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7 Hardest Positions In Soccer

Drawing of a soccer field with the different soccer positions.
RankPositionBrief DescriptionNotable Players
7StrikerRequires pace, ball control, finishing skills, stamina, and aerial ability.Cristiano Ronaldo, Zlatan Ibrahimovic
6SweeperIntercepts dangerous passes, tackles skillfully, and starts build-up plays.Franz Beckenbauer, Virgil van Dijk
5Central MidfielderNeeds pace, passing, tackling, and awareness; physically demanding.Paul Pogba, Luka Modric
4FullbackRequires speed, stamina, marking, tackling, and crossing ability.Cafú, Trent Alexander-Arnold
3Attacking MidfielderSkillful with quick decision-making in crowded zones.Lionel Messi, Kevin de Bruyne
2Defensive MidfielderDisrupts play, has stamina, speed, strength, and good passing.N’Golo Kanté, Roy Keane
1GoalkeeperHardest position in football. Needs agility, reflexes, anticipation, and good passing. The most important position.Marc-André ter Stegen, Oliver Kahn
Table: The Hardest Positions In Football & The Iconic Players

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’ve ever wondered what is the hardest position in football, you’ll find out as we delve deeper into these roles.

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, often referred to as the hardest football positions, require some special abilities if the person playing them wants to be good or successful.

7. Striker

Image depicting a soccer field with a soccer striker next to the field.

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. 

You can learn more about the striker position here.

6. “Sweeper

Sweeper position circled on a soccer field drawn out with an image of a soccer player next to it.

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

Central Midfielder position circled on a soccer field.

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.

You can learn more about the midfielder position here.

4. Fullback

Fullback Position shown on a soccer field with player numbers circled

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.

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3. Attacking Midfielder/”Number 10″

CAM or Central Attacking Midfielder shown on a soccer field

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

CDM or Central Defensive Midfielder shown on the soccer field.

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.

1. Goalkeeper

Image of a goalkeeper and the #1 position circled on the diagram of the soccer field showing where the goalie position is located.

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.

Not only is it the hardest position in football, the goalkeeper is the most important position as well. 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. Having the right equipment is also important in the role of goalkeeper.

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04/06/2024 10:28 pm GMT

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.

You can learn more about the goalkeeper position here.


How does a soccer team’s formation impact player positions?

Soccer teams use various formations to exploit the strengths and weaknesses of their players, as well as that of their opponents. A formation describes how players are arranged on the field. Common formations like 4-4-2, 3-5-2, or 4-3-3 have specific roles and expectations for each position. These roles can change significantly based on the chosen formation. For instance, in a 3-5-2, the wingbacks must provide width and cover a lot more ground than in a 4-4-2.

🏟 What are the roles of wingers in soccer?

Wingers primarily operate on the flanks of the field. Their responsibilities typically include:

  • Crossing: Delivering balls into the penalty area for teammates.
  • Dribbling: Taking on defenders one-on-one.
  • Scoring: They’re often in positions to score.
  • Defending: They help fullbacks in defending the flanks.
  • Link-up Play: Connecting with central midfielders and fullbacks.
    Having a fast and skillful winger can greatly benefit a team’s attacking strategies.

🔀 What’s the difference between a deep-lying playmaker and a box-to-box midfielder?

A deep-lying playmaker is a midfielder who operates deeper in the field, closer to the defense. They’re known for their exceptional passing and vision, orchestrating play from deep positions. Think of Andrea Pirlo or Xabi Alonso.
On the other hand, a box-to-box midfielder covers a lot of ground, contributing both in defense and attack. They’re often physically fit, with the ability to make key tackles and score goals. Examples include Steven Gerrard or Yaya Touré.

🥅 Why are penalty kicks so challenging for goalkeepers?

Penalty kicks place a huge amount of pressure on the goalkeeper. Some reasons they’re challenging include:

  • Limited Reaction Time: The ball travels from the spot to the goal in a split second.
  • Guesswork: Goalkeepers often have to anticipate and choose a direction before the ball is kicked.
  • Psychological Pressure: The spotlight is on them, and any save can turn the tide of a match.
  • High Expectation to Concede: Statistically, penalty takers have the upper hand, so a save is often seen as exceptional.

🔄 How have positions evolved over the years in soccer?

Soccer positions have evolved significantly with changes in tactics, physical conditioning, and rules. For instance:

  • Fullbacks: Previously more defensive, now they’re often key attacking outlets.
  • Strikers: From traditional target men, there’s now a preference for dynamic forwards with pace and versatility.
  • Goalkeepers: Once just shot-stoppers, modern keepers must be adept at playing with their feet and starting attacks.
    Changes often reflect broader shifts in the game’s philosophy and the continuous pursuit of tactical advantages.

📋 Why is team chemistry crucial in soccer?

Team chemistry relates to how well players understand each other’s game. A team with good chemistry will:

  • Predict teammates’ movements.
  • Understand each player’s strengths and weaknesses.
  • Communicate effectively during matches.
    Chemistry often develops over time and can significantly affect a team’s performance. It’s why newly assembled teams might struggle initially before finding their rhythm.

💼 How important is a soccer manager’s role in determining positions?

A manager’s influence is paramount. They decide the team’s formation, strategy, and which players fit best in each position. Managers analyze opponents, make tactical decisions, and often have the final say on player transfers. Great managers like Pep Guardiola or Jurgen Klopp have distinct philosophies that shape their team’s style and, by extension, player roles.

📈 How does altitude impact soccer games?

Altitude can have a significant effect on soccer matches:

  • Physical Impact: Reduced oxygen levels can fatigue players faster.
  • Ball Movement: The ball travels faster and further in thinner air.
  • Adaptation: Teams not used to high altitudes might struggle, especially in the latter stages of a match.
    This is why some teams based at high altitudes have a perceived “home advantage.”

🌐 How does international soccer differ from club soccer in terms of positions?

In international soccer:

  • Limited Time: Coaches have less time to instill tactics, so they might opt for simpler strategies.
  • Diverse Players: Players come from various clubs, each with its style and philosophy.
  • Patriotism: Representing one’s country can bring added pressure and motivation.
    While the positions remain the same, the dynamics and expectations from players can differ between club and international soccer.

🎖 Which position is often viewed as the most glamorous in soccer?

Traditionally, strikers or forwards get most of the limelight. They’re often the top scorers, and their goals win matches. Their moments of brilliance are widely celebrated, making their position appear glamorous. However, it’s worth noting that every position has its significance, and the beauty of soccer lies in its team spirit.