One of the most regularly used positions in soccer is the winger. Many formations make use of these players, and they can offer a significant advantage to a team. I’ve played as a winger many times and want to show you why this is such an exciting position.
Let me start by explaining what we mean by a winger.
A winger in soccer is the player that starts the game positioned on the left or right “wing” of the soccer field. The winger operates along the field’s sideline throughout the game, and their primary role is to support the forwards by creating goal-scoring opportunities.
If you’ve been involved in soccer for a while, you’ll know that there is more to the role of a winger than first meets the eye.
In this article, I’ll show you:
- The position of a winger on the soccer field
- The roles and responsibilities of a winger
- The number a winger usually wears
- and the difference between a winger, striker, and forward.
Position of a Winger on the Soccer Field
The first thing to clarify is the position of the winger on a team.
There are two wingers on a soccer team. One is positioned beside the left touchline of the field, and the other plays beside the right touchline on a soccer field. The wingers are responsible for covering the attacking two-thirds of the field along the sidelines.
Have a look at the image below for an illustration of the position of the winger in soccer.
As the name implies, a winger plays along the sideline or the “wings” of the field. They use their speed and dribbling ability to make runs along the edge and set up attacks for their team.
The winger plays a pivotal role in a team’s attack and must stay close to the touchline to spread the defense and cross the ball into the opposition’s penalty area from the edge of the field.
A Winger’s Number (Right-Wing and Left-Wing)
Throughout the history of soccer, every player on the field has worn a number on the back of their jersey to identify them.
The position of the winger is no different.
Traditionally the wingers on a team wear the number 7 or the number 11. The player on the right-wing wears the number 7, and the player on the left-wing wears the number 11. In modern-day soccer, teams don’t assign numbers based on position as often, and wingers may wear various other numbers.
If you think of the classic wingers such as Cruyff, Beckham, or Garrincha, they almost all wore the number 7 or 11.
However, modern-day players have more choice over the number on their back and may wear one of several different numbers.
Role and Responsibilities of a Winger in Soccer
Having established what a winger is and their position on the field, let’s look at their roles and responsibilities.
A winger has five primary roles in a team:
- Create goal-scoring opportunities
- Stretch the opposition defense
- Move the ball up the field/bypass defenders
- Score goals
- Support the defense
Let’s look at each of these responsibilities.
1. Create Goal-Scoring Opportunities
The winger’s role in a soccer team can vary greatly depending on the team’s strategy for a specific game. But one role that stays the same is the winger’s responsibility to create goal-scoring opportunities for their teammates.
The team’s forwards will rely on their wingers to cross or pass the ball into them at every opportunity.
When a team is in the attacking phase, a team will look to move the ball out to the winger, who will create shooting opportunities and assist the forwards.
In defensive situations, the winger must be able and prepared to start a counterattack and should be able to cut from the flanks with the ball toward the opposition’s goal.
Having a high level of passing accuracy and skill is vital, and we’ll look at that a bit more in a moment.
2. Stretch the Opposition Defense
As part of their position as a provider, another of a winger’s roles is to create space for the forwards to operate in. They are often the player in the team who can do this most effectively.
To perform this role, the winger will try to hold the ball out on the flank of the field and drag the fullbacks out of position.
This is often referred to as “providing width” for a team.
As the winger stays out wide and the opposition’s fullbacks follow them, more space is created in the center of the field.
During attacking play, the winger must look to peel wide to leave this space open for the forwards to exploit. Making the most of this role is often crucial to a team’s success.
In addition to receiving the ball out wide, a winger must be quick and possess the necessary speed to outrun the right back.
If a winger can use this ability well during a counterattack, they will easily stretch the opposition’s defense.
The defenders often commit fouls when defending against a fast winger, and many defenders dread this challenge.
3. Move the Ball up the Field and Bypass the Defenders
Another role of a winger is to move the ball up the field as quickly and effectively as possible.
A good winger will make defenders work hard to win back the ball by varying their patterns of play and movement along the sidelines.
The winger must be able to beat defenders one-on-one and get behind the defense. This is why you will find that many great wingers are experts at dribbling the ball at speed.
They can bypass the defense with their speed and trickery and play a ball into the forwards that can change a game.
4. Score Goals for Their Team
Although the winger’s primary role is to receive the ball from the midfielders, stretch the play and deliver crosses into the box, they also carry a responsibility to score goals for their team.
The ‘winger’ is not primarily a goal-scoring player, but their contribution in this area is valuable. They must have a good eye for goal-scoring opportunities and must be able to take advantage of those opportunities.
Wingers may score in any number of ways, from shooting from distance to dribbling the ball past the defense and goalkeeper.
As attacking players, wingers are a valuable asset to any team and will make the team go further.
5. Support The Defense
A winger must also support the fullback when their team is under attack.
This is a vital part of a winger’s role that many people forget when focusing on this predominantly attacking position. However, in modern-day soccer, all players need to help out in defense when necessary. Therefore, a winger needs to fulfill their duties on both ends of the field.
Supporting the defensive positions often looks like tracking the opposing winger as they advance up the field and making an accurate tackle if necessary.
They must also be capable of shielding the ball if there is no room to make a forward pass. They may also need to pass it back towards their own goal.
The ‘winger’ must also be able to defend their own goal at corners or set pieces.
Difference Between a Winger, a Forward, and a Striker
Having explained the role of a winger, you hopefully understand what it means to be a winger in soccer. But as some of the offensive positions can be similar and the expectations for each contain some overlap, I want to quickly clarify the difference between a winger, a forward, and a striker.
I’ve gone over this in much more detail in my article – Winger Vs Striker: What’s the difference? – but here’s the overview.
A winger plays on the outside edge of the field; a striker plays closer to the goal than any other player on the team. A forward is any one of the attacking players on the team.
Although each position is similar in some ways, the main difference is their position and role in the team.
A winger is expected to play out wide and supply the striker and other attacking players with opportunities to score a goal.
A striker plays furthest forward in a team and is responsible for scoring the majority of the team’s goals.
For more info on strikers, check out my guide: A Striker in Soccer: How they play and why they are so important.
A forward plays upfront and is expected to contribute to the team’s goals and can be one of several players. For instance, a striker can be a forward, but a forward isn’t always a striker.
For more information on forwards, check out my guide to the position, roles, and responsibilities of a soccer forward.
Find Out More
Hopefully, that has helped you understand what it means to be a winger in soccer.
If you want to dig deeper into this position, I recommend you check out my guide on how to play as a winger or what it takes to be the best winger you can be.
Or for other positions, check out my guide – Soccer Positions: A Complete Guide.