Strikers are the players on a soccer team whose job is to play furthest forward up the pitch around their opponents’ goal, and try to score as many goals as possible – or to create chances for their team-mates to do so. We look at a striker’s role, and list the qualities a good striker needs.
Strikers in a soccer team are its most potent weapon. They are the players whose main job is to take the chances to score goals created by the skill and play of the other members of their team further downfield.
A good striker in soccer is mostly judged on the number of goals they score for their team, but they cannot do this job alone. They should also be prepared to play a part in creating opportunities to score goals, by being aware of the positions on the pitch of teammates and opponents.
Because it is their names that are credited with the goals their teams score, a team’s strikers are usually the most high-profile soccer players – but even the best strikers will acknowledge that they need the skills and resourcefulness of the other members of their team, across all positions on the soccer field, to help them be successful in their main purpose.
A soccer striker is also known by a number of other terms, including forward and attacker. There are also other names given to their specific positions on the soccer field, which might include center-forward and winger. The former will, as the name implies, play mostly down the central area of the pitch, while the latter has the responsibility for moving the ball forward down the wings, or the left or right-hand side of the field, as well as being expected to move infield to try to score themselves from any chances that they can create.
Also, because traditionally a soccer team’s players have worn shirts numbered 1 to 11, in order of their allocated positions from back to front on the pitch, a striker playing in the middle of their team’s front line will often be referred to as the number 9, because this shirt number represents their place in the team’s formation.
What Makes A Good Striker?
A number of attributes help make a player become a good striker in soccer, and these will depend on their team’s playing style, as well as how many teammates will be alongside them as fellow strikers to support them. A striker soccer position will vary according to the formation the coach asks a team to adopt, and often, in light of the opposing team’s strengths and style of play. For example, if a team plays with a 4-3-3 formation, this indicates that it has three players furthest up the field, who will advance up the field together and work together as a unit to try to take the ball past their opposing players and score.
A team may also decide that its best option is to play in a ‘route one’ style, that is, they will aim to pass the ball up the center of the field as quickly and directly as possible – and ideally with a minimum number of touches – to quickly create a chance for a striker to score.
The most desirable attributes of a player in these positions include:
Height: A striker has to be able to win the ball against opponents when it is played up the field towards them. As the ball will often be traveling towards them in the air, being able to get to the ball first gives them a distinct advantage. Also, as set-piece situations such as free kicks and corner kicks create many clear opportunities to score a goal with a header, a tall striker or group of strikers are an obvious target for the kick taker to aim for. This is especially true in the modern game, when a team’s defense is likely to consist of very tall and strong players.
Physical strength: As well as being able to run past opposing players with the ball, a striker might also need to take the ball from them, and stop them from getting the ball. A good physique is also an attribute in the very rough scenario of a soccer pitch penalty area when players are jostling for space as the ball is played in towards them, and where being first to get to the ball often leads to a goal being scored. Also, traditionally, the player whose position in defense most closely mirrors that of the main striker, the center-half, is usually one of the tallest and physically most imposing players in any team – so a striker who can match these attributes will be highly prized.
Courage: Getting in the right place as an attacking player to score a goal often means having to compete for position with defenders who are larger than them. So a good striker should not be intimidated by opposing players’ physical presence, and believe in their own ability to find a lawful way to get around or past them.
Good balance/agility: In combination with the above, this is an asset belonging to most successful strikers. They may only have a split second to get into position to take a shot at goal – but that is all a top-quality striker will need, because they can reach the ball and make telling contact with it in any situation.
Speed: A striker should be capable of out-running an opposing team’s defenders – but should nearly always have the advantage of running forwards, while those trying to stop them are often running sideways or backwards. Being quickest to a ball that is bobbling around in a penalty area is a very handy attribute for a goalscorer.
Shooting and heading skills: Being able to kick or head the ball hard is only a small part of the story. Knowing and being able to use a variety of different techniques when doing so helps make a striker more deadly, and feared by opponents, because it makes it more difficult for them to anticipate what an opposition striker is going to do when they receive the ball.
Good positional sense: Anticipating where a team-mate is going to aim their pass, and being able to get into position to receive it, and know what they will do with the ball next is a formula for success as a striker. This applies not only to knowing where they are and want to move to on the pitch, but also to being able to predict the movements of team-mates, as well as the opponents’ fullbacks – the main line of defense against them.
An eye for goal: Taking a shot at goal when no one expects it can often be productive, as it can often catch an opposition goalkeeper and defenders unawares. Many of the most spectacular goals ever seen have come from situations in which no one expected the scorer to have an attempt to score a goal at that precise moment.
Ability to score goals with both feet: With often only a split second to set themselves to take a shot, a striker should be confident that they can kick the ball well and accurately with whichever foot they are best placed to use.
Who Are The Most Famous Soccer Strikers?
As we have already mentioned, star strikers in a team usually get most of the accolades and limelight for their achievements, over, say their teammates who play in more defensive positions.
This is likely because through their goal-scoring exploits, they can make a major difference in their team’s fortunes. Players who are themselves successful strikers can usually help their teams achieve more success in turn. This also means that a striker who regularly scores plenty of goals in a lower-level league will often eventually be sought after among teams playing at a higher level, and given the chance to replicate their success against tougher opposition.
Here is a small sample of soccer players who have made their names as strikers, not just in their own countries, but internationally:
John Charles: The ‘Welsh Wizard’ is best known as a player for English elite league team Leeds United and Juventus of Italy’s Serie A. Having achieved success initially with his home-town club, Swansea Town, he moved to the then-Second Division Yorkshire side in 1949.
Charles started his career as a defender, but his height and strength saw him used more often as a striker. He was the top scorer for Leeds United in the 1953-54 season and, three seasons after they won promotion to the First Division, he was the top scorer not just for his team, but also in the whole division. His scoring prowess earned him a transfer to Juventus, who paid a then-record fee of £65,000 to secure his services, which made Charles only the second player to be signed by an overseas team.
He scored the winning goal for Juventus on his debut for them, and stayed in Turin for the next five seasons, during which he earned the nickname of Il Gigante Buono, or the Gentle Giant, on account of his fair play. In 1997, Juventus fans voted Charles the best overseas player to ever have played for their team.
Alfredo di Stefano: Helping his club team, Real Madrid, dominate domestic and European soccer in the 1950s, Argentina-born di Stefano played in all five of Real’s successive European Cup victories between 1956 and 1960. He was also the highest goalscorer in Spain’s domestic league, La Liga, for five years in a row, and in his 11 seasons with the club, they won the title eight times. Scoring 418 times in 510 appearances for Real, di Stefano scored 10 goals or more in 15 successive seasons up to 1963-64. Internationally, di Stefano was rare in representing three different countries – Argentina, Spain and Colombia, scoring 23 goals in 31 international appearances. Many soccer experts believe him to be the best player to never have played at a World Cup finals tournament.
Bobby Charlton: A legend at Manchester United, the club where he spent most of his playing career, Charlton was a pivotal member of the England team which won the 1966 World Cup. He made his debut for the Red Devils in 1956, but a highly promising career was almost wrecked when he was involved in the 1958 Munich air crash which killed 23 of his teammates and club officials. He won two English First Division titles with Manchester United, in 1965 and 1967, and was captain when the following season, the team became the first English club to win the European Cup. Over an international career lasting to 1970, Charlton made 106 appearances for England, and for many years was both his club’s and country’s record goalscorer.
Johan Cruyff: The player who epitomized the Dutch philosophy of ‘Total Football’ more than any other, Cruyff was named the player of the tournament at the 1974 World Cup finals, when his Netherlands team were unlucky to lose the final match 2-1 to the tournament hosts, West Germany. In 10 years at club side Ajax Amsterdam, Cruyff scored 190 goals in 240 matches, and managed 33 goals for the Netherlands in winning 48 caps. He joined Barcelona from Ajax in 1973, scoring a further 48 goals during his six-season spell there. Football historians named him ‘European player of the century’ in 1999, and he was the runner-up behind only Pele in a similar worldwide vote.
Gerd Muller: A record of 68 goals in 62 appearances in a West Germany shirt shows perfectly why Muller earned the nickname ‘Der Bomber’ (‘the Bomber’). Additionally, Muller’s record tally of 365 goals in 427 club matches for Bayern Munich still stands at the time of writing (February 2022) as the most goals by an individual player in that league. Over his career, Muller also scored 34 goals in 35 appearances for his club in European Cup ties. Muller was one of the key players for his country at the 1970 and 1974 World Cups, and averaged over one goal per game over his international career, with 68 goals in 62 matches. This tally was only broken in 2014 by Miroslav Klose – but the latter took nearly twice as many matches to reach the landmark.
Ian Rush: Another player who achieved both club and country scoring records in his career, Rush though, played his international football for Wales, so his goal achievements are arguably less well-known internationally. And although he played for seven other teams during his career, Rush will always be remembered as the all-time record goalscorer for Liverpool F.C., with a total of 346 scored in all competitive matches. Rush represented Wales at international level, and although he was less prolific – scoring 28 times in 73 appearances – his tally was the highest number of goals scored for Wales for more than 20 years.
Alan Shearer: Newcastle-born Shearer holds the record for the most goals scored in the English Premier League, at 260. However, this does not include the 23 league goals he also scored for his first club, Southampton, as this was before the formation of the current Premier League. Shearer also scored 30 times for England in 63 matches, and was the overall top goalscorer at the European Championships in 1996.
Samuel Eto’o: A four-time winner of the African Player of the Year award, Eto’o became only the second player to score in two Champions’ League finals, and is one of only four players to have won the tournament twice in succession with different teams – in his case with Barcelona in 2009, and Inter Milan in 2010. Throughout a career spanning 23 years, Eto’o played for soccer clubs in seven different countries, and both domestically and internationally – for Cameroon – he averaged almost exactly one goal every two games.
Robert Lewandowski: Scorer of more than 500 career goals for clubs at the highest levels of the game and the all-time leading goalscorer for his native country, Poland, Lewandowski is only the second player to have scored 300 goals in the German elite league, the Bundesliga – where he has played since 2010 – behind Gerd Muller (see above). And barring injury he looks set to eventually beat that landmark. The Bayern Munich star has been crowned the league’s best player on a record five occasions.
Pele: Edson Arantes do Nascimento – known worldwide as Pele – was named ‘World Player of the Century’ in 2000 by soccer historians, and given a similar accolade by F.I.F.A. He is the only individual player to win three World Cups, with Brazil, and is still his country’s leading all-time goalscorer, with 77 goals in 92 appearances. His scoring achievements for his first and – apart from a short spell playing in America at the end of his career – only club side, Santos, are unlikely to ever be beaten. Pele scored 618 goals in 636 games for the club between 1956 and 1974. Some years before the age of huge sponsorship deals in soccer, Pele was, for a short time, the best-paid athlete in the world.
We hope you have enjoyed this in-depth look at the art of being a good striker in soccer, and that you now have a greater appreciation of the many skills and attributes possessed by those who, through the history of the game, have been regarded as the best.