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Football Positions – The Ultimate Guide 2017


Football is a game played by two teams of 11 players, each of them assigned an area of the field to operate in known as football Positions.

Every football team starts a game with one goalkeeper and ten outfield players. The outfield players are made up of defensive, midfield and attacking positions. These vary depending on the manager’s tactics and formation.
A player’s position is usually suited to his unique skills and physical attributes.

Football Positions – History

Back in the early days of football, the game was a lot more attack focused with 1-2-7 as a popular formation for most teams.

Throughout the years the game as evolved and formations and tactics have become a science in gaining an advantage over the competition.

Professional footballers often spend their whole careers only player a few different football Positions. Very rarely you get a ‘utility player’ like James Milner who is adept at player a number of Positions.
The biggest exception to this was Johan Cruyff’s ‘Total Football’ philosophy where players were coached to be able to play in every outfield position.

So football Positions may vary depending on tactics, however the general positions are the same throughout the world. Below is a more in depth view on all modern football Positions.

Football Positions – Goalkeeper

Football Positions - Goalkeeper
The last line of defence in any team is the goalkeeper. The keeper must use any part of his body to stop the opposing from scoring.

Whereas most outfield players have the freedom to roam the pitch, the keeper spends the majority of the match in and around his own penalty area. This allows them to see more of the play and direct defenders into correct positions.

Keeper is the only position that can use their hands, provided they are in there own penalty area. Specific goalkeeper gloves are designed to help improve grip, punching and protection.

This is also the only player on the team who wears a different colour kit to the outfield players.

In the past Goalkeepers may have worn hats to shield the sun from their eyes; however multi-tier stadium now help to keep the sun at bay.

The top 5 Goalkeepers in the world are:

  • Manuel Neuer
  • David De Gea
  • Thibaut Courtois
  • Hugo Lloris
  • Gianluigi Buffon

To find out what the best shotstoppers wear on their feet, check out our guide to the best football boots for goalkeepers.

The Positional Guide For Defenders

In front of the goalkeeper you have the defenders. There main duty is to provide a solid base and stop the opponents from scoring.

In most cases defenders spend the majority of the match there own half, however wing backs and ball winning centre backs may join attacking plays and set prices throughout the game.

Football Positions – Central Defender

Football Positions- Central Defender
The main roles of the central defender are to mark the opposing strikers and stop the opponents from scoring.
They operate in the central part of the defence just in front of the goalkeeper. Most formations have two central defenders; however some very successful Italian teams have triumphed with three central defenders.

Central Defenders Marking Tactics

Although all team tactics are different the main two central defenders strategies are:

  • Man to man marking- each central defender marks a specific player
  • Zonal Marking- each central defenders covers his area of the field, marking any striker who enters his area

Central Defender Attributes

Central defence is a specialist position and often players risk getting hurt to protect their goal.

A good central defender must be:

  • Tall (in most cases)
  • Strong
  • Good at jumping
  • Great heading ability
  • Good tackling ability
  • High concentration levels
  • Read the game well
  • High bravery
  • Decisive in last ditch tackles

These aerial skills make central defenders a threat in attacking set piece and corner situations; however central defenders only go forward if smaller full backs of central midfielders can cover the defence.

The top 5 Central Defenders are:

  • Jerome Boateng
  • Thiago Silva
  • Sergio Ramos
  • Diego Godin
  • Giorgio Chiellini
  • Pepe
  • Mats Hummels

Football Positions- Sweeper

Also known as the Libero, the sweeper is great a reading the game and main Job is to ‘sweep up’ if the attack gets past the first line of defence.

They usually sit just behind the central defenders, staying free instead of marking a striker. A sweeper must have the ability to read the game and spot potential attacks before they develop.

This position was more popular before the introduction of the offside rule, as teams tend to step up to play the attackers offside nowadays.

Some of the best ever sweepers were:

  • Franz Beckenbauer
  • Velibor Vasović
  • Armando Picchi
  • Gaetano Scirea
  • Bobby Moore
  • Franco Baresi
  • Daniel Passarella
  • Elías Figueroa

Football Positions -Full-back

Football Positions-Full Back
The defenders positions either side of the central defenders are the left back and right back, known as full backs. There main role is to defend against the opposing winger in the wide areas.

A traditional full back is more defensive minded than the more modern wing back and tend not to venture past the half way line. Attacking full backs (wing backs) may still be referred to as full backs, although there match duties involve both attacking and defensive roles.

The best full backs in the world:

  • Dani Alves
  • Philipp Lahm
  • Marcelo
  • Jordi Alba
  • César Azpilicueta

Football Positions- Wing-back

Football Positions- Wing Backs
One of the most physically demanding Positions in football, the wing back has a more attacking mind-set than the usual full back.

Tasked with being a wide outlet for the team, a wing back is mainly used in a 3-5-2 formation.

The term wingback is less popular in modern football as full backs nowadays are encouraged to venture forwards and support the wide midfielders.

Wing-backs need to:

  • Have exceptional stamina
  • Great tracking back and defensive skills
  • Be able to pick out attackers when crossing
  • Have great speed

Find out which football boots the worlds best defenders wear with our guide to the best football boots for defenders.

The Guide to Midfielder’s Positioning

The position between defence and attack are known as midfield positions.

Midfielders must dictate the speed of the play, break up opposing attacks and keep possession of the ball. They also link the play from defenders to attackers, often creating chances for forward players.

In modern day football, managers will deploy one midfielder to solely break up the oppositions attacks.
Most midfielders cover a large distance throughout a game as they are expected to defend and attack.

Football Positions – Central midfield

Football Positions-Central Midfielder
Central midfielders are often referred to as the midfield generals or the team’s engine room, having to battle throughout the game to sway the momentum and tempo in their teams favour. The team who win the midfield battle usually comes out on top at the final whistle, so it’s important to have the most accomplished players in the middle of the field.

These players get through a mountain of work throughout the 90 minutes, with both attacking and defences duties to perform. In attack they must support and create chances for the forward players and in defence they become a protective layer in front of the back line to break up opponents attacks.

A good Central midfielder must:

  • Have good vision and football intelligence
  • Great passing ability (long and short)
  • High stamina levels
  • Be able to tackle to win the ball back quickly
  • Have good control and technique

Formations can vary from manager to manager. Some prefer to have two central midfielders, whilst other may deploy a defensive midfielder, central midfielder and attacking midfielder all in the same formation.

Top Central Midfielders in the world:

  • Paul Pogba
  • Andres Iniesta
  • Luka Modric
  • David Alaba
  • Ivan Rakitic

Football Positions – Defensive midfield

Football Positions-Defensive Midfielder
Defensive midfield is an unglamourous role, which rarely get the praise they deserve. They are also known as the midfield anchor or holding midfielder and work hard to protect the defence. These players are tactically minded, often covering other player’s positions when they venture forward.

In some cases the defensive midfielder may take on a deep-lying playmaker role, similar to an American football quarterback, where they can dictate the play with long and short passes. Players in this position must have a great deal of discipline to hold the team’s shape and spot potential dangers as they arise. They are also the player is covers the most distance over the 90 minute.

A good defensive midfielder must:

  • Have great positional awareness
  • Have a high work rate
  • Be able to tackle and track back
  • Have good anticipation
  • Have good close control
  • Be able to pass long and short
  • Have great stamina levels

The Best Defensive Midfielders in the world:

  • Sergio Busquets
  • Nemanja Matic
  • N’Golo Kante
  • Blaise Matuidi

Football Positions – Attacking midfield

Football Positions-Attacking Midfielder
Playing in an advanced midfield role, the attacking midfielder is the team’s creative player. Also known as the number 10 (do to the squad number associated with this position), the playmaker is the orchestrator of attacking moves, tasked with the job of creating and scorer goals.

Attacking midfielders can be position on the left, right or centre of the field and the link between central midfield and attack. They have good movement, which allows them to move into space and makes them difficult for defenders to mark.

A good attacking midfielder must:

  • Possess great vision
  • Have good control
  • Be technical on the ball
  • Have great passing ability
  • Be able to read the game
  • Able to shoot from long range
  • Have good agility
  • Have great acceleration

The best attacking midfielders in the world:

  • Arda Turan
  • Mesut Ozil
  • Dimitri Payet
  • Koke
  • David Silva

Football Positions – Wide midfield

Football Positions-Wide Midfielder
Wide midfielders play either left of right of the central midfielders. Their role is to provide width for the team in attack and protection for the full backs in defence.

Not to be confused with an out-an-out winger who is more of a wide forward, the wide midfielder in some cases can be a central midfielder who is task with a wider role to give the team more protection.

These players do not always possess the speed and trickery or a stereotypical wide man and usually play in a 4-3-3 formation.

Some world recognised wide midfielders are:

  • Marek Hamsik
  • Mario Gotze
  • Thiago Alcantara
  • Julian Draxler

Make sure you have the most suited boots for your positions with our guide to the best football boots for midfielders.

The Guide to Forwards Positioning

Forwards are the players whose are tasked with scoring goals for the team and created chances for other players. Also known as strikers these players are positioned closest to the opposition’s goal.

Forwards as said to be the first line of defence, by pressuring opposing defenders when their do not have the ball.
Teams commonly play with 1-3 forwards depending on the team’s formation.

  • 4-5-1 formation has a loan striker
  • 4-4-2 formation has two forwards
  • 4-3-3 formation has one striker and two wingers

Some formations have two forwards however one plays on the last defenders known as a target man or poacher and the other plays as in ‘the pocket’ and creates chances for the poacher.

A good target man is usually:

  • Tall
  • Has good heading ability
  • Good shot accuracy
  • Able to retain possession by holding up the ball

Football Positions – Centre forward

The main striker in a team is known as the centre forward and is tasked with scoring goals and working the opposition’s goalkeeper. Therefore a centre forward is often said to be in good form if they score lots of goals.

In the past centre forwards were big and strong players who could win the ball in the air and bring others into play. However as the pace of modern football has increased so has the need for pacey agile centre forwards, with height no longer a necessity.

Managers who favour a 4-4-2 formation may play two centre forwards side by side or opt for a support striker alongside there centre forward. This formation is often used when a team needs to score a goal.

When a team is defended a lead or opting for a more defensive strategy from the start, the manager may go for one loan centre forward in a 4-5-1 formation.

Best Centre forwards in the world:

  • Luis Suárez
  • Cristiano Ronaldo
  • Diego Costa
  • Robert Lewandowski
  • Zlatan Ibrahimović
  • Lionel Messi

Football Positions – Second striker

Football Positions-Support Striker
Often the main striker will play up front with a second striker. Sometimes called a support striker, deep-lying forward or withdrawn striker this player is known for playing in the area behind the striker (or playing in the hole).

In modern football this role is called the number 10 role, as support strikers and advanced playmakers have often worn this number of there back.

Players in this position usually have a free role allowing them to drift in to positions of space to receive the ball. They best support strikers are creative and adept at scoring and assisting the central forward.

A good second strikers must be:

  • Skilful
  • Quick
  • Agile
  • Have great vision
  • Able to pass long and short

The Best second strikers in the world are:

  • Sergio Aguero
  • Wayne Rooney
  • Lionel Messi
  • Thomas Muller

Improve your game and finishing with the best football boots for strikers.

Football Positions -Wingers

Football Positions-Wingers
The last position is one of the most exciting positions in football. The winger can play on either the left or right flanks and is usually part of a 3 man attack.

Wingers are tasks with creating chances for the strikers, usual by dribbling past the opposing full backs and delivering crosses and through balls into the box.

Two of the best wingers in world football, Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale play on the opposite week to their favoured foot (bale left footed plays on the right and Ronaldo rift footed plays on the left). This allows them to cut in off of the wing and strike a goal.

A good winger must:

  • Be Fast
  • Be Strong at holding off defenders
  • Have great passing ability
  • Be able to cross
  • Have an eye for goal and have a good long shot
  • Be able to read the game and hold their position

A lot of the best teams in the world choose to play with wingers as they are a great outlet for counter attacks. However some managers choose not to play with wingers opting for more defensive protection via a wide midfielder who will track back and help the defence.

The best wingers in the world:

  • Gareth Bale
  • Neymar
  • Eden Hazard
  • Alexis Sanchez
  • Antionne Griezman

What Next…

Now you know the basics of each positions its time to improve your game and try to get noticed. Check out the following posts:
The ultimate guide on how to get scouted


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