Soccer Positions: A Comprehensive Guide

Table of Contents

Not many games are as thrilling as soccer. It’s 90 minutes packed with action, where you are served with jaw-dropping goals, electrifying saves, and enough drama to keep you on your toes. It’s more than just 22 men grappling for a ball.

Every position plays a crucial role, and a closer look would show you the beauty of this highly choreographed dance.

When each soccer position is played right, the audience is gifted with an unforgettable match. Let me show you what each position in soccer brings to the table.

Soccer Positions Diagram

soccer positions in numbers

How Many Soccer Positions Are There?

Let’s take a trip down memory lane for some context.

What we know as football or soccer is one of many football codes. A football code is a branch of a ball-kicking sport, which includes games like rugby, Gaelic football, American football, Japanese kemari, etc.

three core soccer positions

The “Laws of the Game,” a set of rules that were crafted in 1863 by some British enthusiasts of the soccer code, is now universally responsible for the way the game is played. This includes the number of players, the pitch and goal dimensions, and the duration of the game.

Did you know that these rules recognize only two positions in the game? The two original positions are goalkeeper and outfield players.

However, coaches divided the outfield players into three core positions: defenders, midfielders, and attackers. These are now officially recognized as the four main positions in soccer.

Are we following?

Brilliant. Let’s move on.

What is Every Position in Soccer: Soccer Roles

The goalkeeper is the player in charge of the goal, while outfield players are those who play away from the goal. They play to prevent the other team from getting shooting opportunities. When they fail, the goalkeeper is called into action.

Goalkeepers and outfield players wear different jerseys to differentiate their roles. This is because the goalkeeper is allowed to use their hands, and the outfield players are not.

The referee uses the difference in jersey colors to enforce the rules as stipulated by the Laws of the Game.

Let me run you through all the different variations of the four core positions in soccer and what roles they occupy on the pitch.

Sweeper Keeper/Goalkeeper (No. 1 position)

A goal is an area between two posts and a crossbar that is laid on the posts. The goalkeeper mans the goal of their team to prevent shots from going in. Teams win in soccer by scoring the most goals in their opponent’s goal.

Goalkeepers can use their hands and any part of their bodies to stop shots from going into their goal. It is a position that is usually given to the biggest player on the team.

Where the goalkeeper isn’t the biggest on the team, they have to be the most athletic because their job involves a lot of reflexive actions like diving and leaping to claim high balls.

A sweeper keeper is a special category of goalkeeper that evolved in the last two decades. These goalkeepers do not stick to the goalline.

They are free to come into the outfield positions to participate in play. These goalies are as good with their feet as they are in their primary duty of blocking shots.

German goalkeeper Manuel Neuer made this role very popular among goalkeepers and is highly regarded for that today.

He grew to be a colossus in goal with German side Bayern Munich and occasionally got plaudits due to his ‘unique’ style of goalkeeping. Many coaches in modern soccer now want sweeper keepers, as they add depth to attacks and defense.


Centre-backs are outfield players who play in the defender position, marshaling the 18-yard box, also known as the penalty area. These are the areas on the pitch where most goalscoring actions happen.

The term originated from coaches placing four men to defend the goalkeeper and the goal, with two manning the penalty area.

The two manning the penalty area were called the center-halves or the center-backs; the latter is now most commonly used. Now, coaches can use one player as a center-back or three, depending on their tactics.

Their key responsibilities are to block shots, make tackles, intercept passes into the penalty area, clear loose balls, and compete for balls in the air and on the ground.

These days, center-backs are key to attacks as well. They are required to be good on the ball because they will have to find their teammates with the right passes to start the attack.

Spanish coach Pep Guardiola is famous for wanting defenders who are equally good on the ball and not just as a defense.

There is also the sweeper center-back, who, like the sweeper keeper, can move into various outfield positions to perform defensive duties.

These center-backs do not have to wait for attacks to come to them. They have to read the game to be able to block attacking lanes, no matter how close or far from the penalty area.

Legendary German footballer Franz Beckenbauer was best known for this role among defenders. His reading of the game was at a different level, and he was usually in the right place at the right time to make key interceptions and break opposition attacks. Even now, he is regarded as one of the best to grace the sport.


The full-back is a defender who mans the outside of the penalty area.

Traditionally, full-backs are allowed to go further outfield than center-backs. They can go as far as the halfway line (a halfway line is the line dividing the teams’ halves or sections). This depends on the coach’s tactics, however.

When the tactic does not require a high defensive line, the full-backs stay as close to the center-backs as possible while manning their assigned flanks.

Here’s an interesting fact for you: Full-backs were originally the last outfield line of defense. Center-backs used to be closer to the halfway line as coaches preferred to stop attacks immediately.

As football evolved, both roles switched. The full-backs were then pushed out wider to create the sub-roles of the left and right full-backs.

Modern football often requires the full-backs to be both technical and athletic enough to make daunting runs and crosses from the flanks into the opposition box.

Trent Alexander-Arnold of Liverpool is a perfect example of a full-back that boasts both technical and athletic (fast and strong) abilities to thrive on the flanks.


The wing-back is a special type of full-back, involved in attacks. They are typically the fastest players on a team. This is because they provide width in attack as well as an extra man to trouble the opposing team’s defense.

But, they must track back immediately when their team is being attacked to join their center-backs in defending the flanks around the penalty area.

Wing-backs need to be the most tireless players on the team because of the constant running they are required to do.

In modern football, a wing-back’s defensive and attacking duties are intertwined, as they must work to prevent opposing attackers from even leaving their halves into theirs.

The best modern examples are Jeremie Frimpong and Alejandro Grimaldo, who both played under Xabi Alonso at German Bundesliga side Bayer 04 Leverkusen.

Both players were very involved in the attack, scored double digits in goals – and were quick enough to prevent offensive actions from their opponents.

Defensive Midfielder (No. 6 position)

Defensive midfielders are usually called number 6s and number 4s in some countries. Luckily, football numbering makes it such that no country can claim theirs as right. Some of the best defensive midfielders have worn neither number 6 or 4 for their teams.

These types of midfielders typically operate between the defense and the midfield. Their primary position is always in front of the center-backs but their defensive actions can see them cover for their wing-backs in a case where they could not make it back in time to perform their defensive duties.

They are the extra center-backs in defensive actions and must possess the skill of a midfielder to link the defense and attack.

They do this by getting the ball to the other midfielders or to their sweeper center-backs or goalkeepers, who then restart the attack sequence.

Often, the most technical player in the team usually occupies this position.

Playing under Pep Guardiola, Spanish midfielder Rodri best defined this position and took the role to another level under the guidance of his compatriot. He was a major player as City won their first Champions League title in 2023 and was even named the best player of the tournament.

Deep-lying Playmaker

A deep-lying playmaker also called a regista or a libero in Europe, is a defensive midfielder who is tasked with the extra burden of creating attack sequences.

Deep-lying playmakers must be the smartest players on the team and possess strength, calm, and a great vision with which they can see the whole pitch from deep inside their halves. They often go on to become excellent coaches because of their intelligence.

An example is Sergio Busquets. During his time at FC Barcelona, he was also at the peak of his power in the Spanish national team.

He could penetrate attacking plays without breaking a sweat and make one killer pass into the space where his attackers or other midfielders would pounce on for goalscoring opportunities.

Central midfielder (No. 8 position)

Central midfielder operates in the central areas of the field. They are half-and-half defenders/attackers because they perform a little bit of both roles. Their primary duty, however, is to link the defense and the attack.

They do this by simply passing the ball between both areas. When they make a back pass to their defenders or goalkeepers, it means that they are trying to restart the attacking sequence.

If they make a forward pass to their attackers, it means they have seen a pathway to the goal of their opponents.

There are usually two of them on the pitch. Sometimes, one is deployed alongside a defensive midfielder to be a deep-lying playmaker.

A central midfielder who takes up this role does not do much defending. They are just there to provide a quicker path to attack after the defenders or the defensive midfielder does their job. 

A great example of this type of player is Jorginho, who plays for Arsenal and is excellent at breaking the lines forward with an incisive pass or ball movement.

Attacking midfielder (No. 10 position)

Attacking midfielders are positioned between the team’s central midfielders and the team’s attackers.

Unlike the central midfielders and defensive midfielders, who must also carry out defensive actions, these midfielders are mainly used for attacks.

They receive the ball from their central midfielders and either make a beeline to the goal themselves or create a goalscoring chance for their attackers.

They are the freest on the field and are usually the ones with the best technical ability (the ability to control the ball in any kind of situation).

Depending on the tactics deployed by their coach, attacking midfielders are usually left, central, or right. However, because of their primary duty to assist in attack or “play in the hole” between the midfield and attack, they are allowed to roam as much as they want.

Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne has excelled in this role over the past decade and is the best example to depict this role.

When you give a player like him too much time and space on the ball, you can expect to be punished, as they usually have the best vision on the pitch.

The existence of attacking midfielders and their importance to the game led to the formation of the next few roles I will be depicting to you.


This is one of the positions that was born out of the attacking midfielder position. A winger is an attacker who stays wide to bypass the center-backs and attack the penalty area from the flanks.

Full-backs and wing-backs are their biggest obstacles. For this reason, they have to be fast, tricky, able to cross the ball into space where players in the striker position or other attacking players can reach it, and able to shoot when they see space.

In some tactics, they play in the soccer midfield position, closer to the central midfielders than the main attackers. In such tactics, they are referred to as wide midfielders.

The winger’s role is also the most expendable in football, as teams can operate fully using wing-backs or just attacking midfielders who are ordered to drift wide.

A perfect example of a world-class winger is Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah, who has thrived playing under Jurgen Klopp and become one of the world’s best players.

Happy to utilize space in front of him and even happier to shoot when he finds the right angle, Salah is always a headache for defenders to play against.

Inverted Winger

These are regular wingers who are played on the “wrong” flanks. Usually, the dominant foot of a winger determines the wing they play.

However, inverted wingers are wingers who play on wings that are not according to their dominant foot so that they can cut inside to shoot at goal or make a pass.

Teams like Barcelona and Manchester City use inverted wingers a lot. Inverted wingers are also called inside forwards because their role allows them to run into the central areas, which are usually occupied by the main attacker(s).

Some great examples are Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, two of the greatest soccer players of all time.

Of course, the iconic duo does not need any explanation as they can create magic anywhere they find themselves on the soccer pitch.

False 9

The number 9 is the team’s main attacker, also called the striker or the center-forward. They must wait in the central areas to receive the ball and shoot at the goal to score.

However, false 9s are decoy players who occupy that striker position to deceive the center-backs and even the full-backs.

In attacking sequences, they stay central while the team’s main attacker plays elsewhere, mostly in the inverted winger position.

When the ball gets to them, they drift away from the central role – sometimes into the soccer midfield position – and pull the focus of the defenders towards them. The main attacker goes into the central role and is a lot freer to shoot at goal.

The false 9 then gets the ball to the main attacker to score. If they are brilliant enough, they can drift back into the main attacking position with their technical ability or off-the-ball movement to score.

Once again, Lionel Messi is a perfect example of a false 9, but perhaps the player who got particular praise for this role is Roberto Firmino.

Firmino excelled playing as a ‘fluid’ 9 alongside Salah and Sadio Mane. They formed a deadly trio that terrorized European football, including winning the Champions League and the Premier League.

Center Forward

Of all soccer positions and roles, this is the most coveted one among players. Also known as strikers, they are usually the stars of the team.

They score all the goals, win all the awards, and are often seen as the team’s savior, even if they do not do much in a game.

The best example of a center-forward is Erling Haaland. The Norwegian once famously stated that he does not care if he doesn’t touch the ball more than once in a full 90-minute match as long as that one touch of his ends up being a goal.

Players who occupy this position must be physically imposing, and when they are not, they must be quick to get into goalscoring spaces.

Second Striker

The primary role of the second striker is to play behind the striker/center forward and score when they cannot. They are also required to create chances for the main attacker and finish off rebounds in case they occur.

Usually, the attacking midfielder is the second striker of a team. The position came to be in the late 1940s when the legendary Ferenc Puskás reigned supreme in soccer.

In world soccer today, Antoine Griezmann best describes the second striker role, having excelled in a 4-4-2 position for Atletico Madrid, while playing as the second target man.

His ability to initiate proper link-up play and also take chances when available makes him the ideal ‘second’ striker.

What Are the Soccer Position Abbreviations?

Different positions in soccerShirt numbersAbbreviations
Sweeper Keeper/Goalkeeper1GK
Centre-back4, 5, 6CB
Full-back2 (right backs), 3 (left backs)RB and LB
Wing-back2 (right backs), 3 (left backs)RWB and LWB
Defensive midfielder4, 6DM
Deep-lying playmaker4, 6DM or CM
Central midfielder8CM
Attacking midfielder10AM
Winger7 (right), 11 (left)RW and LW
Inverted winger7 (right), 11 (left)RW and LW
False 910CF or ST
Centre Forward9CF or ST
Second Striker8 or 10SS

NOTE: The numbering in the table is how the Laws of the Game recognizes them. However, teams choose their numbering systems. These positions no longer have particular numbers given to them in modern football. A good example is Inter Milan; the club has players wearing “90” or “70”. 

Final thoughts

This has been an exhaustive article detailing all the different positions in soccer that modern managers have tweaked to their liking in modern football.

However, the easiest way to understand is that they all fit into the four main roles: goalkeeper, defender, midfielder, and attacker.

Players occupying these positions make it easier and quicker for the ball to move from one end of the field to the other. Your football lesson in all positions in soccer is now complete. You’re welcome.

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