With one eye very much on their dreams of becoming a Premier League football player, many of the players I’ve worked with in my junior team have asked me the following question:
What is the easiest position to play in football?
Of course, there is no right or wrong answer, although I do invite them to think about the strengths and skills needed for each position in detail and come up with their own answer.
I tell them that a great clue to discovering the nature of a position to excel in is to look at the grass roots of the game and watch any kickabout in the park between a bunch of kids.
Children have a great way of putting themselves into a hierarchy automatically when it comes to football and for every kid who looks like the next Ronaldo zipping the ball past the other players at lightning speed and scoring goals, there is always one poor child who’s been made to stand in goal because they’re deemed to be not very good.
Every player who asks me the question can identify with that scenario themselves. This must make Goalkeeper the easiest position to play right?
Well, let’s try to back that statement up for a moment. It’s certainly true to say a goalkeeper requires a different skill set to playing in an outfield position.
There are some examples of goalkeepers who play in big games who look like they’ve been told to stand there because they can’t do anything else!
For instance, in 2017 Arsenal played an FA Cup game against a team with a goalkeeper called Wayne Shaw who weighs 320lbs! Before the game, legendary Arsenal striker Ian Wright put him through his paces to test him.
If he can be a goalkeeper, then surely it must be the easiest position to play! Everyone else has to run! Well, whilst kids in the park might want to put the one kid who can’t run in goal and forget about it, most top teams class their goalkeeper as the most important position in the team.
The great English Manager Brian Clough won the European Cup (forerunner to Champions League) twice with an average team but an exceptional goalkeeper in Peter Shilton.
He said, “Shilton gave everyone confidence. It spread through the side … The defenders felt safer, and the forwards thought if we could nick a goal, there was more than an evens chance the opposition wouldn’t score. Shilton was the most important player in the team.”
So, if the goalkeeper is the most important person in the team it follows that it can’t be the easiest position to play right?
Well, what about playing defence? That looks easy enough. All you need to do is stand in the way!
But is that ignoring the true art of defending? Something that is crucial to the success of any team.
Just as any football team values the contribution of their goalkeeper, they do the same with defenders.
The rules of football are that you start every game with a 0-0 draw. If you don’t concede a goal, the worst you can do is keep your 0-0 draw. That brings with it a pressure to defend your goal in the right way which is itself a difficult skill.
Look at some of the great defenders in history and you’ll discover just how good they were at reading the game and knowing where and how to position their body at any given moment to stop the attacker.
One of the best of all time was Italian defender Franco Baresi who really did turn defending into an art form. It’s impossible to watch him tackling, blocking, heading and defending and think, “that looks easy!”
So, what about playing in midfield is that the easiest position? Midfielders get by doing a bit of attacking and a bit of defending so are they ‘Jack of all trades and master of none’? Does this make midfield the easiest position?
Well apart from the fact that some of the most skilful soccer players in history have been midfielders, for instance Argentina’s captain Diego Maradona, midfielders do of course have to work harder than anyone else because in order to do their share of defending and attacking they have to run from one end of the pitch to the other!
N’Golo Kanté from Chelsea FC has incredible running statistics in the English Premier League. Every game he covers a distance of approximately 8 miles at high speed meaning he has to be in great physical shape. So, taking that into consideration it would be wrong to say that midfield is the easiest position to play.
So that just leaves strikers, and everyone knows all the skill in football is involved in getting the ball in the goal, right? Surely that can’t be the easiest place to play on a football pitch? Well, strikers don’t have to cover the same amount of ground as midfield players although they do carry all the pressure and expectation of scoring goals.
But even accounting for the times it goes wrong, not many people would argue playing as a striker is easy.
So, having gone right through the team from back to front we are no closer to discovering what the easiest position to play is.
With evidence for and against a number of different positions I ask my players to make their mind up as to what is the easiest position in their football team. Their usual answer is…..sub!