Nothing beats seeing a winger in full flow, skipping away from opponents to deliver that decisive cross or shot for Premier League victory.
Brisk pace, close control, and the ability to deliver with pinpoint accuracy are all required ingredients to breach even the most tenacious defenses.
Gary Lineker, Alan Shearer, and Micah Richards will return in the spring with the latest installment of their Match of the Day Top 10 podcast, ranking their top tens from a variety of topics spanning the Premier League era.
But we’re giving you an early chance to participate by letting you choose your top three for each of the upcoming shows, and the trio will see your choices before recording the pod for BBC Sounds.
Today’s topic is wingers, and Lineker told BBC Sport: “I love wingers and I despise wingers!” As a striker, I adored them when they were on fire and crossed the ball to me. They were my heroes back then, but let’s just say I only played with a few of them, so it was only one game out of five that I adored them.
“That doesn’t apply to any of the names on this list, though, because these are the most consistently brilliant wingers that we have had in Premier League football.
“John Barnes makes it and he was obviously unbelievable in my day too. Chris Waddle was the same, and although his peak was before the Premier League era, he would be on any ‘best wingers’ list for me, because he was fantastic to play with.
“There were always different types when I was playing, with some relying on pace and others using their guile, but the demands of the position have shifted a little bit in recent years.
“The game has changed because systems have changed and many teams now use two men either side of a central striker. Their job is not primarily to try to put crosses in for the centre-forward, they are expected to score goals themselves.
“So for example Liverpool have wide-men like Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane but would you call them strikers or wingers? They are a bit of both and not quite either, so we will definitely have that discussion.”
1. Raheem Sterling (Liverpool/Manchester City)
Known for his pace and low centre of gravity, Sterling’s darting runs from positions out wide into central areas have been a key feature of Manchester City’s play under Pep Guardiola.
The 27-year-old has helped the Blues lift three Premier League crowns in the last four seasons and was a major figure in England’s run to the European Championship final last summer.
In 2021, Sterling also became an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours for his services to racial equality in sport after continuously campaigning against racial injustice since 2017.
2. Mohamed Salah (Chelsea/Liverpool)
As things stand Liverpool’s leading marksman looks well on course to win his third Premier League Golden Boot this term.
Things were not always as rosy for the 29-year-old with his first spell in English football seeing him struggle for game time at Chelsea.
However, the ‘Egyptian Messi’ has flourished since joining the Reds in 2017 and his close control and clinical left foot have left many a defence bamboozled.
A Premier League and Champions League winner under Jurgen Klopp, Salah can be almost unstoppable on his day.
3. Sadio Mane (Southampton/Liverpool)
In the Premier League’s formative days the Senegal international may have found himself stuck out on a wing in a conventional 4-4-2.
But his electric pace, intelligent running and ability to press has instead been utilised to form one of Europe’s most potent attacks, alongside Salah and the likes of Roberto Firmino at Liverpool.
Now 29, Mane’s contribution of 103 top-flight goals and 37 assists has more than repaid the £34m fee that Liverpool paid to prise him away from Southampton in 2016.
4. Son Heung-min (Tottenham)
Like Salah and Mane, Son’s success has largely come from positions typically occupied by wide forwards in a front three.
An intelligent footballer, his raw speed and excellent finishing are also among the many attributes that have made the South Korea international a superstar in Asia.
The 29-year-old was nominated for the Ballon d’Or in 2019 after helping Spurs reach the Champions League final and has scored 78 top-flight goals while providing 42 assists since arriving in England in the summer of 2015.
5. Riyad Mahrez (Leicester City/Manchester City)
Mahrez played a key role in helping Leicester write one of the greatest sporting stories of all time, when they won the Premier League in 2016.
He was rewarded by being named the Professional Footballers’ Association’s Players’ Player of the Year and moved on to Manchester City in 2018 in a £60m deal just four years after arriving in England from Le Havre for a modest £400,000 fee.
Unlike Salah, Mane or Son, the Algerian winger is much more of a conventional touchline-hugging wide man from years gone by.
The 30-year-old has excellent balance, the guile to evade defenders and is adept at cutting in from the right onto his favoured left foot. With three Premier League titles and an FA Cup to his name, Mahrez has also tasted international success, helping Algeria win the Africa Cup of Nations in 2019.
6. John Barnes (Liverpool/Newcastle)
Barnes’ days as a winger were coming to an end when the Premier League came into existence in 1992-93.
A quick, skilful, goalscoring left winger, Barnes was still capable of flashes of brilliance that he displayed with regularity during his pomp in the 1980s, first with Watford and then as part of a dominant Liverpool side.
The late Sir Bobby Robson, who took charge of Barnes for England famously described him as the “greatest enigma” of his managerial career.
By the time Barnes won his 79th and final England cap in September 1995, his composure in possession had turned him into a central midfield playmaker with the Reds, which continued when he moved to Newcastle.
7. David Beckham (Manchester United)
The former England captain was not only blessed with supreme technical ability but an engine to match.
Beckham remarkably covered 16.1km in the course of a World Cup qualifier against Greece, in which he scored a dramatic late goal to take England to the 2002 finals and reportedly averaged around 14km a week for United.
While Ryan Giggs provided trickery and pace on one wing for United, Beckham’s technique and ability to put the ball on a sixpence meant he rarely ever needed to beat a player to deliver a telling pass or cross from the opposite side of the pitch.
He was also so good at set-pieces he had a film named after him – ‘Bend it like Beckham’. The winger played 265 games for the Red Devils, scoring 62 goals and providing 80 assists, mainly with his trusty right boot.
8. Ryan Giggs (Manchester United)
English football’s most decorated player spent the best part of a glittering career spanning three decades patrolling the left touchline for United.
Skilful, quick and with superb close control, Giggs excelled when running at defenders and scored one of the FA Cup’s greatest ever goals in United’s semi-final replay victory over Arsenal in 1999, with United going on to claim an unprecedented Treble by becoming the only team to win the Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League in one season.
Later in his career Giggs, who was capped 64 times by Wales, reinvented himself as a central midfield player and he has over 50 more assists (162) than any other player in the Premier League era.
He retired from playing in 2014 after making a club record of 963 appearances for United and having won 13 league titles, four FA Cups and two Champions Leagues, among 34 trophies.
9. Cristiano Ronaldo (Manchester United)
While Cristiano Ronaldo returned to England and Manchester United in the summer as a central striker, he made his name at the club as winger over a decade earlier.
Arriving at Old Trafford in the same summer Beckham departed for Real Madrid in 2003, the teenager was initially regarded as a bag of tricks but without the end product.
But his solo run and late goal at Fulham in 2007 typified his development towards becoming a Ballon d’Or winner by the time he left United (also for Madrid) in 2009.
Aside from his lightning fast feet and numerous other attributes, he also become an aerial threat, highlighted by his goal in the 2008 Champions League final.
The Portuguese international scored a remarkable 31 goals in 34 top-flight games in 2007-08 with United winning a league and Champions League double. He has played over 200 Premier League games for the Red Devils scoring 92 goals.
10. Gareth Bale (Southampton/Tottenham)
Bale began his professional career at Southampton as a left-back but won rave reviews all across Europe after being pushed further forward into the left-wing position at Tottenham.
His speed, strength and stamina coupled with a sublime left foot saw him score 26 goals in 2012-13 as he was named both the PFA and Football Writers’ player of the year.
It also ensured that Real Madrid parted with a world transfer record fee of £85.3m to sign the Welsh international in 2013.
While his return to the club on loan last term did not quite go to plan he still managed 11 top-flight goals in 20 starts and has scored 53 Premier League goals in total from 166 appearances.