To keep our love for the Premier League ticking over during the international break, The Sportsman team have been arguing with each other. The debate? Who makes it into our all-time Premier League XI. We debated until we were red in the face until finally, we came up with a team we were all reasonably happy with. We will release one position every single morning until the entire team is completed over the coming days.
The right-back position is potentially the hardest to decide in the entire team. There are relatively few standouts in this position over the last 30 years and we had a really tough time deciding on who represents the right-back in our all-time eleven.
Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic won out due to his clutch goals, his presence in Chelsea’s back line and his all-round defensive capabilities, but there were several contenders put up for debate. The obvious protagonist is Gary Neville, with his eight league titles, three FA Cup wins and over 400 appearances for Manchester United enough to make him an obvious contender.
But one particular member of the Sportsman team (not me before the abuse comes reigning in) put forward an argument that Neville was simply a fortunate member of the dominant Manchester United side that swept all before them aside in the 90s and 00s. He was certainly not the most talented player at United, but he was a hard-working, reliable right-back who always delivered for his club.
But we are after somebody a little more influential for our Premier League XI. We considered the unbelievably talented Trent Alexander-Arnold from the modern era, and despite his clear ability and Premier League title to his name, he still hasn’t played in the top-flight for long enough to make it into this team. We were looking for the perfect blend of influence and longevity which eventually led us to Ivanovic, but other names were considered.
Lauren was an integral part of Arsenal’s Invincibles side but yet again, he was one of the weaker players in that side. Lee Dixon was another top class defender for the Gunners but it is only recently that right-backs have become more influential in an attacking sense in the top flight.
Alexander-Arnold has taken that up a level in recent years but Pablo Zabaleta was also a top attacking option for Manchester City during their emergence as one of the Premier League’s elite side, but Branislav Ivanovic has scored so many important goals for Chelsea and performed at the highest level, in two positions, under several different managers.
For all of Neville’s consistency and trophy-winning, Ivanovic had such a huge impact on Chelsea during the nine years he was there. Whereas Manchester United are likely to have won the same amount of titles with or without Neville, it feels as though Ivanovic’s contribution for his team was more important.
Ladies and gentleman, your right-back in The Sportsman’s greatest ever Premier League XI, is Branislav Ivanovic.