Soccer is the world’s most popular team sport, and it has several positions that require different skill sets. From goalkeeper to striker, every one of them has some degree of difficulty.
If you want to start playing soccer, or if you like to watch, it wouldn’t hurt to know which positions are the hardest in the sport.
There is not a single one of them that is significantly easier than the others, but these seven positions require some special abilities if the person playing them wants to be good or successful.
No, scoring goals is not as easy as it looks. Today’s game requires strikers to have pace, ball control, intelligent movement without the ball to take advantage of spaces, and especially finishing.
Finishing separates the bad strikers from the good ones and the good ones from the special ones.
A good striker should have the necessary awareness to anticipate defenders’ moves, and shooting ability with both legs is a plus. Good aerial ability to meet crosses is also preferred.
In addition to all that, modern strikers are often required to press the opposing team in their own half, so they need to be fit and have a lot of stamina.
A specific type of striker, the target man, should have all these abilities plus good passing and the ability to hold the ball up, waiting for midfielders to appear as options.
Cristiano Ronaldo, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and Robert Lewandowski are some of the best and most famous strikers in the world. These stars have the responsibility of scoring goals for their respective teams.
The “sweepers” are called as such because they “sweep” any potential loose balls that the central defenders can’t deal with.
The position was popular in the catenaccio system back in the sixties: in a defense consisting of five players, the “sweeper” or libero had the responsibility of patrolling the zone, clearing any danger if one of the two center-backs lost his man.
In today’s soccer, the sweeper is rarely used because most defenses have four men instead of five. However, it still exists to this day, in some settings.
The position isn’t easy because it requires excellent timing to cut opposing attacks and intercept dangerous passes. Any fouls could likely result in a penalty, so this type of defender must be very careful with his/her challenges.
The sweeper needs to be a master of tackling, and has to have excellent passing skills to not compromise the ball at the start of the build-up play.
Franz Beckenbauer and Franco Baresi were top-class sweepers back in the day. Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk often plays like a libero.
5. Central Midfielder
Perhaps the most physically demanding position in soccer, the central midfield has a long list of requirements to really master it: pace, passing, defensive ability, long-range shooting, tackling, and positional awareness.
The box-to-box midfielder has both defensive and offensive duties, so they need to cover a lot of ground. These often appear among the leaders in distance covered after games because they need to support their team defensively, distribute the ball adequately in the midfield, initiate attacks, and often finalize them.
Paul Pogba, Leon Goretzka, Ilkay Gundogan, Luka Modric, Frenkie de Jong, and Joshua Kimmich are some of the best central midfielders in today’s game.
Fullback is an extremely difficult position to play in today’s soccer. It not only requires pace and stamina to cover the flanks defensively and offensively, but also, right or left-backs need acceleration, speed, and spectacular crossing ability to successfully do their job.
To be an elite fullback, a player needs to have excellent marking and tackling skills, combined with the willingness to make clever, timely runs on their flank with or without the ball. The fullback is often an outlet for midfielders to rely on in the build-up.
Cafú and Roberto Carlos are widely regarded as the best fullbacks in history. Today, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Alphonso Davies, Reece James, and Theo Hernández are some of the top players in the position.
3. Attacking Midfielder/”Number 10″
There are several types of attacking midfielders in the world of soccer. In the 1990s and 2000s, the “number 10” gained notoriety because of the success of players such as Carlos Valderrama, Alessandro Del Piero, Francesco Totti, Zinedine Zidane, and other similarly skillful ballers.
They had fantastic passing ability and range, often unlocking defenses with those traits. Some of them weren’t the fastest, but they had a map of the field in their heads and were often one or two steps ahead of their peers.
Nowadays, the men tasked with the responsibilities of carrying the offensive weight of their teams are faster, have more pace, and are more complete: they may not have the passing skills of a Riquelme or Valderrama, but they are speedier, quicker, and have more attacking prowess.
That’s why the position is so hard: these players need to act quickly and make the correct decisions in the zones of the field with more traffic and defenders.
Lionel Messi, Kevin de Bruyne, and Eden Hazard are some of today’s playmakers: complete attacking machines capable of doing damage in a lot of ways. They create plays for themselves and for their teammates.
2. Defensive Midfielder
Today’s soccer is all about disrupting the flow of play, gaining position, and find the way to successfully attack spaces and vulnerable zones in the defense.
The defensive midfielder is perhaps the most demanding outfield position in the sport, because those who play it have to contain the opposing team’s attack, serve as an on-field strategist and coach, and start the play with composure and a good first pass.
A defensive midfielder needs to be physically fit to keep up with the flow of the game for 90 minutes or more, while being mentally strong to keep calm in difficult situations. In addition, he/she must be smart enough to cover potential teammates’ mistakes.
It’s not an easy position to play: imagine being tasked with stopping PSG’s attack of Messi, Neymar, and others.
It requires a unique combination of abilities that range from “intangibles” such as sacrifice and teamwork to physical traits such as stamina, speed, and strength.
N’Golo Kanté is by far the world’s premier defensive midfielder, while Casemiro, Wilfred Ndidi, and Marcelo Brozovic are also very good. Roy Keane, Claude Makelele, Patrick Vieira, Dunga, and Lothar Matthaus are some of the best in history.
It may not seem like it, but the goalkeeper is actually the hardest position to play in soccer. Sometimes, if a player is not good enough to perform on a specific outfield position, the situation may go somewhat unnoticed, or it wouldn’t severely affect the score.
The goalkeeper is the most important position in soccer. When a goalkeeper isn’t good, well, it shows. This player has enormous pressure not to make any mistakes that could compromise the work of his or her teammates.
A good goalkeeper needs to be physically fit and agile, with feline reflexes and notable lower-body strength.
He/she also should anticipate opposing players’ intentions, suffocate strikers and press them into taking bad shots. Passing ability went from being a plus to a requirement in the last few years.
Marc-André ter Stegen, Thibaut Courtois, Hugo Lloris, Gianluigi Donnarumma, Manuel Neuer, Alisson, and Jan Oblak are some of the top goalkeepers in the world of soccer right now.
Oliver Kahn, Lev Yashin, Peter Schmeichel, and Gordon Banks are some of the best keepers in history.
Establishing the hardest positions to play in soccer is somewhat of a subjective exercise, but some of them are objectively difficult.