5 attributes every football winger must have
by Pablo M06th May 2022
Some positions in football are a must. For example, you can’t play without a goalkeeper. Other roles come and go in fashion, depending on the predominant tactics of the time. That is the case with football wingers. This post discusses the position and the key characteristics the greatest football wingers share.
Let’s start by defining the role. A football winger is an attacking midfielder that moves close to the sidelines. Their primary function is to support the forwards to create scoring opportunities. They usually achieve this by running on the extreme right or left and crossing balls into the box. Occasionally, a winger moves in diagonal toward the centre of the field and faces the goal to score themselves.
Do not confuse the role of a winger with a fullback or a midfielder. In its more pure form, a football winger is an offensive role without defensive duties. That is why often commentators say that wingers are on the brink of extinction. A pure winger has very little involvement in defence, and it is usually positioned one step ahead of the midfield and in the same vertical line as the fullback.
When looking at the greatest wingers of all time, they all share exceptional technical skills and speed. However, as they aged and their speed or stamina reduced, their skills allowed them to move into creative roles in the centre of the field or as goal poachers.
Football wingers support forwards in attack, but they start a few steps behind them. So, speed makes up for starting behind and helps break the defensive line while keeping pace with the forwards. Consequently, most goals created from the sideline are pretty simple: the winger outpaces the fullback and crosses to the forward, who can shoot at the goal with little opposition.
The pace of a football winger is also crucial from a strategic standpoint. A fast winger makes it very difficult for the opposition to play the offside trap or use a high line. In addition, knowing a fast winger is playing on their side, fullbacks may not join in the attack as often.
As we write this post, Kingsley Coman is among the fastest football players in the world. The Frech winger set a speed Bundesliga record in 2019/2020, clocking a top speed of 35.7 km/h. An insane pace considering that the 100 meters speed record is 37.58 km/h. Since then, other players have broken his record, showing the level of athleticism that professional players strive towards. See some examples of Kingsley’s speed in the video below.
Playing close to the sideline has advantages and disadvantages. There are fewer passing options than in the centre of the field, but at the same time, fewer opposition players challenge the ball. Therefore, wingers find themselves in one-on-one situations more frequently than other players. So, it is fundamental that wingers know how to dribble down the sidelines. Football wingers that combine speed with dribbling are lethal.
René Houseman is considered one of the most talented wingers of all time. While not as famous outside Argentina as other players such as Maradona and Messi, he is a legend for Argentine fans. René was a small player with an outstanding dribbling ability that became unstoppable when combined with his acceleration and agility. Unfortunately, not many videos are available because he played most of his career for minor Argentine teams in the 70s. However, this Argentina 78 World Cup video is a good sample of his skills.
While all players should have a decent first touch, this skill is a must for a winger. The quality of the first touch influence what happens immediately after. An excellent first touch ensures that the winger keeps possession and allows them to move the ball into an advantageous position to apply speed or use a dribbling trick. This skill is critical in counterattacks initiated from a long ball, a typical scenario for wingers to be involved.
One of the wingers with a next to perfect first touch is Riyad Mahrez. The video below showcases his skills and how important first touch is for counterattacks.
Wingers and fullbacks cross the ball into the box more than any other players and often do it at speed. They cross the ball often because wingers still have to face the centre backs once they beat the fullback. So, as soon as the wingers dribble past a fullback, they cross the ball to incoming teammates. However, a good kicking technique is required to send the ball into the box at an angle that allows incoming teammates to score easily.
Don’t assume crossing is all about airborne balls. A good cross can (and in many situations must) be a quick ball on the ground. So, crossing skills are not only about how to kick the ball but also knowing what type of crossing to use. In addition, there may be situations where dribbling into the box is more effective, for example, if forwards are keeping centre backs and other opposition players busy and away from the incoming winger.
Cristiano Ronaldo is undoubtedly one of the best players of all time. Although Cristiano plays forward positions nowadays, he started his career as a winger for Sporting and Manchester United. As a winger, he mastered all the skills listed in this post: speed, dribbling, first touch, crossing and scoring. However, his crossing skills are often overlooked. The video below is a sample of this aspect of his game.
Once a winger beats the fullback, centre backs are often busy with the forwards. This scenario presents scoring opportunities that must be taken. A football winger doesn’t need to have a powerful shot (although some do) but must know when to take chances and use accuracy to score. So, while football wingers’ primary role is to feed goal opportunities to the forwards, they are also expected to score.
When a winger’s assists and goals are combined, they often top the charts in goal contributions. For example, Eden Hazard was the player that contributed to the most goals in the 2018-19 Premier League season when playing at Chelsea, with 15 assists and 16 goals. The video below shows all his goals and assists during that season.
If you are thinking of becoming a winger or are a coach looking for one, the list above is an excellent place to start, but there are many more attributes you need to look for.
What do you think makes the perfect winger? We would love to know. Please leave your comments on our Facebook page.