One of the greatest strengths of a soccer team is its cohesion, with 11 players working together towards a common goal.
It’s why a team that’s full of great individual players can become truly exceptional. The group becomes more potent when the individuals work together as a team.
You can see the results for yourself, and over the years, there have been some genuinely outstanding teams packed to the brim with quality players.
The Pep Guardiola-led Barcelona team of the mid-2000s was a team of superstars, but individually they could be beaten. As a unit, they became arguably the most outstanding club team of all time.
But what about the teams that have players of average quality? Even then, a group that’s cohesive, hard-working, and willing to work for the greater good can surpass the sum of their parts.
It’s even more advantageous if there’s a standout player in the group, that one star in a team that can lift the group.
Today, we’re going to look at where that player should be played. Whether the rest of the team is world-class or merely competent, having one player whose stronger, more intelligent, or better than the rest can make a difference.
Is there a position that stands out as the critical position for the strongest player? Or is it more important to have that player in their most comfortable role?
What Makes The Strongest Player?
The strongest player doesn’t have to be the biggest or physically strongest player; it’s all about their overall contribution to the team.
The player might contribute more physically, but sometimes it could be that the most decisive player contributes more on the mental aspects than the physical or technical side.
Many of the greatest captains in history have often been regarded as the strongest player on the team, even if there’s a clearly more talented player on the side.
When the captain is missing, the team suffers; that might have nothing to do with their soccer skill; the team is weaker without the mental determination or team management that the captain brings to the field.
There are times when the strongest player on the pitch is the most talented player, a talismanic player whose sheer skill lifts the rest of the team. In this situation, it’s all about the rest of the team ensuring that the strongest player gets as much time on the ball as possible.
The downside to that is that the opposition knows this only too well and tries to mark the strongest player out of the game. It’s much harder to deal with a team’s strongest player when their strength lies in their leadership qualities rather than their ability to score goals.
Where To Play The Strongest Player
If your strongest player is the goalkeeper, you’re unlikely to play them in a center-forward role so that they see more of the ball; it’s about making the most of the strongest player and working your team around them. It’s not ideal to play your best player out of position just to fit a formation.
Instead, try to look to fit the formation to suit the strongest player in the team. It’s excellent if your most complete player’s best role is a central one; a center-back or central midfielder is ideal as it’s part of the team’s spine.
If the strongest player is a central defender, midfielder, or center-forward, it can often strengthen the rest of the team.
There are exceptions to the rule about playing your strongest player out of position, especially for central roles.
Your strongest player may be a center-back, with the passing ability and organizational skills that would be of more use further upfield.
A step up into a defensive midfield role could bring out the best in that player and add more skill and talent.
Your aging yet still influential central midfielder has lost a yard of pace but has the experience to make a difference. It’s not unheard of for a player in that mold to drop back into central defense.
Having your strongest player sit at the heart of the defense increases the team’s confidence, allowing the rest of the players to play with more freedom.
Simply by dropping into defense from the midfield, the strongest player not only keeps their place in the squad but frees up their midfield role for someone else.
Becoming A Team’s Strongest Player
How does one player become the most important player in a team?
The answer depends on the type of player; if they’re the most talented and therefore bring more to the team than anyone else, then there’s no reason the strongest player on the team can’t also be the youngest.
Age is no barrier to skill, so it’s not unheard of for one of the least experienced players to be the most vital.
An excellent example of this would be Kylian Mbappe of Paris Saint Germain; despite being in a team of superstars, many of whom are much older than the French international, it’s clear to see that Mbappe is the strongest player in the team. And that’s no small feat when you’re playing alongside arguably the greatest player of all time, Lionel Messi.
For other teams, it’s often one of the oldest players that’s the strongest; players who are invariably the most experienced or bring natural leadership qualities to the team. Jordan
Henderson of Liverpool is an excellent example of this type of player; he’s not the most technically superb player, he’s not the fastest, nor does he score loads of goals.
What Henderson does bring to the team is a work ethic, leadership, and unity that draws the rest of the team together.
In every other aspect, another player on the Liverpool roster is more creative or a better goalscorer, but when Henderson doesn’t play, Liverpool looks like a much weaker team.
Examples Of Teams With A Standout Player
There have been many examples of teams having one player who is stronger than the rest, and it’s not always the most creative player on the field.
A 30-goal-a-season striker might be the most valuable player at a club, but does that make them the strongest? How irreplaceable is irreplaceable?
Roy Keane -Manchester United
- Position: Defensive Midfielder
Despite being in a team full of players whose talent was arguably far above his own, Roy Keane made Manchester United tick for years.
When Keane played, Manchester United played, and opponents knew regardless of how good the rest of the team played, the leadership and demand for excellence that Keane brought made him the most dangerous player in the league.
Lionel Messi – Barcelona
- Position: Right Winger / Attacking Midfielder
When you’re as good at soccer as Lionel Messi, it’s inevitable that opposing players are scared to go up against you.
While at Barcelona, Messi became the greatest player of all time, even surrounded by superb players like Xavi and Iniesta or leaders such as Carlos Puyol.
His skill and determination, his goals and assists, and his sheer talent made Messi the strongest player in La Liga.
Jordan Henderson – Liverpool
- Position: Central Midfielder
Another captain surrounded by players whose individual skills probably outshone his own, yet it’s Jordan Henderson who makes Liverpool the team it is.
Without a doubt, the strongest player at Anfield, even with Mohamad Salah on the team. Without his leadership, determination, and incredible teamwork, Liverpool wouldn’t be the team they are.
Cristiano Ronaldo – Real Madrid
- Position: Striker
It takes a special player to be called the strongest player in a team, especially when the club captain is Sergio Ramos, yet his skill and utter focus makes Cristiano Ronaldo the most important player during his time in Madrid.
It’s not hard to see why Real Madrid was such an incredible team, having a captain like Ramos in defense and an attacker of Ronaldo’s quality leading the line. One of the greatest players of all time, Ronaldo stood out as much for his sheer determination as he did for his incredible skills.
Take away all his goals and assists, and Ronaldo would still have been the strongest player on the team; his need to be number one didn’t allow the player to settle for anything but the best, and that’s a hard mindset to stick to.
Very few players have ever had the same focus, the dedication to be better, even when they’re already one of the very best.
Defining what a team needs is part of the answer’ does it need a leader? If so, there’s an argument that the strongest player will be that leader, regardless of their position onfield.
If the team is generally filled with players who can handle the mental side of the game, it’s likely to be the most creative player who is the strongest player, as they’ll bring more to the team.
It’s clear why it’s an advantage for the strongest player on a team to play in a more central role, such as central defense or central midfield; these are the positions that see more of the ball.
Ultimately, though, regardless of where your strongest player plays, it’s essential that the team is set up to make the most of that player’s attributes.
If you’re wondering where to play the weakest player, read my article about it here.