Whether you are a coach, a seasoned soccer player or you’re just starting at soccer, there are some crucial principles you will have to understand intimately in order to be effective at your roles.
For instance, as a player you must always seek to play in the position that will best showcase your skills and talents. As a coach, it is your job to figure out what position a player is best suited at with the most freedom and confidence which will them win the game as a team.
While players in a team might have just one role, or a fixed position, tactics have evolved and the traditional roles have changed in the modern day football. As such, you will find that many players are able to adjust their roles and positions depending on what a specific game requires. This means the ability to play on either side of the field, or the endurance and skills to move into attack and also help with the defense.
In this article, we will look at a special position in soccer, the winger.
A winger is a player in a traditional striker or attacking third playing in the most forward position and close to the touchline, either on the left- or right-hand side of the pitch.
This position is mostly utilized in a 4-2-3-1, 3-4-3 or 4-3-3 formations where two wingers are deployed on either side of the pitch.
Playing on the widest position on the pitch, wingers must have perfect ball control and the ability to make plays in tight spaces without playing the ball out of play.
Most wingers are short in stature and very quick since a winger will normally need to run past or around the opposition.
As mentioned above, even the role of the winger has changed in recent years, and gone are the days when all the winger had to do was make runs up and down the byline as they try to outmaneuver the full-back and drive a cross into the penalty area.
Now, wingers play a more aggressive role.
With the full-back overlapping, it makes no sense to overcrowd the wings with too many players. Therefore, the winger will often have to leave the wing and make a run inside to link up with the forwards and attacking midfielders or even try a shot on goal.
As a result, you will notice that wingers now contribute to more goals and assists in teams that use them compared to a decade ago. Players such as Christiano Ronaldo, Arjen Robben and Frank Ribery have perfected this kind of play.
The winger is a deadly position, and when utilized properly, can lead to a lot of chances being converted into goals.
Traditionally, wingers sprint down the sidelines with the aim of stretching the play and giving the central attack time to get into position, after which they can deliver a cross or beat the full-backs and go for goal.
Even though this sounds easy on paper, it takes perfecting some crucial skills for anyone to operate as an effective winger.
Let’s take a look below:
Of all the positions on the field, the winger is the most physically taxing. Wingers have to run back and forth along the bylines and sprint for long distances before they can drive a cross or cut inside towards the box.
It’s easy to see a winger deep in defense, then inside the opposition’s box seconds later, what does all this say? … A winger needs endurance.
One of the players who brings out this attribute the most is Angel Di Maria who amongst a host of other skills, is an extremely hardworking player, running the field up and down throughout an entire match.
Wingers frequently have to beat the opposing winger or full-back and run into space. Therefore, being able to burst extremely fast down the flanks is an extremely valuable quality for a winger.
Combined with good dribbling, a fast winger is every goalie’s nightmare when he goes past the defender and cuts diagonally towards the box.
Right now, the fastest winger is the Ecuadorian Antonio Valencia who can clock speeds of up to 21.9mph (35.2 km/h). Other players known for the blistering pace are Ronaldo, Bale and Aaron Lennon.
In most instances, the sidelines are never as clogged as the middle of the field, therefore, wingers are often left with many opportunities to dribble as they are trying to lose their mark and deliver a cross.
In these one-on-one encounters, good dribbling skills will determine which team keeps the ball and whether the build up will go on or crumble.
Wingers such as Ronaldo have perfected the art of dribbling such that they can either drive a deadly cross or beat their man and get to the middle of the field, providing an assist and in many instances, scoring a goal.
Perhaps the most traditional role of the winger is delivering accurate crosses to the striker while in motion.
In fact, most teams use their wingers to take corners due to their ability to take an accurate cross that can meet its mark while evading defenders.
The French forward, Frank Ribery, is a perfect example of a player who has finessed beating defenders and crossing the ball accurately, not to mention speed and dribbling.
Unlike other types of forwards, the winger must be able to make a few tackles and defend the ball since they will face multiple face-to-face situations with the opposition’s winger or full-back.
As a result, wingers have to stick with their man, otherwise the opposing winger will have an easy time cutting inside the pitch to assist his team’s attackers or even score a goal themselves.
Therefore, wingers will have to perfect different defensive moves and tricks. These include always staying between the winger and the goal, blocking crosses, slide tackling without committing a foul, delaying the player as you await defense support and many more.
Good vision of the game is key for a winger, so do not turn your back to the game unless it is necessary. By having a good vision and understanding of how the game is developing, wingers can catch the defenders by surprise, pass the ball quickly and shift the play to the center where it is more dangerous.
Situational awareness also enables the player to know when to cut in and when to play a one-two-one-two with an overlapping fullback.
If any of the areas discussed above present a personal weak spot for you, there are specific trainings and drills you can employ to iron things out regardless of the position you play on the pitch.
For wingers, they need to be fast and excellent dribblers so as to accelerate around defenders or into open space.
Here, agility exercises and interval training that include short sprints in bursts, followed by casual jogging would be of great help.
To help you become a better winger, here is a list of drills you can try:
The Cruyff is a deadly and versatile move that can help a winger beat defenders by turning or switching directions. It works best when the defender is approaching at a diagonal angle and you are close to the sidelines.
Just flick the ball towards the defender and lure him to make a tackle then use an inside touch using the same foot to bring the ball to the other leg and sprint past the defender. When timed correctly, this move will not only make the defender look foolish, but it will allow the winger to cut into the pitch and provide better assists.
After getting past the opposing winger a number of times, chances are that they will learn your moves and delay their next tackles by maintaining some space between the two of you.
If you get slowed down this way, a midfielder will show up to offer support, but you should pass the ball before this happens.
The winger has many options of play, either by passing directly to a forward or setting them up for a through ball along the sidelines.
Great wingers should be able to switch the ball from wing to wing with ease and make accurate passes. If there is nowhere to play, the best option is to turn, shield the ball and drop it towards your own goal to build up a different form of play.
The elastico is a quick and dangerous move that can make defenders literally stumble and fall of their feet when pulled off the right way. This move is so slick that it may appear to consist of two touches, but it’s only one, fluid motion that fools defenders onto the wrong direction.
Flick the ball to the outside and then back inside using the same foot and in one fluid motion. The outward touch is what you should focus the most on since you have to use your whole body to convince the defender before flicking the ball back inside.
The V-pull is not easy to pull off, but practicing this move often is worth the effort.
Flick the ball slightly towards the defender, and just as he is about to make a tackle, pull the ball back across your body and direct it to the opposite foot, then release the ball into open space and run after it. When pulled off the right way, this move will beat even the best defenders.
The stop and go moves are some of the most useful tools a winger can have in their arsenal. It confuses and delays defenders and can be effective when trying to beat a defender on the sideline to setup a cross.
When evaluating a striker, it’s easy to look at their goal scoring rate and see how effective they’ve been. For a goalie, it is how many clean sheets they record, while for midfielders, it would revolve around their ball retention or number of completed passes/tackles, depending on the special roles of the midfielder.
So, when it comes to a winger, what role do they play in the team? Traditionally, we would say wingers are evaluated depending on the number of accurate crosses they drive into the box. Nonetheless, simply whipping in crosses from the bylines does not guarantee goals. There has to be players with the right momentum inside the box first.
A winger should be evaluated on the number of assists they make, and in case you were wondering, a cross that doesn’t lead into a goal isn’t an assist. As a matter of fact, a trigger-happy winger who keeps driving aimless crosses to the box may be liability to the team since this is giving possession away.
Now, you will find that the role of the traditional winger has changed dramatically in modern football. Instead of just keeping wide, isolating the full-backs and hitting the bylines, wingers are now expected to be more versatile and be players who can pose serious goal threats, as well as provide assists to the rest of the team.
Football has produced a good number of exhilarating wingers who have made the game worth watching for the full 90 minutes or more. These include players such as Angel Di Maria, Arjen Robben, Gareth Bale, Franck Ribbery, Christiano Ronaldo, Raheem Sterling, Ivan Perisic, Leroy Sane, Sadio Mane, and many more.
Raheem Sterling is one of the best wingers currently in the world, with a fast and direct style of play that gives defenders sleepless nights, scoring 23 goals and providing 12 assists and almost 2 dribbles per game last season. Together with Sadio Mane, these two players have been instrumental to the success of Liverpool under the management of Jurgen Klopp’s these few years. Mane is one of the fastest player in the English Premier League, showing great strength and unmatched skills in one-on-one situations.
For some teams, the traditional winger that runs along the sideline and gets many crosses into the box remains a valuable asset. Nonetheless, the game has evolved, and the roles of various positions on the field as well. As such, you now find the winger cutting into the pitch more often and seeking to score goals or provide better assists. To do this, the modern-day winger needs a new set of skills and tricks in their arsenal.