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A Guide to Soccer Positions

For anyone who wants to enjoy playing or watching the sport, it is imperative to understand all the different soccer positions.

While there have been plenty of tactical tweaks during soccer history, the terminology used to describe the core positions has largely stayed the game.

We take a closer look at the conventional soccer positions you are likely to come across in the world’s greatest game.


The goalkeeper’s job has evolved massively in recent years, with keeping the ball out of the net no longer the only function performed in this role.

Modern goalkeepers are expected to be not only adept at saving shots but also comfortable with the ball at their feet.

Goalkeepers play an integral in helping build attacking moves from the back, allowing teams to adopt a more expansive style of play.


The shift towards three-man backlines has rendered the sweeper position redundant in recent years, but some teams still utilise it occasionally.

First popularised by Helenio Herrera for his defensive ‘Catenaccio’ system at Inter Milan, sweepers subsequently evolved into a more attacking role.

The sweeper, or libero, mops up behind the two centre-backs during the defensive phase and links up with the attack when teams are further up the field.


Centre-back is another position that has changed massively in recent years, with the role now much more skilled than was once the case.

The primary function of preventing the opposing team from scoring remains intact, and most centre-backs are expected to possess strong leadership qualities.

However, modern centre-backs must also be comfortable on the ball to help their team build attacks from the back.

Full-Back & Wing-Back

The traditional role of full-back required players to concentrate on the defensive side of the game but with a licence to attack when circumstances allowed.

Wing-backs first came into fashion with the sweeper system, with full-backs becoming more of a hybrid winger.

Most teams now utilise wing-backs in their natural environment along the touchline or in an inverted position to support the central midfielders.

Defensive Midfield

Defensive midfield is one of the most disciplined positions on the pitch, requiring players to have an excellent understanding of the game.

The defensive midfielder shields the defence, helping break up attacks and getting his team on the front foot.

Former Chelsea star Claude Makelele was one of the finest exponents of this role, providing the Blues’ attacking players with a platform to work their magic.

Central Midfield

Central midfield is effectively the team’s engine, performing a vital function in between the defensive and attacking units.

The role requires players to be multi-skilled, with tackling and passing the ball amongst the main requirements for central midfielders.

Roy Keane was many people’s idea of the ideal midfielder during his trophy-laden spell with Premier League giants Manchester United.

Wide Midfield & Winger

Players who function on either side of the central midfielders are wide midfielders or wingers dependent on their particular skill set.

A wide midfielder is more likely to be defensive-minded, helping his team be more solid when under pressure.

By contrast, a winger will generally focus on attacking, using their dazzling array of skills to torment defenders, create chances and score goals.

Attacking Midfielder

Some midfielders play an offensive game, regularly pushing forward from central areas to support the team’s attacking play.

In some tactical systems, an attacking midfielder may play ‘in the hole’ behind the striker, floating around between the lines to cause mayhem for opposing defences.

‘False nines’ have also become trendy in recent years, with some teams deploying attacking midfielders in deep-lying forward roles.


Also known as a centre forward, the striker is the focal point for a team and is responsible for regularly scoring goals.

Players in this position can often shoot with both feet, are good at holding up the ball and pose a considerable threat in the air.

Ferenc Puskas, Gerd Muller and Alan Shearer are amongst the players who are considered to be the greatest strikers to grace soccer.