Speed is one of the most essential skills for any soccer player, as it creates an advantage both when dribbling the ball and when moving without it. Fast players can turn the most ordinary actions into instant goal chances simply by virtue of outrunning their defender or moving into free space. That’s why for some positions at the professional level it’s almost mandatory to run very fast, especially for attacking midfielders, forwards, and wings.
Many professional players are speedy, but only a handful of them are consistently able to accelerate at will and reach top speeds comparable with elite sprinters. Watching such a player at work can be an amazing experience, which is one of the reasons why fans care about who is the fastest soccer player on a specific team or in a certain era. The role of speed explains why some soccer stars can seemingly dance around their defenders and why the game is getting more exciting every year.
Table of Contents
How essential is top speed in soccer?
Soccer players run a lot during a game, but not all of the running is performed at the same intensity. There are a lot of times when moving at a moderate speed is enough to keep the play going, or even moments when slowing down is preferable. However, in the most critical situations arriving at a spot just a half second before the opponent can mean the difference between scoring a goal and failing to touch the ball at all. Naturally, the players capable of running at elite speed in a short burst are much more successful in contested situations of this kind.
On rare occasions (such as during a sudden counterattack or a successful solo run), a player might have a chance to showcase his top speed on a longer stretch, and this is where speedsters can assert their dominance. When a player has enough space to reach and maintain his top speed, he becomes extremely difficult to catch by the defense. The fastest strikers can be very elusive and penetrate the opposing defense almost at will. Of course, there is still the matter of putting the ball in the net after outrunning the defense, so pure speed means nothing without superb ball control to go along with it.
Who are the fastest players in history?
The history of soccer is full of examples of very speedy players who had remarkable careers and captured the imagination of the fans with incredible moves and spectacular goals. In recent times, we have the technology to clock their maximum speed precisely, so it’s possible to settle the debate regarding who is the fastest soccer player in the world based on objective measurements. As it turns out, a small group of players stands out for the ability to exceed 20 miles per hour on short sprints during a game.
The current record holder for the fastest sprint in soccer is Arjen Robben, a former winger who played with lots of success for several elite European teams, including Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, and Chelsea. The famous Dutch international reached a top speed of nearly 23 mph during a game at the 2014 World Cup. The fact that he was already 30 years old when he set this record only makes the feat more impressive. However, considering the amount of lightning-fast players in the current generation, this record might not stand for much longer.
Who is the fastest among current players?
Due to better talent selection and more advanced training procedures, modern players are faster than their predecessors. The list of the fastest soccer players in the world is populated mostly by active performers, including some of the biggest names in the sport. Gareth Bale, Kylian Mbappe, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Leo Messi have all exceeded the 20 mph threshold in a game, which goes to prove that elite speed is a key ingredient of greatness. It wouldn’t be a huge surprise if one of those players sets a new record for top sprinting speed in the coming years.
According to measurements, Mbappe’s top speed can reach more than 22 miles per hour, and it represents one of his primary advantages on the field. The popular French forward is still only 24 years old, and it’s entirely possible that he still has some room for improvement. Erling Haaland, a talented striker from Norway, is another interesting name to watch – at the age of 22, he is almost as fast as Mbappe, and he will soon become the fastest soccer player ever if he continues along his current career path. Older players like Messi and Ronaldo may have lost a step since their athletic peak, but they still combine good speed with amazing ball skills and knowledge of tactics, which explains their sustained brilliance.
How can soccer players improve their top speed?
Speed is a core skill that any soccer player, regardless of position, needs to develop. Consequently, it is heavily emphasized in training at all levels. Some players are more talented in this regard, but much like in athletics, they need specialized preparation to reach their full potential. Strength and endurance training are mandatory, but trainers should also look to develop various aspects of speed, from linear and top speed to agility, multi-directional running, and change of direction. Balancing all those elements is the only way to create a soccer player with a full complement of moves.
Tactical deployment on the field is also very important for a fast player to realize his advantage. Coaches have the responsibility to strategically put such players in situations where they can leverage their speed into scoring chances. They also need to guide the players on how to utilize the natural tools they have and use sudden acceleration and deceleration to manipulate the defense and win duels. A player who understands how to use his speed in the context of a soccer game can be nearly impossible to defend, even if his top speed is not at an elite level.