We all know that they major world stars, Messi, Ronaldo, Neymar, take up attacking positions on the soccer field, however, delving into their specific roles further will give the casual soccer fan a far greater glimpse into the beautiful game. Yes the headliners may garnish all the attention, but games are won on lost on players fulfilling less than glamerous jobs in other areas.
Just like any other team sport, every player in a plays a specific role and position and whatever they do contribute differently and uniquely as to how a team performs on the pitch. While many ardent football fans already know the different soccer positions, the roles these positions entail are somewhat blurred and may need clarification – which is the aim of this article.
In another note, if you are new to the sport and are eager to learn the basics, then this article is definitely for you.
In competition-level football, games are played between two teams of eleven. The roles are then divided into four large categories: the goalkeeper, the defenders, the midfielders, and the forwards. Let’s tackle them one by one.
See also, our guide on soccer formations.
The goalkeeper is, simply put, the gatekeeper. He is the man immediately behind the goal and is tasked with stopping the ball from hitting the back of the net. He is a special player in a team because he is the only one allowed to handle the ball during open play, although he can only do so while he is inside the penalty box – the 16-yard box space around the goal.
The goalkeeper must have excellent reflexes and off-the-ball positioning, which means he should know where he should be as the opposing team comes in on the attack.
Apart from simple goal prevention, the goalkeeper is also tasked with organising his side’s defence. This is especially evident in “dead-ball” situations, like free-kicks, where the opposing team has a clearer opportunity to attack.
Goalkeepers should also be mindful of their distribution, which is how he kicks off his team’s attack from a goal-kick right inside his box. His long-range kicks should be accurate enough to be received by a team-mate at the far end of the pitch.
Prominent goalkeepers throughout history include Manchester United legend Peter Schmeichel, Bayern Munich icon Oliver Kahn, Juventus veteran Gianluigi Buffon, and Real Madrid favourite Iker Casillas.
Full-backs are a team’s defence on the flanks. They should possess enough pace and wit to anticipate any swift attacks coming from the wide areas and have enough skill on the ball to cross it into the middle of the park with precision.
Dependant on different football culture in a particular region, this position may also feature heavily in attacking phases. Infact, elite teams have begun to capture Pep Guardiola’s view that they are in fact one of the most underrated attacking weapons in the game. Gone are the days of the ‘steady-eddy’ more concerned with stopping in coming attacks, in comes the Dani Alves-esque type, armed with rapid speed and exemplary skill on the ball.
Popular full-backs in today’s football world include Daley Blind, Kyle Walker, and Philipp Lahm.
Centre-backs, or central defenders, are primarily tasked with protecting the goalkeeper. As such, they play an important job parrying any attack from the opposing side.
Usually employed as a duo in four-man defensive lines, they are essentially a team’s final stand. As such players in these positions should possess a level of strength and composure to accurately tackle and disrupt their opponent’s play. They should also have good aerial prowess to prevent the ball coming in from long-range, as the opposing side’s forwards could head the ball in for a goal – which could lead them to spearhead the attack when their side is on the attacking end of a free-kick or corner kick.
Wing-backs are a growing staple in today’s modern style of football. They are extensively employed by world-renowned managers such as the recently-retired Louis van Gaal, who employ wing-backs in a 5-3-2 formation and current Chelsea boss Antonio Conte in a 3-4-3 line-up.
Working as a tradition full-back, the wing-back is tasked with stopping offensive moves on the wings. However, instead of distributing the ball to the centre of the pitch and let the midfielders dictate play, wing-backs play more aggressively, sprinting towards the opponent’s flanks with speed on the counter, hoping a team-mate has made a run on the centre so a cross can be made. They also typically play in a higher position than traditional full-backs.
Well-known players employed as wing-backs include Manchester United’s Antonio Valencia and Real Madrid’s Daniel Carvajal.
Defensive midfielders, or more commonly known as half-backs or anchormen, are midfielders who play in a primarily defensive orientation. Simply put, they play in front of the centre-backs as a sort of shield, able to link defence and midfield.
Defensive midfielders provide key assistance to centre-backs in terms of keeping attackers at bay, keeping balls from being played centrally, as well as to provide accurate passes to bring the ball forward. With their ability to accurately pass the ball from deep, they are sometimes called “deep-lying playmakers.
Chelsea legend Claude Makelele popularised the role in the mid-2000s, although there have already been others who’ve played in such a role, including French icon Didier Descamps and the Brazilian Dunga.
Central midfielders are the industrious links between a side’s attack and defence. They should possess a level of composure that will allow them to pass the ball accurately to an open team-mate ready to pursue a chance on goal.
With their position in the middle of the pitch, central midfielders have the best view of the game, and as such must have the analytical prowess to find the right man at the right time. This makes the central midfielder a team’s pivot and launch pad.
The attacking midfielder, sometimes called the playmaker, is a staple in any team of today’s football. Playing his trade at just outside the penalty box, the attacking midfielder’s duty is to latch on to balls before they can be cleared by the opponent, and bring this ball back to his team’s attackers, ready to score the goal.
The position on the pitch the attacking midfielder occupies dictates that these kinds of players must be quick-witted and agile, able to finesse themselves through any defence and provide an opportunity for his team’s strikers to score goals.
Many of the most popular footballers today are attacking midfielders, which include Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Toni Kroos, Kevin De Bruyne, and James Rodriguez. The best ever? in our humble opinion it has to go to this guy….
Wide midfielders are essentially central midfielders who play on the flanks. Their main task is to provide a focal point to attack while on the wings when the opponents “park the bus” and overpopulate their centre.
Wide midfielders are able to go from the wings and then cut into the middle before providing chances for other teammates to score a goal.
The prototypical wide midfielder in modern English Football history is Ryan Giggs.
Wingers are an evolution of the wide midfielder. Not content with simply providing chances from the sides, wingers are more eager to hug the touchline and widen the play. This is an effort to stretch the opposing side’s defence. Furthermore, wingers are also keener to run nearer towards the goal line. This lures the opponent’s full-backs, creating space for attackers.
When the opportunity presents itself, wingers can either cut in towards the middle, or deliver an accurate cross, all geared towards getting as close as possible to the goalkeeper and thus getting a clearer goal-scoring opportunity.
Popular wingers currently in their prime include Borussia Dortmund’s Marco Reus, Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling, Chelsea’s Eden Hazard, and the highly-decorated Real Madrid sensation Cristiano Ronaldo.
Forwards have one simple goal: to put the ball at the back of the net. While the task sounds easy, it is anything but. Forwards, also called strikers, must possess a degree of levelheadedness that will allow them to outsmart the goalkeeper and thus slot the ball home for a goal. This also requires precise ball-dribbling skills, to shirt the ball past defenders while running towards goal in the final yards.
Forwards, many forget, should also possess a good striking ability – this means knowing when to shoot with finesse or when to fire with power, ensuring the ball won’t go too low or too slow or too fast and too high.