What Is a Winger Position in Soccer? The Ultimate Guide

Michael Claunch

Understanding different positions in soccer is a precondition for appreciating the finer points of tactics in this sport, including formations and attack patterns. While no two players are exactly alike, those that play the same position have similar responsibilities, which is why they are selected and trained with a certain profile in mind. The winger position is a good example – players in this role have a very specific job to do, and their contributions to the team are measured in different terms than for a striker or a defensive back. The role of a winger is largely defined by the side of the field he occupies for most of the game and his ability to leverage speed into swift and flexible attacks on the goal.

Here is everything you need to know about the soccer winger position and the primary talents and skills necessary for good performance on the wing. We’ll also mention some of the players whose style of play contributed to the current prototype for the position.

What is the winger position in soccer?

Attacking midfielders who are tasked with patrolling the areas along either sideline are commonly described as wingers, as in ‘those who attack from the wing’. Since there are two such areas on the field, wingers can be divided according to the side on which they predominantly play. That’s why we can talk about the left-wing position and right-wing position, and players are typically locked into one of those based on their dexterity. Left-footed players are usually assigned the job of the winger on the left side, while right-footed individuals tend to perform better on the right side.

Of course, dexterity is not the only relevant skill, as all wingers are expected to be very fast, have a great sense of timing, possess solid dribbling skills, and pass the ball well from a side. They are among the players who run the most during the game, so they also need to have good stamina so they can remain fresh and preserve some burst until the end. Most players spend their entire careers as wingers, although in certain cases it’s possible to play the position on a part-time basis. It’s common for players who are primarily seen as forwards or central attacking midfielders to play as wingers in certain personnel combinations or strategic matchups.

What does a winger do in soccer?

As midfielders operating in a specific region of the field, wingers have numerous responsibilities both on defense and when their team has the ball. Their primary duty is to advance the ball along their designated sideline and create chances for themselves or their teammates. Wingers are usually among the fastest players on a team, as outrunning the opposition while carrying the ball is their trademark skill. Wingers also need to be capable of launching long crosses that precisely target the centrally positioned forward, who can attempt headers or volleys without trying to possess the ball. Passes from the wing and typically made at full speed and from a difficult angle, requiring soccer wingers to have perfect body coordination and considerable ball control ability.

Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mané in the foreground / “Mané” by Terry Kearney is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/?ref=openverse.

Depending on the formation the team uses, wingers could also be expected to contribute to a defensive effort, again along the sideline. In the traditional 4-4-2 formation, they are expected to move back and forth as the flow of play dictates and attack along the wings whenever their team wins the ball. Meanwhile, in a 5-3-2 formation they might be asked to play slightly closer to the middle and help feed the forwards in this manner. Wingers are also frequently tasked with taking corner shots and free kicks from their side of the field, since the ability to find finishers in front of the goal translates well into set-piece actions.

How often do wingers score goals?

Since wingers play mostly in the opponent’s half and regularly touch the ball, they are among the positions that can rack up a lot of goals. Goals often happen on quick counterattacks, where a winger might find a good angle to get past the defense, cut toward the goal, and launch a powerful shot at full speed. While wingers are usually not the primary scorers on their teams, it’s not rare for a player in this position to be a highly prolific goal-getter.

Much like other midfielders, wingers are more likely to assist on goals than to score themselves, and this is what makes them very valuable to a team. A well-timed cross from either side that is placed just at the right spot can create a favorable chance for a skilled striker. That’s why the number of assists over the course of a season may be more indicative of a winger’s quality of play than his goal totals. The best wingers can consistently create opportunities that lead to positive outcomes, even if they don’t always get to finish the action on their own.

Who are the most famous wingers in soccer history?

Some of the most iconic soccer players in history played at the position and defined what a winger is in soccer today. Brazilian legend Garrincha is widely credited as the player who provided an early blueprint for modern wingers, playing with an unmatched mix of dribbling ability and creativity. George Best of Manchester United is another hugely influential winger from this era, and he instilled fear in defenses with his dominant speed and the ability to score at will.

More recently, players like Luis Figo, Rivelino, David Beckham, and Frank Ribery became international superstars while playing primarily on the wing. This goes to show that despite soccer’s evolution away from traditional concepts, well-rounded wingers remain as important as ever. The current generation of players includes several uniquely talented wingers who are contributing to the development of this position and adding even more versatility to the mix. Sadio Mane, Raheem Sterling, and Mohamed Salah are some of the names that could join the all-time greats when their careers are finished.

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