Introduction

What is the role of the striker in soccer? A striker, number nine, or forward has one job in soccer, putting the ball in the back of the net. Below we will review what makes a good striker, including a technique that requires ball control, dribbling, and shooting. Here is the striker position defined!

Where does a striker play?

In soccer a striker usually plays ahead of the forwards, midfielders, and wingers. This soccer position is usually located centrally on the field and between the two central defenders if the opposition is playing with four defenders. The striker is the closest player to the opposing team’s goalkeeper. 

A striker who is an expert in finishing will usually play the closest to the opponent’s goal during a match. Think Zlatan Ibrahimović or Robert Lewandowski as a typical number nine whose primary function on the team is to score goals. Remember a striker or forward is not the only player who can score a goal, defenders and goalies can score as well. 

Strikers will usually wear the number nine jersey on their team, the traditional number soccer players use to identify the player in charge of scoring goals. Number nines traditionally have not been the most skilled dribblers but in recent years players of the caliber of Ronaldo, Luis Suárez, and Sergio Agüero made the position more versatile.

What is the role of the striker in soccer?

A striker has maybe the toughest job in the whole sport —being a consistent scoring threat, taking advantage of goal scoring opportunities, and of course, scoring goals. The main functions of a striker are as followed:

Consistently Score Goals

Sounds simple, but it’s common for strikers to go through large spells where they don’t score goals and need to find ways to help their team out differently, either by opening up spaces or using hold-up play. Nonetheless, the striker will earn his money if they score goals. 

Be Available for Passes

Finding the right position so the attacking midfielders can filter-through balls to put the striker in front of the goal, is key for the number nine to score. 

Create Space 

Being able to pull defenders away from their spots to open up spaces for other forwards, or attacking players to get chances on goal, are secondary functions of the striker. When not able to get in on a goal, a striker needs to drag defenders with them or hold up the ball to find players coming up behind. 

Control the Game

Here it gets a bit tricky: strikers are not known for controlling a game, but for putting on the finishing touches of their teammates' build up play. There are strikers who by their mere presence could dictate a game, strikers known to be able to be the opposing team’s main point of focus like Zlatan Ibrahimović, Ronaldo, Gabriel Batistuta, and when playing as a number nine so to speak Roberto Baggio. 

Create Chances

Strikers can be their own chance creators, this was highlighted when Luis Suárez played for Liverpool and was able to have great possession of the ball and run at defenders on the flanks and challenge the full backs. 

In 2013-2014 Luis Suárez scored 31 goals for Liverpool, in a season defined by the Uruguayan’ability to create chances on his own. The future Barcelona player would strike a ball from outside the box, avoid tackles through dribbling, and showed great technical skills to go in on the goal.

Difference between a striker and a forward in soccer

This is a more modern-day question or approach, as now there are withdrawn strikers, or forwards whose job is to create chances as well as score them. Think Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar, Kylian Mbappé, or Christian Pulisic.

Strikers and forwards play similar roles for a team, but are not the same thing. A striker is the player that stays closer to the opposing goal with the responsibility to score, while a forward is a player that usually hangs behind the striker to set him up and also score goals.

Also, a striker usually does not have defensive responsibilities, while a forward normally tracks back to help the team. Edinson Cavani has fulfilled this role to perfection while playing for Uruguay.

What are the skills that make a great striker in soccer?

A number of set skills make a striker great, but at times a striker may have limitations on some of them. For example, Argentina’s Gabriel Batistuta was not the most skilled player on the ball, or the fastest, but he had great heading abilities to go along with a fierce capability to strike a ball from close to long range.

Here are other skills a striker needs to be successful at this position: 

  • First touch: using the ball quickly and effectively after receiving it.
  • Awareness: it is important for a striker to assess every situation.
  • Shooting ability: to score many goals, a striker needs to be a great finisher or make the most of their chances. 
  • Composure: staying calm under pressure.
  • Pivoting: keeping possession of the ball for as long as possible while the team organizes.
  • Playmaking: the ability to execute good short passes when it is not possible to score. Again, this depends on the skill set of the given striker: not all of them can do it. 
  • Movement: looking for free spaces to receive the ball.
  • Patience: capacity to wait for the right opportunities, even if there are few.
  • Timing: making good decisions.

Five tips to improve as a striker in soccer

At times the only player on a soccer team that can make a big difference at a World Cup or other major tournament is a good striker. From Messi to Neymar to Erling Haaland, the striker or forward position is changing and players need to adapt to how the game is being played today. 

If you are interested in becoming a striker these five tips will help you improve your skills as a good striker in world football, and will hopefully keep you in the line up always. 

1. Work on your timing and position 

Work on your timing and positioning: be aware and improve how you position yourself on the pitch and the runs you make. It is important to watch how defensive midfielders, full backs, and defenders place themselves so you can time and make your runs and find space. 

2. Improve your first touch and ball control

Improve your first touch and ball control: try as much as possible to have the ball stuck to your foot. A good first touch is critical in the striker position, as holding the ball close will either help you take your shot or cause a defender to foul you. All the best players have good first touches. 

3. Develop your physical attributes

As a striker you need good stamina, some pace, and to be able to hold a battle with defenders. Soccer clubs are always looking for a dynamic number nine, so if you can handle hard tackles, tough defensive midfielders, and can track back, that is key in modern soccer. 

4. Learn from the best

Watch games and highlights from the top strikers in the world. Some of the best players to have contended as the number 9 or forward position are: Lionel Messi, Erling Haaland, Ronaldo, Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, Mohamed Salah, Robert Lewandowski, Gabriel Batistuta, and Romario. 

5. Get a lot of practice 

Some have natural talent, but even you can be better than many by working hard. Diego Forlán is a great example of a player who practices all kinds of routines to make himself a top striker/forward. A more current player to watch is Julián Álvarez — he has pace, shooting, a great first touch, and high level ball control, to go along with top class finishing.

Conclusions

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Written by
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Daniel Benchimol
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Jee Lee
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