World Football 101: An Introduction to Player's Positions

Bimersha GautamCorrespondent IIIMay 8, 2012

World Football 101: An Introduction to Player's Positions

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    "Football is a simple game; 22 men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans always win." 

    While humor has always been an important aspect of football, tactical nous is much more important. Modern football has evolved into a tactical warfare, where the slightest deviation from allocated plans can cost you tremendously.  

    Each role has to be planned out carefully, each formation worked out precisely, each facet considered meticulously. 

    Welcome to the first part of a series that attempts to unravel the beautiful game.

    Throughout this series, I will be attempting to discuss several things related to football: the numerous roles assigned to players, formations, coaching and managerial staff, tactics, scouting and a host of other aspects. 

    This first part attempts in discussing the various roles attributed to players on the outfield, from goalkeepers to strikers. 


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    In football, each of the 11 players on a team is designated a specific position in a particular match. Fulfilling one's duties in those positions effectively is often the vital ingredient required to walk away with a win from the match. 

    The slightest of deviations from one's role is frowned upon, especially if one neglects his primary duties and focuses more on the secondary. 

    A team has one goalkeeper and 10 other players. These 10 players are called the outfield players who play various defensive, midfield and attacking positions. 



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    The goalkeeper is the most specialized position in the football field. He has only one duty to carry out: prevent the opponents from worrying. 

    He represents the last line of defense. He is the only player allowed to touch the ball with his hands, but this can only be done inside his own penalty area. 

    In addition, a goalkeeper must be designated in every game, and if he is sent off, another person has to take his place. 

    The goalkeeper has to be tall, physically strong with good jumping ability and great reflexes. He also needs to keep a good command of the back line and ensure that defensive duties are being carried out. 


    Notable Keepers:

    Petr Cech, Iker Casillas, Manuel Neuer


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    Defenders, as the name suggests, have the primary task of defending the goalpreventing the opposition from attacking. 

    They usually remain in their own half, especially the central defenders. However, in set pieces, taller defenders venture forward to provide a strong aerial presence in the penalty box where they can head the ball. Think of John Terry. 

    Modern football has four types of defenders: center-back, sweeper, full-back and wing-back. 


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    Center-backs play in the center of defense. No surprises there. 

    These days, a team usually employs two center-backs in front of the goalkeeper. They are usually tall and strong aerially. They can jump high, are excellent headers and can tackle with precision. They need to be able to read the game well, have excellent positioning and should be able to clear the ball when threats arise. 

    They also form the tactical base for the team, as they can often be fielded to apply pressure and win offsides.


    Notable Examples: 

    John Terry, Nemanja Vidic, Carles Puyol 


    Also Known As: 

    Center-half, Central defender or Stopper

Full-Backs: Right and Left

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    Traditionally, full-backs took up the wider positions in defense and rarely ventured forward. However, modern football dictates that full-backs provide an attacking threat by overlapping with their respective wingers down the flanks. 

    Their key responsibilities are to thwart opposition play and especially neutralize the wingers and other attacking players. They also need to have exceptional positional awareness and should not be beaten easily by the opponents. 

    When beaten too easily, this allows the opposition players to make space and allows them time to either make precision passes and crosses or to get into the box. 

    Offensively, they need to be able to make marauding runs and overlap with the wingers, play one-two passes with them and when necessary put incisive crosses into the opposition's box. 


    Notable Examples:

    Philipp Lahm, Ashley Cole, Patrice Evra

Wingbacks: Right and Left

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    What is the wingback? This terminology is seldom used in football these days, although there are plenty of examples. 

    They are an effective combination of full-backs and wingers, and they are defenders with an attack-minded attitude. They are much more adventurous than full-backs and make penetrating runs in the opponent's half. They are expected to provide width to the game, especially in a team that has no wingers. 

    If you observe Dani Alves' game, he usually meets a pass from either Xavi or Iniesta, and he becomes a direct threat on goal. He plays ridiculously high-up in the game and provides more attacking options than defensive ones. 

    As you can guess, wingbacks need to have above-par stamina, pace and concentration, as they need to be able to provide attacking threat as well as close down oppositions. 


    Notable Examples:

    Dani Alves, Cafu, Roberto Carlos


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    When football teams operated as as a 3-5-2 formation, and the opposition operated with two strikers, these two strikers can be marked by two central defenders. The third person can become the "spare man" and can be used not only defensively but can also provide a potent threat going forward. 

    The sweeper is a more versatile of center-back whose position is more versatile than the other defenders who man-mark. He is basically "free," hence he is also known as the libero (Italian word that means free). 

    In Euro '96, Matthias Sammer operated as a sweeper for the German National team who had a 3-4-1-2 system. He was a vital player in defense, but he was also allowed to venture forward, attack and even score goals (which he did). The Germans won the tournament. 

    However, the three-man defense has effectively made way for a four-man one, hence the role of the sweeper is hardly employed these days. 


    Notable Players: 

    Franz Beckenbauer, Matthias Sammer


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    Midfielders play in the middle of the park, ahead of the defenders and operate behind the strikers. Some are more defensive minded, while some attack. 

    Often, a great midfield can win you games by providing that creative spark to unlock defenses while also shielding the back-four from the opposition. 

    In modern football, the following positions are usually employed: Defensive Midfielder, Central Midfielder, Deep-Lying Playmaker, Attacking Midfielder, Box-to-Box Midfielder and Winger. 

Defensive Midfielder

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    The primary job of a defensive midfielder is to shield his defenders. They, thus, provide a more stable defense and are often great at tackling and winning the ball from the opposition. 

    They also aid in a swift counterattack by then spreading the won ball either to the flanks or to the central midfielders. 

    Often times, defensive midfielders are the players who cover the greatest distances in football matches, hence they need to have excellent stamina and a high-work rate. 


    Notable Examples: 

    Alex Song, Scott Parker, Sergio Busquets

Deep-Lying Playmaker

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    Usually, alongside the defensive midfielders are deep-lying playmakers who dictate the tempo of the game by spreading passes from a deeper position. 

    They are not astute defensively, hence they need to be supported by the defensive midfielder. Deep-lying playmakers have to possess a great passing ability, especially playing long balls towards forwards and wingers and need to have a higher level of creativity to pick out these passes. 

    Hence, they are great distributors, the quarterbacks of football. 


    Notable Players:

    Andrea Pirlo, Xavi, Xabi Alonso

Center Midfielder

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    The central midfielder, it has to be said, is neither a tackler nor a creator. And he does not score goals. 

    To most fans, his role is misunderstood, and these people are often made into scapegoats for a team's sub-par performances. 

    No wonder, players like Michael Carrick got a lot of criticism leveled against them. Most people simply do not understand their roles. 

    However, central midfielders are often the team's engine and are absolutely vital for a team. Their most important duties are to keep possession of the ball and to distribute the ball effectively. And that is what Michael Carrick excels at doing.

    Unless you are watching the game intently, you do not appreciate the vitality of such players. Take a look what both Xabi Alonso and Xavi had to say about Carrick. 

    Xabi Alonso: 

    If they are on top of their game and if Carrick plays, because for me he is a top player, then England will have a chance. If Carrick plays for the national team the way that he does for Manchester United, then it would be very good news for England. I think that he could easily fit in the Spanish system because I really like the way he plays. He reads the game so well, he is always ahead of what is going to happen and he is always in the right position. When he gets the ball, he plays it easy and he is available to his team-mates all the time. For me, he has the profile to play for Barcelona or any of the Spanish teams. He would also be very complementary to Stevie.

    And then, Xavi

    Carrick gives United balance and can play defensively too. He passes well, has a good shot and is a complete player.

    Notable Players:

    Michael Carrick, Yaya Toure, Bastian Schweinsteiger


Attacking Midfielder

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    An attacking midfielder is situated in a more advanced midfield position, and he offers a goal scoring threat. 

    Usually an attacking midfielder has to have excellent technical ability. He needs to be able to dribble, have great ball control and needs to pick out great passes, usually to someone running into the box. 

    When an attacking midfielder plays just behind the strikers, this position is called the "hole." He is expected to create numerous goal scoring opportunities and score a few of them himself. 

    Some attacking midfielders are labelled as Trequartista, and they excel in shooting from range and for their passing prowess. 


    Notable Examples: 

    Mario Götze, Wesley Sneijder, Mesut Özil

Box-to-Box Midfielder

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    Box-to-box midfielders are dynamic and most complete midfielders who excel at both defending and attacking. 

    They have immense stamina, great positional awareness, can tackle astutely, can keep possession and are also a threat going forward. Obviously, this is one of the hardest positions to master, but having a great box-to-box midfielder can be of immense advantage to any team.


    Notable Players: 

    Ramires, Esteban Cambiasso, Bastian Schweinsteiger


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    Often called the wide midfielder, wingers offer width to a team's game. 

    Generally, they need to be exceptionally fast, be able to track back and defend, link up well with full-backs and provide incisive crosses into the box. 

    Their dribbling ability is key as well, as it can help them beat the full back to create space and time to put crosses into the box. 


    Notable Players: 

    Antonio Valencia, Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale 


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    Forwards play nearest to the opposition's goal and are deemed most responsible for getting on the score sheet. 

    Quality forwards have great speed, stamina and intelligence, hence, they are one of the most sought after players. They need to have strong shooting and finishing ability. A strong aerial presence is also sought after in a quality forward to serve as a target man. 

    They are often designated as: center forwards, strikers or second strikers. 

    However, in a 4-3-3/3-4-3 formation, wingers convert into forwards, typically known as outside forwards.


    Center Forwards:

    Center-forwards often also serve as target man and are used to win long balls and provide a strong aerial presence in the opponent's half. 



    While strikers are also deemed to be center-forwards, they are a little different in their role. Strikers are usually fast and have good dribbling abilities and are known to dummy defenders, create spaces and finish strongly. 




    Often times, a player who can also score goals whilst creating several for his teammates is deemed as a second striker. 


    Notable Examples:

    Mario Gomez, Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney


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