Your basic guide to soccer positions and soccer numbers
In order to understand modern Soccer and the different positional numbers that have evolved, it is first necessary to look at a traditional Soccer ‘eleven’. The ‘classic eleven‘ players of a soccer team were numbered 1-11 and played in a 4-4-2 formation. That’s 4 players in defense, 4 players in midfield and 2 players ‘upfront’ as forwards.
In the following article, I will detail each soccer players’ number, corresponding soccer position and role on the field, as well as link them with an internationally renowned player or players who have represented that number. This will help those new to the game understand the basics from which the modern game, its soccer positions and formations have evolved.
The Number 1 Shirt. (Goalkeeper)
The number 1 shirt in a ‘first eleven’ is always worn by the best or ‘first choice’ goalkeeper or ‘goalie’ for a particular side. His job is obviously to stop the ball going in the ‘back of the net’. However, a good goal keeper does more than that – he marshals his defensive back 4 and constantly talks to them in order to help them act as a unit and prevent the opposition from scoring.
Gordon Banks of Englands’ 1966 World Cup winning side is usually cited as the greatest goalkeeper of all time. More modern famous goalkeepers include Peter Schmeichel of Manchester United as well as the Juventus and Italian national keeper Gianluigi Buffon.
The Number 2 Soccer Shirt. (Defender)
In a standard Soccer eleven, this position is held by the first choice ‘right back’ who plays on the right side of the defensive four. One of the most famous players to wear this shirt was the legendary Cafu of Brazil. Gary Neville, now a respected soccer pundit also famously wore it during his career at Manchester United.
The Number 3 Soccer Shirt. (Defender)
The number 3 position is held by the team’s first choice ‘left back’ who plays on the left side of the defensive four. One of the most famous players to wear this shirt was AC Milan and Italian national legend, Paulo Maldini. Another notable player to wear the shirt was Roberto Carlos of Brazil.
The Number 4 Soccer Shirt. (Defender)
The number 4 soccer position is held by one of the team’s ‘first choice’ central defenders. Either on the left or right side of the center of defense. This is such a pivotal role at the heart of the defense, that it is also often worn by the teams Captain or Vice-Captain. Virgil Van Dijk of Liverpool is a classic modern-day example of a player who fulfills this role.
The Number 5 Soccer Shirt. (Defender)
The number 5 Soccer position is represented by the team’s other ‘first choice’ central defender or ‘center back’. His partnership with his fellow central defender, number 4, is essential for the ‘spine’ of the team and a stable defense which does not concede goals. Rio Ferdinand wore this number as captain of both Manchester United and England.
The Number 6 Soccer Shirt. (Defensive, Central Midfielder)
The player that occupies this position is the traditionally hard working ‘anchor’ of the team at the center of midfield. Perhaps, the player that has best exemplified this role was Xavi at Barcelona. At the number 6 position, Xavi was the pivot of the team through which all play passed and from where he controlled the game.
* Note, a notable exception here is that the number 6 shirt has also been worn by great defenders throughout history who operated in a ‘sweeper’ capacity. England’s World Cup winning captain Bobby Moore was one such player to wear the shirt in this capacity. Whilst Franco Baresi of Italy epitomizes the term ‘libero’.
The Number 7 Soccer Shirt. (Right Midfielder or Right Winger)
The No.7 role is a coveted position often fulfilled by the star player of a Soccer side and are known for lighting up soccer stadiums. This player operates on the right side of midfield, usually as a winger or possibly as a second striker. Take in a list of the famous names who have worn the shirt and you’ll quickly know how good you have to be to play this position! Kevin Keegan, George Best, ‘King’ Kenny Dalglish, David Beckham, Luis Figo and Cristiano Ronaldo have all made this famous shirt their own and lit up the pitch whilst doing so.
The Number 8 Soccer Shirt. (Attacking, Central Midfielder)
The player who wears the number 8 Soccer shirt is the other traditional central midfielder and who partners the number 6 to form the heart of the team. Together, these two seek to control the game. The number 8 is now more of a ‘box to box’ player who does everything from defending, to breaking up attacks, to scoring goals.
Two excellent examples of players who performed the role of this soccer position in recent times are Frank Lampard of Chelsea and Steven Gerrard of Liverpool. Both would actually play together in the center of midfield for England. Similarly, Andres Iniesta as an ‘8’ formed a formidable partnership at Barcelona with Xavi at ‘6’ in a team which is largely considered the best club side ever.
The Number 9 Soccer Shirt. (The Center Forward)
This is the center forward soccer position – the main man, tasked with putting the ball in the back of the net! A great goal scorer always occupies this position whatever formation is played. Notable players who have adorned this jersey and exhilarated in this role are: Barcelona and Holland ‘artist’ Johan Cruyff, Liverpool’s ‘prolific’ Robbie Fowler and Newcastle and England’s ‘complete’ all round striker Alan Shearer.
The Number 10 Soccer Shirt. (2nd Striker, Playmaker and often all round Genius!)
The playmaker position is the position reserved for a player with sweeping vision, instant situational awareness, and a passing range that can set the entire tempo of the game. Be it swift ‘one-twos’ to create openings, controlled possession to stabilize a game or forty yard cross field passes to unleash rapid counter attacks, the No.10 position usually orchestrates them and the player who plays it considered the ‘puppeteer’ of the team.
The No.10 shirt is the most coveted in Soccer, for the owner of this shirt is the player that makes your team tick. He is more often than not your artist, your genius and someone who can literally just ‘glide’ across the pitch. He’ll thread inch perfect passes and often be a ‘free kick’ set-piece specialist (eg Michel Platini). He’ll be the talisman of your team, the player people look to when things are down or when a ‘moment of magic’ is needed (eg Lionel Messi). He’ll be your team’s or the world’s greatest player (eg Pele) or he’ll be all of them combined and even a ‘one man team’ as was the GOAT -‘Diego Armando Maradona’.
The notable No.10s I mentioned ranged from Pele to Platini and Maradona to Messi. There have been other fantastic players who have played this position but the illustrations cited were for a reason; to play this role you quite simply need to be the very best!
The Number 11 Soccer Shirt. (Left Midfielder or Left Winger)
The No.11 shirt is traditionally worn by the player who plays on the left side of midfield or in a position on the team’s left wing. Ryan Giggs famously did it for Manchester United throughout his career. However, the Brazilian triplet of Rivelino, Rivaldo and Romario are perhaps the most famous names to have worn the shirt. Albeit with the latter two more centrally located than purists would consider the position held by.
A notable name from the current era, ‘Neymar’, has also worn this shirt for Santos and Brazil. Which leads us onto a famous facet of the game and largely how high ‘squad numbers’ came into effect.
Squad Numbers in brief – fun fact!
Modern football really started to move away from traditional numbering when David Beckham realized he was not going to get the coveted ‘Number 7’ shirt from the legend of Real Madrid, ‘Raul’. He asked instead for the number 23 shirt in recognition of a legend of a different sport – Michael Jordan of the Chicago Bulls. Conversely, just recently, Lionel Messi has turned down Neymar’s magnanimous offer to give up his prized No.10 shirt for Messi in a show of respect. Messi has opted instead to wear the number 19 shirt at PSG! As a famous player once said about soccer ‘it’s a funny old game!’
A fan and participator of more or less all sports up to University level from Burnley, England. I am now writing as a freelance sports journalist. My speciality in particular lies in global Football (soccer) – which I played to a semi-professional level.