The soccer player wearing the number 8 on their back can often stand out from the crowd of other players. Throughout the history of soccer, the number 8 position and role has developed and changed into what it is today. But you are probably here because you want to understand the meaning of the number 8 in soccer and why it is so important.
The number 8 in soccer is traditionally a box-to-box midfielder that plays in central midfield. The player in the number 8 position participates in both defending and attacking for their team as well as taking shots at goal. It is a high-energy position that requires a high level of stamina.
The number 8 position in soccer is crucial! In this article, I will give you a complete overview of why this position is so significant.
I’ll show you:
- What position a number 8 plays
- What the number 8 means
- The role of a number 8
- Why they have to be the fittest player on a team
- and give you some examples of the best number 8’s ever to play the game
Let’s get started!
What Position Does The Number 8 Play?
The traditional number 8 plays in the position of central midfield and is also known as a box-to-box midfielder. This position carries the responsibilities of both defending and attacking for their team.
A box-to-box midfielder is one of the most common explanations to describe the areas of the pitch that a number 8 will cover. This means that the player will cover the ground between the 18-yard boxes at either end of the field and run in that central channel.
There may be exceptions during the run of play where a number 8 will drift wide or very deep in their box to help defend. Most of the time, center midfielders remain in that central channel between boxes.
A number 8 in soccer plays centrally on the pitch and distributes the ball to the other players ahead, behind, or wide of their position.
Positionally, number 8’s need to be aware of where they are in relation to the ball.
In most cases, they need to be behind or beside the ball when on the defense.
You’ll notice that many central midfielders often drift left or right as they follow the movements of the ball and the opposing players.
Most central midfielders will mark their opposing player in their position while also being aware of when they need to close the player carrying the ball down.
There will be many times in a game that a number 8 will need to attack the ball and try to win the ball back by making crucial tackles or interceptions.
The number 8 is a player that should always be looking to find space and positions on the field where they can receive the ball from their teammates.
Center midfielders that play in the number 8 position are also players who can make attacking runs beyond their attacking midfield teammates or strikers and have attempts at scoring.
Occasionally their positioning can be more offensive and higher up the pitch.
In many teams and formations, the number 6 position holds a defensive position and shape on the field that brings stability and support to the center backs.
In contrast, the number 8 position has more freedom to experiment and explore more spaces and opportunities.
When defending, the number 8 will chase down and pressurize the opposing player who has the ball.
What Does The Number 8 In Soccer Mean?
In soccer, you will see many formations, positions, and types of players used. Each of these is used because of the different strengths and attributes they provide to a team.
Certain positions require different attributes than others and contribute in unique ways to the overall performance of a team.
The number 8 position in soccer has its own specific set of responsibilities and expectations that impact a game based on the player’s performance.
The number 8 position should defend and attack and contribute with some goals from midfield. The number 8 is involved in every part of the play on the field and needs serious fitness, endurance, and ability.
Find out how to increase your own level of stamina in my article – How to Increase Stamina for Soccer.
Midfield positions in the game of soccer carry responsibilities that can highly affect the success of the team.
Each midfield position has its role in the team’s system that works together alongside their midfield teammates.
When each player fulfills their role and responsibilities correctly, the unit performs at a higher level.
The most common numbers used to specify the three more central midfield positions are the numbers 6, 8, and 10.
The number 8 describes the position of a central midfielder who plays a more overall role in the team. A number 6 position often plays a more defensive midfield position. And a number 10 plays as a creative attacking midfielder.
It may surprise you to know that soccer players did not always wear numbers on their jerseys. I wrote more about it in my article – What do soccer jersey numbers mean? – but it wasn’t until the 1928 season that soccer players began wearing jersey numbers on the pitch.
The lower numbers were allocated to defensive players, and the higher numbers were given to more attacking-minded players.
At this time, the number 8 became associated with the box-to-box midfield player on a team.
In modern soccer, players no longer have to wear a specific number when playing in certain positions. Instead, they can choose their preferred number. This number becomes their own for the duration of the season.
The purpose of jersey numbers became more about distinguishing between players throughout a season rather than defining players in specific positions in a soccer formation.
The positional number system is still used in theory today, although the jersey numbers do not follow the same system.
Today, many midfielders play in the number 8 position but wear a jersey with other numbers such as 6, 18, 14, or others.
You can find out more about how numbers relate to certain positions in my article – Soccer Formations: A Complete Guide.
What Role Does A Number 8 Play?
The number 8 center midfield position is recognized as the “workhorse” of the team.
These players often cover the most amount of ground during a game because of the vast responsibilities they have on their shoulders and the distance they need to cover.
Defense Role of a Number 8
Center midfielders that play the number 8 role need to have the speed and agility to get back behind the ball when their team is on the defense.
They support their defenders by covering open spaces, making crucial tackles, and blocking shots from the edge of the box.
A coach may ask a center midfielder to mark certain opposing players when their team is on the defense in some games. Number 8 players need to be fast enough to help defend and strong enough to challenge opposing players for the ball.
They need to be unafraid of making strong and fair tackles that can win their team the ball. They must also have the ball skills and passing ability to convert high pressured defensive moments into fast counterattacks with a killer pass!
When the ball is turned over, it is often midfielders who receive the ball first and have the opportunity to make a through-ball pass to their wingers or strikers and shift the flow of play into an attack.
Find more out about what it takes to defend well in soccer in my article – 21 Qualities of a Good Soccer Defender.
Attacking Role of a Number 8
Number 8’s are a vital part of their team’s attacking options.
Most attacks begin with the central midfielders either carrying the ball forward or playing a through-ball or assist through to the strikers and wingers.
Number 8’s play an essential role in the build-up play towards an attack or a goal. When their team is in possession of the ball and looking for opportunities to enter into the final third and score a goal, number 8 players are often at the center of keeping the ball.
Every pass that a number 8 makes must be followed up by the player running into space and looking to receive the ball back. This helps the other players to continue to look for attacking spaces and runs that might penetrate the opposition’s defense.
Although the number 10 position is the play-making position in many teams, the number 8 is the overall ball carrier who links up with attacking players to find the breakthrough towards the goals.
The number 8 will often find themselves in a position to take a long shot at the goals and should have decent shooting abilities. Most teams expect goal contributions from their midfield players throughout a season.
In some situations, during a game, number 8 players can make runs into the box to attempt getting on the end of a good cross and scoring headers.
In the case of attacking corner kicks, central midfielders are known for either making a late run into the box or waiting on the edge of the box for a volley or long shot at goal.
The Number 8 is the Fittest Player On The Team
The players who play the number 8 role need to be the fittest in the team. Not only is it common for these players to cover the most distance on the field, but they are also the most involved in the game.
Their movements on the field are not just simply running, but mostly running with the ball, making passes, or having to sprint back to defend and make tackles!
Central midfielders average between 10 and 12 kilometers of distance covered per game.
Because of stats like this and the all-around performances that number 8 players provide, they are recognized as the fittest players in the squad.
Quick and effective decision-making is also a big part of training to be a successful number 8. This position requires a player to be quality in all areas of the game.
Find out how to quickly get fit for soccer in my article – How To Get in Shape for Soccer.
Next, let’s look at some of the greatest number 8s that have ever played the game.
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Best Number 8 Players in Soccer
It wouldn’t make sense to have an entire article on the number 8 in soccer without talking about some of the great number 8’s in soccer history!
So let me list five of the best and then check out the video showing 10 more phenomenal midfielders at the end of this list.
Gattuso played as a number 8 central midfielder for AC Milan and Italy. He was one of the hardest working and talented number 8 midfielders in footballing history.
Gattuso was known more for his defensive abilities that stabilized his team; however, he still scored some world-class goals that contributed to his team’s goal tallies.
His aggression, work rate, and ball skills made him an iconic central midfielder.
Frank Lampard was one of the most lethal goal-scoring number 8 midfielders who played in England. He represented his country as an Englishman and played for Chelsea football club for most of his career.
Frank Lampard was known for his work rate, his brilliant passing abilities, and most of all, his shooting abilities. He became Chelsea’s all-time leading goal scorer, which is a rare feat for a midfielder.
Frank Lampard was a leader for his team and an exemplary representation of a world-class center midfielder who covered all the expectations of his position. He defended well, covered a lot of ground every game, and scored important goals for his team.
Steven Gerrard was one of the most influential central midfielders of his generation. He played for Liverpool and England and was frequently the first name on the manager’s team sheet.
Steven Gerrard was a tough, hardworking, and decisive midfielder. He is remembered for his crunching tackles that won his team the ball so often and his rocketing long-range shots that scored so many game-winning goals!
Steven Gerrard became so influential in matches that many opposing players feared him when on the field. Gerrard was a brilliant team leader who led by example as an all-around midfielder!
Andres Iniesta is one of the best number 8 midfielders ever to play the game. He is one of the most successful midfielders of all time. He is remembered as one of the most natural and skillful players to play for Barcelona and Spain.
Iniesta was a number 8 who was better known for his attacking prowess and skill. He had a brilliant vision to pick out his attacking teammates with pinpoint passes and strategic movements on the pitch.
Iniesta and his teammates became famous for a possession-based style of soccer called “Tiki taka,” which proved successful for his team. Iniesta played with quick feet, fantastic dribbling skills, and effective decision-making at the shortest notice.
Iniesta was a player who could turn ordinary game situations into goal-scoring opportunities with a single pass.
Paul Scholes was one of the most talented English midfielders of all time. He played for Manchester United and England. Paul Scholes had the vision and passing ability that far surpasses anything else seen in Europe’s leagues. Scholes was far above the rest when it came to ball distribution and reading the game well.
Paul Scholes was one of the most intelligent players England has ever produced and was revered by opposing players from all around the world.
Paul Scholes was a tough, aggressive player who never shied away from a strong tackle or challenge. His quick decision-making made it seem like he was always ten steps ahead of the rest.
Paul Scholes scored many world-class goals that many strikers would be proud of! His long passes were the most accurate that many have ever seen. It has been said that he could hit a teammate on the head from nearly 100 meters away.
Paul Scholes was another example of the epitome of a number 8 midfielder, even though his jersey number was 18!
The modern soccer game doesn’t require players to wear set numbered shirts based on their positions anymore; however, the positions and roles have not changed.
Many modern-day players do not wear the number 8 shirt when playing that position but are still expected to meet the same requirements of that role.
The number 8 central midfielder position is one that is diverse and all-inclusive. It requires a player with the skill, quality, and ability to both defend and attack.
The responsibility to be strong defensive support and a contributing threat on the attack is a weekly expectation for number 8 midfielders.
The benefits of playing this position are that the player is always involved in the game and has many opportunities to impact the game in all areas.
It requires hard work and a lot of fitness but can be one of the most enjoyable positions in the sport for those who are able to play!
Find out more about positions in soccer by checking out one of my related articles: