What Is a Football Wingback? Player Role Analysis

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Football wingback: There is a range of different positions to get to grips with in soccer. Midfielders and strikers might be more talked about, but what about the wingback?

Over the last decade or so, it’s become one of the most important positions in the game, with many of the best teams in the world relying on their wingbacks to drive them forward.

In this article, we’ll be taking a look at the position of the wingback – its history, the duties associated with it, and how wingbacks are used in the modern game. Let’s go!

What is a wingback in soccer?

A wingback in soccer is someone who is placed in the defensive position of the pitch in the traditional fullback position. They are commonly used in formations that use 3 central defenders. The wide defenders are pushed higher up the field, usually in the same line as the deep-lying midfielders.

A football wingback is very similar to a modern fullback. The main difference lies in the offensive aggression that a wingback plays with. A wingback pushes much further up the pitch and quite literally acts as a winger when in the opposition’s half. However, wingbacks do still have defensive responsibilities.

In a defense that uses 2 center backs, fullbacks may drift more centrally to provide cover and track players. But, because wingbacks are usually employed in formations that use 3 center backs. A wingback stays very close to the touchline to provide as much cover as possible to the widest areas of the pitch.

A wingback is, as the name suggests, a combination of a fullback and a winger. They are the wide players in formations that use a back three, such as 3-5-2, 3-4-3, and 3-4-1-2.

Another benefit of using wingbacks exclusively to provide width is that it means that a team does not require wingers. The team then has the option to add an additional midfielder to the team to increase their chances of winning their midfield battles.

It is widely accepted that midfield battles, more often than not, determine the fate of any given football match. If you’re able to win them, you’re in a much better position to take the attack to the opposition.

What is the role of a wingback in soccer?

The role of a football wingback is similar to that of a fullback, however, they are expected to put their attacking credentials ahead of their defensive duties.

The thought process is that teams have chosen to play with three center-backs so they feel they can cover the wingback sufficiently, therefore, allowing them to roam forward and act as another attacker.

The role is tough role because players are expected to work hard up and down their respective sidelines helping both the attack and the defense.

When playing with wingbacks it is highly unlikely that the manager will employ wingers on the side. So the football wingback is fully in charge of the side of the pitch.


Wingbacks are expected to make attacking runs more often than not and are required to produce either crosses or key passes to their forwards.

As opposed to overlapping, they are required to create the chances themselves and make opportunities for the advancing forwards.

They are also required to stay in those wide positions as an alternative to the central positions. This gives the team another outlet and one that can create many promising chances from those important wide positions.

The wingback needs to be able to take the ball moving forward at speed. So that they can keep the attack flowing and keep the opposition defense busy, not giving them a chance to fully regroup and block the attack.

What Does A Wingback Actually Do?

We’ve already said that wingbacks have more attacking responsibilities. But what does that actually entail? Well, to an extent, it depends on the exact team and system that they’re playing in.

One of the most common things wingbacks might do is make runs down the wings with the ball, in much the same way as a traditional winger would do.

The aim here is usually to get into a good position to cross the ball to a teammate located in a more central position to hopefully give them a chance to score or set up a goal.

Occasionally, this might even lead to goal-scoring opportunities for the wingbacks themselves. The fullbacks in Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea team are as likely to score as the attacking players, for example.

They might also make runs down the wing without the ball, to provide a passing option for their teammates. This helps to build attacks by giving midfielders an option to move the ball to a wider area if the midfield area becomes too congested to get through.

In many systems, wingbacks overlap with wingers or other wide forwards. Overlapping is when the wingback runs past their teammate (in this case usually a winger) with the ball on the outside.

What are the qualities of a good wingback?

A good football wingback needs to have several qualities to help them stand out from the rest of the bunch. Two of the main attributes you need to have are perseverance and patience.

The constant need to attack and defend at the same time can be a frustrating job. But it can also reap many rewards if you keep plugging away and working hard.

Alongside these two attributes, it is key for a player to have incredibly good stamina, pace, and work rate.

This is important because players are always on the move. They will be attacking and defending constantly so need to help the side both offensively as well as defensively.

Managers feel it is essential for a player to work hard in the wingback position and have to rely on them.

It is becoming even more important now that players can produce a good final ball. Whether that is a deep cross, across from the backline, or a key through ball to the strikers, wingbacks are expected to create just as much as attackers.

It is important that as a wingback you stay fit and you are able to perform for the full 90 minutes of a game to your full capability.

The team is relying on the wingback to do a lot of duties. And if the player playing that position is unable to complete the full 90 minutes or just thinks they can coast through the game they will be found out.

Difference between wingback and fullback

Despite playing in very similar positions the role does differ. Because you are expected as a wingback to do both the role of a full-back and a wide midfielder. A football wingback may focus their game on the attacking play. A fullback will want to support their centreback teammates in defending the goal more than helping the attacking aspect of the game.

Wing-backs are the wide defenders in a back five, whereas full-backs are the wide defenders in a back four. Therefore, wing-backs have extra defensive support from another central defender. That means they tend to take up wider defensive positions. Naturally, this means a back five will usually cover more ground than a back four.

In an attack, full-backs can provide the team’s width. On the other hand, wing-backs almost always will provide the width. In back-four systems, the full-backs sometimes come inside while midfielders stay out wide. However, in systems that use a back five, the wing-backs will almost always be the widest players.

Who Is the Best Wing Back in Soccer?

Assessing this position can be tough, especially given the overlap between “full backs” and wing-backs in modern soccer. Undeniably, wing-backs are involved in the attack. But they are not necessarily top goal scorers.

There are many excellent contenders for the “best wingback ever” but one name that is mentioned repeatedly is Phillip Lahm. Phillip was a German player who played most recently for Bayern Munich. He helped both his club and national team win several major championships, including the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

He was well known for tenacious attacking, where he would cut inside to deliver penetrating passes or shots. Despite his small stature, he was an excellent tackler with great athletic abilities.

There are several examples of great football wingbacks. We’ll take a look at a few here, including a quick look at what they contributed to their teams.

Trent Alexander-Arnold

The right-sided wingback for Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool team, Alexander-Arnold is already one of the world’s best.

Though he starts in the position of a right defender, terrorizes the opposition by drifting into dangerous positions in midfield and making incisive passes forward.

He also links up perfectly with Mohamed Salah on the right wing, providing Liverpool’s goal-scoring machine with ample service.

Roberto Carlos

The Brazilian legend was a hero both for his national team and for Real Madrid. And he is often credited with shaping the modern iteration of the football wingback position.

He was famous for making bombing runs down the left flank, overlapping with his more attacking teammates, and sometimes even getting on the scoresheet himself.

His fellow wingback for the Brazilian national team, Cafu, was also one of the position’s greats.

Achraf Hakimi

Born to Moroccan parents in Madrid, Hakimi now represents the Moroccan national team and Paris Saint-Germain. Though young, he’s widely considered one of the best wingbacks in the world.

In addition to his speed and general athleticism, his ability to play accurate passes from deep positions makes him a terror to defend against.

Sum up

So, there you have it, an explanation of the position of wingback. It might be a position that’s only really come to prominence in the 21st century. However, football wingbacks have already made their mark on the game. And their role is still adapting as coaches come up with new ways to use them in new tactical systems.

To learn more about football tactics and gain insights from coaches at the top of the game, visit FootballTerms.

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