Soccer fans often admire the forwards in soccer more than any other player. They are often the most exciting players to watch and are usually involved in the critical moments of a game. But understanding what it means to be a forward can take time as there are many facets to a forwards roll. I’m going to explain everything you need to know here in this article.
Soccer forwards are the players on a team positioned nearest to the opponent’s goal and have the primary responsibility of creating and scoring goals for their team. Forwards play in the attacking half of a soccer field, and there are several soccer positions known as forwards.
It takes a lot of skill, responsibility, game awareness, and courage to play the role of a forward in soccer.
Let me show you what it takes to be a forward.
We’ll look at the fundamental roles and responsibilities of the position, the different areas of the field that a forward can play, and I’ll share some tips on how to be effective in this role.
What Is a Forward in Soccer?
Let’s start with the basics. To put it simply, the furthest forward positions of any soccer formation are taken up by the forwards.
A forward in soccer is the player responsible for turning the team’s efforts into goals and winning them the games. The forward also has the responsibility to stay at the attacking end of the field, close to the opposition goal.
The forwards do it all, from causing problems for the opposing defense to kicking the ball into the net.
There are many schools of thought in soccer regarding the role of a forward. There are also many ways to look at offensive positions.
Johan Cruyff, a revered coach and a scintillating player in his era, even surprisingly described forwards as:
“…the first line of defense.”Johan Cruyff
He was suggesting that there’s more to being a forward than just scoring goals and playing on the advanced end of the soccer pitch.
However, some fundamental roles and responsibilities apply to all forwards.
Role and Responsibilities of a Soccer Forward
There are six essential roles and responsibilities of forwards in soccer:
- Score goals for their team
- Create goal scoring opportunities for others
- Find space in the attacking half of the field
- Think and act quickly and decisively
- Support the defense
- Always be alert to what is happening around them
Let’s look at each of them in more detail.
1. Score Goals for Their Team
The primary responsibility of any forward in soccer is to score goals. And ideally, score a lot of them.
They should always be ready to shoot at the goal whenever they have the opportunity. They must be accurate in their shots and brave enough to take a chance.
The forward will play close to the opponent’s goal in any formation.
This provides them with the best chance of scoring any time the other players on the team pass the ball to them.
2. Create Goal-Scoring Opportunities for Others
In addition to scoring, the forwards are also responsible for building up and initiating the attacking play from wider and central areas of a soccer pitch.
While only one player gets on the score sheet, it’s the effort of all forwards who participated in it by performing their role effectively. (If you’re unsure what the different, forward positions are, I’ll be explaining them in more detail in a moment.)
A forward’s responsibility is to create chances for their teammates whenever they can.
A good forward must prioritize the team over himself. When they have a chance to make a pass, they must look to set up another player to take a shot.
3. Find Space Between the Opposition Defenders
A forward should always be looking for space between the opposition defenders.
Although the defenders will constantly try to close down any space, a great soccer forward will exploit any gaps left at the back and occupy that area.
Positioning themselves in space gives them a better chance of receiving the ball and using it more effectively. As a result, they will encounter less pressure with the ball and have more time to move it forward.
However, forwards are not always permitted space by the defenders and need to think quickly.
4. Think and Act Quickly and Decisively
A good forward must not only play ahead and score goals, but they must also have intelligence and know when to act.
They must make quick decisions on the field and act on those decisions.
This is particularly important in counterattacks. Quick decisions and precise passes are essential to scoring a goal and winning the game.
A forward must keep his head cool under pressure as they often have less than a second to respond to what is happening around them.
5. Support the Defense
In a game, a good forward should feel as comfortable playing the ball backward and keeping possession of the ball in their own half as they are at any other time.
In modern soccer, the best teams defend from the front. Therefore, it is essential a forward understands this responsibility and is alert to the defensive requirements of the role.
Although the forwards mustn’t get dragged too far back at the team’s detriment, they need to constantly be prepared to slot into the defensive areas during a defensive period of play.
6. Stay Alert to What Is Happening Around Them
Every soccer forwards responsibility is to stay alert to what is happening during a game.
It doesn’t matter if the forward is in possession of the ball or not. Part of their role is to be ready when called upon, and they won’t be prepared unless they know what is happening.
When they are waiting for the ball, they can be watching the play at the other end of the field. Then, when they have the ball, they can be alert to where the other players around them are running.
This awareness will ensure they are always ready to fulfill their role for the team.
Undoubtedly, being a forward is one of the most critical soccer positions, as the whole team depends on you! But several different soccer positions make up the group of forwards in a team.
Let’s look at each of them now.
The Three Forward Positions in Soccer
If we are to understand the role and responsibilities of forwards entirely, it is essential to consider all the positions included in the attacking dynamics of soccer.
Modern soccer is very different from when the pioneers of the game first invented it.
New methodologies, formations, and approaches are introduced with every passing year. For example, some teams play positional soccer, while others take a more direct attacking approach.
While it depends on the formation a team is using, there are some standard positions that cover the major attacking dynamics in soccer.
There are three main forward positions in soccer:
- Striker (or Center Forward)
- And Attacking Midfielder
Not making it too complex, here are is what you need to know about each of these forward positions.
1. Striker/Center Forward Position
Let’s start with the striker, often known as the number 9 in modern soccer.
Their sole purpose is to operate near the opponent’s goal or at the last line of the opposition’s defense. It’s usually the striker who all other nine outfield players are looking to feed the ball toward to take a shot at goal.
Depending on the coach’s choice of formation, one or more strikers can be included in the line-up.
In the formations like 4-4-2, the front two players act as the strikers as they occupy either side of the goal area. They are more inverted than the wingers as they’re far away from the touchline.
Although people often use the terms “striker” and “center forward” interchangeably, there is a difference between the two. I explain the difference in my article – Striker Vs Center Forward: What’s the difference? – If you want to find out more.
2. Winger Position
As the name suggests, the wingers are responsible for the “wings” of any line-up. They provide the width to create space for the central players/strikers.
The wingers are also responsible for providing the pinpoint crosses inside the box.
In modern soccer, wingers tend to cut inside towards the central areas of the pitch to score the goals themselves. Some of the greatest players of all time, such as Maradona, Messi, and Ronaldo, were also wingers for a large part of their careers.
It’s also important to mention wing-backs here.
Wing-backs are a hybrid version of a full-back and a winger in some ways.
They run up and down the flank throughout the game to perform both offensive and defensive duties and have the sides of the field all to themselves.
So you could say wing-backs are the wingers who drop deep into defensive areas to help the team from the back.
3. Attacking Midfielders/False 9 Position
The position of attacking midfielder is another forward position in soccer.
The player in this position can play this role in many different ways, and it’s known by many names – The number 10s, the second strikers, the false 9s.
All of these are essentially attacking midfielders.
Attacking midfielders operate as the hybrid of the midfielders and the attackers. Usually, they occupy the central region of the soccer pitch, just behind the furthest forward line of attackers.
They operate deep and contribute significantly to the attack.
Their primary purpose is to fluently circulate and distribute the ball while being offensive and try to unlock the defensive block of the opposition.
They also feed through balls and key passes to the strikers and wingers so that they can score goals.
When an attacking midfielder operates as the false 9 or second striker, they also tend to score goals and play in even offensive areas.
In formations such as a 4-3-1-2, the false 9 player operates as the sole central attacker behind two wide strikers.
Having a versatile attacking midfielder is also great for squad depth in soccer.
When the striker or even a winger is injured, these players can fill in for any attacking role, thanks to their diverse skill set, making them unique.
Essentials of Each Forward Position in Soccer
Now you have an idea of the attacking positions in your mind, let’s look at the key characteristics a forward must possess and the essentials they should master.
As discussed earlier, different positions work together to make an attacking line in soccer.
However, the player occupying each position has different skill sets, roles, and aims within a soccer game.
As we know now, a striker’s role is different from the wingers and attacking midfielders.
Similarly, the requirements of these positions are also different from the others on the field.
Let’s look at what it takes to be a successful striker, winger, and attacking midfielder:
Essentials of Being a Striker or Center Forward
When it comes to being a striker, one prominent trait is to be good at scoring goals.
It’s essential to be a pinpoint shooter who has an eye for the goal and can score from different angles or positions depending upon the opportunity in front of them.
But there’s more to it than being just a good goal scorer.
A good striker is agile and good in the air, scoring headers from set pieces and corners.
Positional awareness is also essential. Being at the right place at the right time helps strikers score loads of goals.
Positional awareness of the game comes with a lot of insights.
For example, being able to move between the lines, the off-ball movements, and understanding teammates’ moves all come into play when constructing a goal as a striker.
While it’s not essential, an attacker should be physically firm and solid to cope with challenging situations while in tight spaces or scoring headers at the end of the crosses provided by the wingers.
Being tall also comes in handy in the air.
Essentials for Playing as a Winger
It’s fascinating to look at what it takes to stand out.
While the strikers may need a diverse skill set, the winger’s job can be a trickier one, and so are their requirements.
In modern soccer, there’s a lot expected from the wingers; from playmaking to scoring the goals themselves, they do it all.
Since they have a larger area to cover, it’s a must for a winger to be fast and pacy. If they aren’t electrifying on the flanks, their effectiveness decreases.
These days, wingers are exceptionally talented from the tactical point of view.
Usually, these players have elite dribbling skills to take on the opposing defenders and run faster than the opposition. The pace and the dribbling ability are the basic characteristics to look for in a winger.
Since wingers today have hundreds of goals to their names, they also need to be great finishers and long-shot specialists.
Lionel Messi, Neymar Jr., and even Cristiano Ronaldo were all world-class wingers at some point in their careers. So it’s great to look up to their playing style if you want to see a complete winger in reality!
Have a look at this video below.
Essentials for Being an Attacking Midfielder
As I mentioned before, an attacking midfielder is one of the most versatile forward roles in soccer.
Only a positional master and technically gifted player can operate as an attacking midfielder or false 9.
These players are usually great dribblers, agile, and have a great understanding of the game.
Their reading of ongoing matches is typically exceptional as they have to anticipate and regulate the needs and movements of players around them while performing in the team’s core.
Their off-the-ball movements to clear the flanks for the wingers by drawing in the defenders or creating spaces for the strikers are essential.
Even dribbling into tight spaces to unselfishly feed the other forwards is done by attacking midfielders.
There are few physical requirements from them, as many physically average figures have made it to a world-class level in soccer.
Andres Iniesta, Diego Maradona, Michel Platini, Lionel Messi, all of these scintillating names are considered gods of this position while being physically average.
Hopefully, you now feel you have a basic understanding of a forward in soccer, their roles, and how they perform their specific duties to score beautiful goals.
For more information about soccer positions, check out one of my related articles below.