting, but he is still turning in some great performances for Roma.
His seven goals and three assists in Serie A in 2022/23 were impressive considering how poor Roma were from an attacking perspective and got the Giallorossi out of some pretty sticky situations.
22. Wilfried Zaha
The enigmatic Wilfried Zaha was a tough winger to rank. He's functioned as Crystal Palace's talisman for years and years, seemingly always being on the brink of a big-money departure. It's a move he's now got, finally fulfilling his dream of playing in the UEFA Champions League with Galatasaray.
Zaha is the ultimate enigma but his talent is off the charts and we frequently see the very best of him.
21. Ansu Fati
Let's hope that injuries don't ruin the potential of this starlet. Ansu Fati has been forced to watch from the sidelines too often in recent times after he burst onto the scene during the 2019/20 campaign.
Fati immediately struck a telepathic rapport with the great Lionel Messi in Catalonia as he ended his debut La Liga campaign with seven goals in just 11 starts.
Fati's instincts in and around the box are deadly; he rarely hesitates when allowed to strike at goal. He's sound enough technically to receive the ball at feet and drift inside but he also boasts the athleticism to run in behind.
He has a chance to re-ignite his career with a loan to Brighton this season.
20. Mikel Oyarzabal
Mikel Oyarzabal seems to be one of those players who, despite having the talent and opportunity, may not get a go at one of Europe's top sides.
That is not a major shock when you consider the strong identity his club Real Sociedad have. After joining from Eibar way back in 2011, La Real remain the only senior club team he has ever played for.
Oyarzabal is a versatile attacker who has posted promising numbers throughout his career, also scoring six times for the Spanish national team.
19. Nico Williams
Yet another young Spanish wide player, Nico Williams is a delightful player to watch.
A regular for Athletic Club, the youngster is thoroughly impressing week in, week out in La Liga.
18. Harvey Barnes
There have been times when Harvey Barnes had been criminally underused by Leicester.
While he is predominantly right-footed, Barnes' cheetah-like speed means he loves to burst past defenders on the outside and is more than adept with his weaker left.
Barnes is an incredibly direct winger and has produced regularly for the Foxes as a result. Between 2019/20 and 2021/22, Barnes scored 21 times in the Premier League and added 22 assists.
He's now at Newcastle United impressing fans up north.
17. Karim Adeyemi
Karim Adeyemi may be the fastest man on the planet.
And he's also a bloody brilliant footballer.
The youngster won the Bundesliga Rookie of the Season award last year in what was a breakout campaign at Borussia Dortmund.
He's one of the best young players in the world.
16. Leandro Trossard
Not much was made of Leandro Trossard's Brighton arrival in 2019 and he went under the radar for much of his time on the south coast.
The Belgium international became a key figure at the AMEX under Graham Potter and then Roberto De Zerbi, catching Arsenal's attention with some influential displays.
He played a supporting role in his first half-season with the Gunners in their second place Premier League finish but still contributed a whopping ten assists purely in their colours.
15. Diogo Jota
Injuries have hampered Diogo Jota in recent seasons, but there not doubting the fact that when he's fit he guarantees goals.
The 26-year-old may be the most natural finisher on the books at Liverpool and, when you consider they have Mohamed Salah, that is really saying something.
14. Kingsley Coman
The perpetually injured Kingsley Coman has never been able to catch a break, with knocks often striking at the cruellest of times for the Frenchman.
Coman is not a major producer in the final third and poor decision-making has always prevented him from reaching the heights of some of his teammates, including the more ruthless Serge Gnabry.
Nevertheless, Coman is one of the most prolific dribblers in the world and his ability to create separation in one-vs-one situations is second to none. While he does usually perform an inverted function off the left, Coman's more than capable of occupying the touchline and beating his man on the outside.
13. Mattia Zaccagni
The 2022/23 season was a really good one for Mattia Zaccagni. His Lazio form was one of the main reasons they managed to finish second in Serie A and make it into the Champions League, although he has failed to gain many admirers outside of Italy.
Zaccagni got ten goals and seven assists in the Italian top flight last season and had Ciro Immobile been fit for more of the campaign, that assist figure likely would have got into double figures.
He could surprise and impress a lot of people in the Champions League next season.
12. Raheem Sterling
Raheem Sterling certainly hasn’t been shy of critics throughout his career, but the England international has persistently produced for both club and country.
Sterling's craft was refined by Pep Guardiola and Mikel Arteta at Manchester City, with the coaching tandem helping him mature and evolve into one of the best wingers in the world. Sterling is adept off both flanks but was at his very best for City while functioning as an inverted winger off the left.
The four-time Premier League winner has been somewhat inefficient in front of goal for Chelsea so far, but he has years of credit in the bank and should turn his form around at Stamford Bridge.
11. Sadio Mane
Sadio Mane can score a variety of goals and his killer instinct has made him prolific in the box. He's always in the right place at the right time but there's a genius to his craft. Mane's movement is superb, while the expert timing of his runs always optimises the possibility of successfully getting in behind a defence.
Things didn't work out at Bayern, but his time at Liverpool was legendary.
10. Luis Diaz
Luis Diaz has looked tailor-made for Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool ever since the Reds swooped for the Colombia international in January 2022.
Playing high up the pitch with an eye on getting in behind, Diaz endured an injury-hit first full season at Anfield but still showed he has everything required to be a hit on Merseyside.
The Colombian is an incredibly exciting winger to watch and he'll continue to thrive at Anfield.
9. Gabriel Martinelli
Gabriel Martinelli is one of the very few good things to come out of the Unai Emery era at Arsenal.
The winger was signed from Brazilian minnows Ituano to little fanfare in 2018 but showed during his debut season in England the Gunners might have stumbled upon a diamond in the rough.
In an exciting attack alongside Gabriel Jesus and Bukayo Saka, Martinelli is now emerging as one of the Premier League's biggest goal threats with his direct running and stellar ball-striking with both feet helping him score all sorts of goals.
Neymar is no longer the kid who broke the internet all those years ago during his time at Santos but he's a footballer who continues to put a smile on the faces of adoring supporters.
His record-breaking move to Paris Saint-Germain from Barcelona in 2017 somewhat thrust Neymar out of the limelight from a domestic perspective, with the vast majority of fans judging the Brazilian's legacy from his performances in the Champions League.
Many will point to PSG's absence of a European crown in their Galacticos era, but we shouldn't overlook Neymar's scintillating run to the 2020 final. Had PSG beaten Bayern in Lisbon, Neymar's campaign would've gone down as one of the best individual campaigns in the competition's history.
The Brazilian's struggles with injury mean he's missed plenty of action in recent years.
7. Jack Grealish
Jack Grealish was set up to fail when Manchester City paid £100m for his services in 2021 but he's since managed to blend into Pep Guardiola's starting XI with ease.
The former Aston Villa captain eventually found a regular spot on the left wing as City stormed to the treble in 2022/23.
His goal numbers don't equate to a £100m signing but if City continue to dominate in England and Europe, that won't matter.
6. Son Heung-min
Son had his worst campaign in recent memory in 2022/23, coming only a season after he won the Premier League's Golden Boot.
The South Korean idol is known for enduring lapses in form and while such troughs can be incredibly frustrating, Son's scintillating purple patches more than make amends.
He's been a world class performer at Spurs for almost half a decade. While he doesn't excel in some of the traditional aspects of wing play, Son has blossomed into arguably the deadliest inside forward in the world.
There isn't a goal he can't score with either foot and his partnership with Harry Kane has helped the South Korean reach stratospheric heights. Son's carried Spurs in times of strife and his current lean run of form shouldn’t detract from his overall majesty.
5. Khvicha Kvaratskhelia
Khvicha Kvaratskhelia has already garnered the 'Kvaradona' tag after joining Napoli last summer.
The Georgian superstar's direct running, instinctive nature and penchant to entertain have seen him immediately emerge as a fan favourite. He's an incredibly exciting winger to watch, with his unpredictability and variation in possession being distinct factors in his meteoric rise.
Kvaratskhelia led Serie A for assists in 2022/23 (10) and also netted 12 times during Napoli's title winning campaign.
4. Rafael Leao
There's certainly no doubting Rafael Leao's status as one of the best left wingers in the world after he played a starring role in AC Milan’s Scudetto triumph in 2021/22, scoring ten times and adding 11 assists in 34 league appearances.
The Portugal international boasts a lightning-quick, gazelle-like stride that overwhelms defences every week. He's a destructive ball-carrier and he has reached superstar status at San Siro.
The sky is very much the limit for Leao, who will undoubtedly make Milan a lot of money when the right time to sell arrives - if it ever does.
3. Marcus Rashford
When Marcus Rashford burst onto the scene with a brace against Arsenal on his Premier League debut, he seemed destined for superstardom.
He was soon an England international and in three consecutive seasons he scored at least ten times in the Premier League.
Rashford's form dipped considerably but the arrival of Erik ten Hag at Old Trafford has seen him galvanised. Rashford is brilliant at getting in behind defences and he's a distinct threat on the counter-attack.
United are back in the Champions League and that's largely down to Rashford's 17 league goals in 2022/23.
2. Vinicius Junior
It wasn’t too long ago when Karim Benzema couldn't stand the thought of Vinicius Junior receiving possession. "Don't play with him, on my mother's life he is playing against us," the French forward told Ferland Mendy during a Champions League group stage clash in 2020.
Oh, how the tables have turned!
Vinicius' evolution from a spritely but indecisive winger into final third machine played a key role in Real Madrid’s Champions League victory in 2021/22. He also notched 27 La Liga goal contributions that season and struck up a deadly partnership with the once critical Benzema.
He's now the leading light at the Bernabeu in light of Benzema's departure to Saudi Arabia. The Brazilian has copped terrible abuse in Spain but keeps rising above the hate and is arguably the best out-and-out winger in the world.
1. Kylian Mbappe
The epitome of a generational talent. Kylian Mbappe's rise to superstardom was inevitable after he broke through at Monaco as a 17-year-old during the 2016/17 season.
PSG quickly snapped the teenager up and now Mbappe is regarded by many as the most powerful man in the French capital.
While Mbappe is yet to win the Champions League, he’s won multiple league titles, the World Cup, and is already PSG's second all-time leading goalscorer. The electric Frenchman has achieved so much in such a short space of time, and he’s well on his way to dominating the sport throughout the 2020s.