What Is a Winger in Soccer?

By Luís Miguel
Updated on

Events such as the FIFA World Cup or the UEFA European Championships are sure to catch the attention of casual fans worldwide.

For those less familiar with the beautiful game, the positions and their roles can be confusing.

One of the critical and exciting positions in soccer is called the winger. What follows is an in-depth description of what a winger is.

What Is a Winger?

Traditional soccer formations have defenders in the back, midfielders in the middle, and attackers up front.

Soccer formation names describe how many players are in each line. For example, the classic 4-3-3 has a defensive line of four defenders, three players in the midfield, and three attackers.

What Does the Term Winger Mean in Soccer?

Usually, the term winger is used to describe an attacking player who plays wide (either left or right).

In a 4-3-3 formation, one of the three attackers plays centrally as a striker, while the other two play wide on either side as a left and right winger.

Is There a Winger on Each Side of the Soccer Field?

Traditionally, soccer formations are symmetrical to spread out the opponent’s defense and need to account for action on both sides of the pitch.

As described, it is usual to see both a left winger and a right winger on the pitch for a team.

Many players can play on either wing and are used interchangeably on the wings.

However, most have one side they play on more often, and some stick to one side only.

Now, not all formations have wingers. Some teams prefer to put their attacking players more in the center and have wide players dropped further down.

Some teams have the personnel to favor some soccer positions over others.

The winger is a challenging position to play. Not every team has players with the proper skill set and abilities to play the role.

What Does a Winger Do?

The winger is one of the most active positions in soccer.

Generally, the winger spreads the opposing defense wide in the attacking area.

A winger flies up and down the pitch near the sidelines, receiving passes and dribbling to the end line.

One of the key tactics in soccer is dribbling the ball wide and crossing it into the middle to set up a shot.

That job is usually up to the winger. Wingers take the ball deep into the defensive side and cross it to a striker or trailing midfielder in the box for a shot on goal.

A winger is constantly sprinting down the side of the field, stretching the opponent, and getting back to provide defensive support when there’s a turnover.

Wingers are commonly the players doing the most running throughout the game.

Although wingers start and spend most of their time wide, they don’t always stay wide.

Wingers can cut inside and make runs (with the ball or not), adding pressure on the defense in the box and contributing to a moment of quality that results in a goal.

When wingers are at their best, they sprint the entire game and wear the opponent’s defense out.

Many times, the impact of a winger is seen late in the game when the defense is gassed and gives up a goal from being physically worn out.

What Skills Does a Winger Need?

There are a lot of skills and abilities that make wingers successful.


The primary ability is incredible pace.

Being able to fly down the line and spread the defense requires blistering speed and the stamina to continue to make runs throughout the game.

At worst, this speed spreads out the defense and keeps the middle of the field from getting clogged up.

At best, it allows the winger to take the ball into less crowded areas and set the team up for a goal.


Another relevant skill is the ability to fire accurate passes into the box to set up goals.

Often, the winger darts down the side and bends a pass around the last defender.

That requires quick footwork and well-measured touches to get the ball on the outside foot and quickly cross the ball before the defender can react.

It’s not surprising that wingers are often called upon to take corner kicks — they know how to put a bend on the ball and target teammates close to the opponent’s goal.


Wingers are commonly some of the most skilled dribblers on the team.

Due to their role in beating defenders down the side and cutting inside unexpectedly, they employ some of the best dribbling moves in the game and need to be able to overtake a defender one-on-one in multiple ways.

The cut inside is a key for the winger; good wingers use different techniques to do so while remaining unpredictable.

Ball Control

Along with the dribbling flair, wingers must be able to control the ball and keep defenders from taking it away.

Just as the ability to penetrate down the wings is a boon for a team’s offense, losing the ball on the wing can translate into compromising and precarious situations.

Wingers need to know how to shield the ball when dribbling past defenders. And when to distribute it to a teammate to keep it out of danger.

What Is the Difference Between a Winger and a Striker?

Wingers and strikers are primarily offensive in their roles, and as described, they play higher up on the pitch toward the opponent’s goal.

However, there are some differences between their roles and the ideal player for both positions.

The fundamental difference is that a striker plays centrally, while the wingers play wider. That has some implications. 

The striker is often physically bigger and more of a target man. They look to post up for passes in the box and play with their back against the goal to receive the ball, turn around, and fire.

Strikers are often good jumpers and practiced at heading the ball into the net. They work for the perfect cross from the winger and determine how best to place it past the keeper.

Wingers are usually more skillful than strikers and lighter on their feet. They excel at running and spreading defenses out.

Both positions end up with their fair share of goal contributions, but a pass from a winger and a goal from a striker is a classic, anticipated combination.

Do You Defend as a Winger?

Wingers are not required to do too much defensive work if the formation has the wingers playing as high as the strikers.

Their primary concerns are pushing the ball forward toward the corners and getting it in a position to score a goal.

However, wingers can be helpful on defense, particularly when marking opposing fullbacks that may be pushing the ball down the field. 

Wingers may take the opportunity of stepping into passing lanes as their opponents attempt to go wide.

That can be particularly true when goalkeepers are attempting to distribute the ball. Either directly from a goalkeeper’s throw or after the first touch, wingers can step in to wreak havoc and turn carelessness into a goal.

What Happens When a Winger Plays Poorly?

What can go wrong if a winger isn’t doing the job well?

For one thing, a team is limited in its options, and the offense becomes one-dimensional.

When wingers are easily marked and ineffective, a team tries to bully the ball through a clogged middle and tends to be unable to get near the opposing goal.

Without the ability to quickly flip the pitch or bring the ball in from the sides, the opposite defense can have an easy time.

When wingers are careless with the ball on the wings, opponents tend to steal the ball in a position to run a counter with numbers.

Finally, when wingers don’t have a high work rate and aren’t spreading the opponent’s defensive line out, the defense can easily maintain its form and have energy for the whole game.

Who Are the Best Wingers in Soccer?

Some of the biggest names in soccer play out on the wing.

While modern legends such as Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Kylian Mbappé play some of their time as wingers, other players are pure wingers.

One of these is Neymar Jr, the star of the Brazilian national team and a prolific producer for Paris Saint-Germain. Neymar is an example of a player making the most of the position.

He has impressive pace and agility.

He has some of the best control and dribbling techniques in soccer, allowing him to beat his man and create space for the offense.

He picks out passes and sends the ball into the middle to help his teammates score. It’s no wonder that PSG scores more goals than any other team in France’s top league. 

Another incredible winger is Mohamed Salah, the driving force behind Liverpool’s potent offense.

Salah cuts inside frequently and gives defenders headaches as they try to prevent him from either scoring himself or dishing it off to a teammate for an easy finish.

Mo Salah is a shifty dribbler with the touch and accuracy to get the ball past the goalkeeper from the tightest angles.

Other noteworthy wingers in today’s game include Sadio Mané and Son Heung-min.

Historically, George Best and Garrincha were among some of the best players that could have been described primarily as wingers.

Guy wearing an SL Benfica jersey holding soccer ball over his head

Article by:

Luís Miguel

As a true soccer enthusiast, I’m Soccermodo’s team captain. My job is to make sure the site’s content is top-notch so that you, our reader, can focus solely on improving your game and reach new heights.