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What is the Hardest Position in Soccer? (Ranked)

What is the Hardest Position in Soccer? (Ranked)

Given that association football — otherwise known as soccer — is the world's most popular sport, it's no surprise that the beautiful game is the subject of near-constant debate from global fans of the game. And it's not just teams, managers, and players whose performances and skills get dissected by the masses, it's also the specific tactical roles they are supposed to be occupying on the soccer field.

Football divides people (often in the most entertaining ways), and positions are one of the many elements of the game that cause people to argue and debate amongst themselves. Both elite-level performances and disappointed displays from professional players can get fans considering the question "What is the hardest position in soccer?" and as the sport continues to develop and individual roles adapt and change, this question prompts new discussions and new answers. In this article, we'll be aiming to get to the bottom of this subject by summing up the key positions in soccer and assessing which roles on the pitch are the most demanding.

Soccer Positions Explained: How Many Positions Are There?

The exact positions featured in a starting XI very much depend on how an individual manager chooses to set things up, with some coaches favouring high, wide wing-backs, others opting for inverted full-backs, and some even doing away with the striker position and employing a deeper-lying False 9. However, there are typically a few positions that are non-negotiable and will be seen in any given line-up.

Goalkeeper - This player is stationed furthest back, their job being to guard the goal and stop the opposition from scoring by making saves and catching loose balls and crosses. They are also tasked with distributing the ball both from their feet and their hands, and in the modern era their footwork needs to be almost as good as an outfield player.

Centre Back - Central defenders are essential in providing defensive solidity and giving the goalkeeper cover in deep areas of the pitch. They need to be strong, physical, assertive, and capable of moving the ball up the pitch efficiently.

Centre Midfielder - A variety of different types of central midfield roles exist in soccer, but however a coach lines up this area of the pitch, there needs to be at least a couple of players providing defensive support, building possession, and marking opposition midfielders in this centre of the park.

Forward - Forwards come in all shapes and sizes, from huge targetmen looking to win aerial duels to smaller, more nippy wide forwards looking to get into the channels and put pressure on opposition backlines. Whatever the set up, all teams need at least one forward.

But which of these positions is the most vital in soccer? Read on for our assessment of the importance of each role.

What is the Hardest Position in Soccer?

Ultimately, this is all a matter of opinion — there's no definitive answer to the question "What is the hardest position in soccer?" and it's highly likely some readers will disagree with our verdict. However, it's certainly true that some roles are more demanding than others.

There are a number of things to take into account, from positional and tactical considerations, stamina levels and running stats, intense technical strains, and the high levels of pressure and responsibility associated with certain positions. In the following list of the most difficult positions in soccer ranked, these factors are all taken into consideration.

#6. Winger

First things first, it's important to note that every single position on the soccer field has its own stresses and demands, and anyone performing these roles at a professional standard is clearly a hugely talented athlete. But when it comes to the level of responsibility associated with an individual position, wingers and wide midfielders perhaps have the most license to focus on the glamorous side of the game without applying quite as much hard graft as certain other positions.

Wingers sometimes operate on the margins of games and are relied upon for moments of attacking quality, rather than being constantly tested and placed at the centre of their team's exploits. For that reason, it's one of the more easy positions in the sport.

#5. Full-Back

Back in the day, full-back is often where you'd find the game's less dazzling players, the kind of operators with strong positional awareness and decent technical ability but perhaps not the skill or footballing brains of a creative midfielder or forward. These days, things have changed and the demands placed on full-backs are far more extensive; alongside having excellent technical skills and passing ability, they also need serious stamina and are required to run up and down the flanks contributing both offensively and defensively.

Technically gifted full-backs like Trent Alexander-Arnold and Joao Cancelo are some of the most important players on the pitch for their respective teams and can regularly be seen stepping into midfield to impact the game. However, this is partly why we've placed full-back further down our list; the fact that the best left-backs and right-backs often end up playing in more advanced positions show that it is not the most demanding or influential area of the soccer field.

#4. Centre-Back

The amount of pressure piled on centre-backs is massive; they regularly have to face up against some of the best players in the game, marking speedy, strong, powerful, technically excellent forwards while leading a backline and communicating with both full-backs, defensive midfielders and goalkeeper in order to keep things as tight as possible.

In the modern game, central defenders at the top level are typically excellent on the ball as well as being some of the best athletes in the game. However, this position can still be occupied by some slower, less dynamic, and less technically gifted footballers, even in top flight football, and it typically involves less running than most other roles on the pitch, so for those reasons, there are other positions that are, on the whole, more difficult.

#3. Striker

It's very difficult for a soccer team to win a match without a striker who is capable of finishing chances from a range of different positions. Top strikers need to be able to put the ball in the back of the net even during games when they've received very little service, and if a team isn't scoring regularly, the pressure ramps up on the people at the top end of the pitch.

Forwards are not only relied upon for finishing chances and securing wins, but also for linking up with other players, holding up the ball, putting pressure on opposition defenders, and battling physically with centre-backs who are often big, bulky and commanding. As a result, this is one of the hardest positions in soccer, and it's very difficult (and expensive) to find a top quality striker.

#2. Centre Midfielder

The duties and responsibilities of a central midfielder in soccer are far-reaching; they regularly receive the ball under pressure and are tasked with constantly recycling possession and making dozens of pinpoint passes each per game. Not only do centre-mids need to provide protection for the defence and break up opposition attacks, they are also relied upon to get the ball forward to attackers and contribute in a creative sense.

Getting up and down the pitch in a dynamic, targeted way requires huge levels of stamina, and central midfielders are typically the most physically fit players on the soccer field, with some centre midfielders capable of running up to 12 or 13 kilometres per match. It's a tough gig, that's for sure.

It's worth noting that there are also a number of more specified roles that slot into the broader remit of the central midfielder position. Attacking midfielders will be relied on for supporting the strikers and getting forward into creative areas, while central defensive midfielders are tasked with protecting the back line. If you want to find out more about this latter role, check out our guide to the double pivot in soccer.

#1. Goalkeeper

The amount of pressure that plagues the goalkeeper in soccer is what makes it such a difficult position. If a striker makes a mistake, the worst thing that happens is they don't score a goal. If a goalkeeper makes a mistake, it's highly likely that the ball will end up in the back of their net.

So when a keeper puts a foot wrong, the level of scrutiny they receive is massive. Add to this the long list of skills required in a goalkeeper, which includes catching, saving, aerial dominance, footwork, distribution, and communication, and you've got a seriously difficult role. 

On top of that, there's only one place for a goalkeeper in a starting XI, so the competition in this area of the pitch is unlike that in any other position (Arsenal's Aaron Ramsdale vs David Raya situation being a great example of how difficult it is to maintain a Number 1 spot as a professional goalkeeper). This unique cocktail of challenges surely makes the goalkeeper the hardest position in soccer. If you'd like to find out more about this position, check out our article on the role of the goalkeeper in soccer.