The Hardest Position in Football: A Breakdown of Skills and Challenges

With so many positions on a football pitch, which one is the hardest to play?

Positions in football on a pitch
Kaylan Geekie

Written by: Kaylan Geekie

(Sports Writer)

Fact checked by: Louis Hobbs

(Senior Sports Writer)

Last updated: 2024-03-28

7 minutes read

Throughout the history of football, different formations and tactics have evolved the way the sport is played.

Each position on the field requires the player to have a specific set of skills due to the challenges offered.

The hardest position in football has been debated since the game began, but more so in modern times as supporters became fans of players instead of clubs.

In the age of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, debating the best players in the world has escalated from the water cooler at work to the online world of social media.

Modern-day fans, like the generations before, tend to favour forwards as the best players in the world.

Goals are the ultimate currency of football, which is notoriously low-scoring, but so is keeping clean sheets by having a good defence and goalkeeper.

Dynamic Roles and Responsibilities in Football: A Breakdown of Key Positions

Who has the hardest position to play in football, a forward or a goalkeeper?

Despite the game's various positions and the ever-changing roles and tactics, there are only four specific positions: The goalkeeper, defenders, midfielders, and forwards.

Strikers score goals and are adored by the fans. Wingers entertain with their dribbling and pace down the sideline as they take on back-peddling defenders.

The old-fashioned No. 10 and the modern reincarnation of the fabled False 9 are the magicians who link the midfield with the forwards.

There are only a few teams in the world who employ the No. 10 or a false 9, which makes these forward roles one of the hardest positions to play in football.

Attacking fullbacks race up and down the touchline, creating overlaps and opportunities from whipping the ball in from out wide.

The central defenders hold the line but are now required to be comfortable in possession, have an excellent passing range, and provide several goals per season.

Goalkeepers are the last line of defence once the midfield and defenders are beaten. The goalie must navigate obstructions at set-pieces and take the hits from physical attackers. 

Being a Defender Is One of the Hardest Positions on the Football Field, but Is It the Hardest?

Defenders have one of the hardest roles on the football field, looking after tricky wingers, physical strikers, and elusive attacking midfielders.

Defenders need courage, skill, and an array of skills, especially in the modern game.

Image Credit: completesoccerguide

Image Credit: completesoccerguide

Their primary role is defending, but defenders, like goalkeepers, must be good with their feet because managers want to play out from the back rather than lump the ball long.

The modern-day manager wants his defenders to be physical and mobile, good in the air, and have good communication and leadership qualities.

Playing defence is one of the hardest positions to play in football, but there are always more than two defenders in any starting team.

Is Midfield One of the Hardest Positions to Play in Football?

The midfield is both the engine room and creative outlet for football teams. Defensive midfield is one of the hardest positions to play in football.

Defensive midfielders need to be disciplined, have good vision for a pass and be calm under pressure when receiving the ball deep inside their territory. 

Iimage Credits:

Iimage Credits:

However, sometimes managers play with two holding midfielders, which allows the players to share the pressure.

Attacking midfielders provide their team with opportunities to score. They must be accurate and composed in the final third of the field.

Other attacking outlets on the field allow this position to be relatively pressure-free.

Forwards such as wingers, False 9s and No. 10s afford the attacking midfielder to play free, without any restraints, although they need to help defensively.

Attacking fullbacks and wing-backs also take the pressure off advanced midfielders to provide creativity and assist with goals.

After consideration, defensive and attacking midfielders do not play the hardest position in football, but they must be versatile in defence and attack.

The defensive midfielder is considered one of the most important positions to play in football, but there the defence is always behind for added protection. 

Do Forwards Play the Hardest Position in Football?

Only forwards missing multiple opportunities, penalties or ‘sitters’ get criticised more than goalkeepers when making mistakes.

The difference between winning and losing, being successful or not, comes down to the forwards' ability to score goals. 

Image Credits:

Image Credits:

Some coaches opt for strikers to play alone, with wide forwards on either side (4-3-3 or 3-4-3) to help provide goals and assists.

Others prefer partnerships in the more traditional 4-4-2 or 3-5-2 formations, which allows the strikers to hunt together.

This takes the pressure off the goal-scorers because if one has an off day, the other attackers can help carry the pressure of scoring.

When managers are set up with a single striker and two wide attackers/wingers (4-1-4-1 or 4-4-1-1), the lone striker still has the backup of the other forwards sharing the goals around or creating chances. 

Is the Goalkeeper the Hardest Position to Play in Football?

Is there a more important position on the football field than the goalkeeper?

Goalkeeping is regarded as the hardest position to play in football because of the mental attributes needed along with the physical.

The 'keepers are the last line of defence, and in the modern game, the shot-stoppers need to be equally good with their feet as they are with their hands. 

Image Credits: Nick Potts/PA Sport

Image Credits: Nick Potts/PA Sport

Throughout any football match, the outfield players will make mistakes when passing, tackling, tracking back, fouling, passing or shooting.

Mistakes are quickly forgotten as play continues unless it leads to a goal.

Goalkeepers are on their own, and if they make an error, it often leads to a goal-scoring opportunity or goal. Goalkeepers need to be mentally strong and focused throughout.

They need excellent concentration skills and focus because they are called into action fewer times than any outfield player during 90 minutes of football.

Goalkeeping mistakes are disastrous for their team and are always highlighted with greater scrutiny in post-match discussions by former players and pundits.

Which Is the Toughest Position in Football?

After deliberating metrics and analysing all the positions on the football field, SportsBoom believes the goalkeeper has the hardest position to play in football.

The 'keeper is always alone; their mistakes are more critical to the result because they usually lead to the opposition scoring.

They must be skilful with both their hands and feet, on the floor and in the air. Goalkeepers also must be agile and physical, embodying the most-rounded and multi-faceted footballer.

Goalkeepers sometimes have little to do during a match, but when called upon, they must be ready to make a crucial stop to keep their team in the contest.

All the best football teams in the world have world-class goalkeepers within their ranks.

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Kaylan Geekie

Kaylan Geekie

Kaylan Geekie is a sports fanatic. He attended Durban High School before moving to Scotland, where he lived for 15 years. During his time in the United Kingdom, Kaylan graduated with a first-class BA Honours Degree in Sports Journalism at the University of the West of Scotland.

Kaylan worked for nine years as the Match-Day Editor of, reporting on Super Rugby, The Rugby Championship, the 2015 Men's Rugby World Cup and the 2017 British & Irish Lions series for the website.

Kaylan previously held the position of Digital Editor at Scrum Magazine, covering club rugby through to Scotland's national men's and women's teams, Glasgow Warriors, and Edinburgh Rugby.

Kaylan reported for Cricket Scotland, covering the men's and women's international sides. Kaylan covered several international tournaments, including the ICC 2014 Cricket World Cup Qualifiers, the 2015 ICC Men's CWC and the 2015 ICC T20 World Cup Qualifiers.

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