What are the basics of football positioning? Football numbers by position explained

What are the basics of football positioning? Football numbers by position explained

Claudia Kogi
updated at April 17, 2023 at 8:55 AM

What are these football numbers by position? Have you ever wondered why football players wear different jerseys on the pitch? Discover all football numbers by position and their importance to the game of soccer.

Traditional football position numbers
What are the basics of football positioning? Football numbers by position explained. Photo: FangXiaNuo (Modified by author)
Source: Getty Images

FIFA football rules that govern the sport dictate that up to eleven players per team can play a match but no less than seven. This article will delve into all football positions, numbers, and their roles on the field.

Football position numbers explained

What is the history of soccer numbers? Although historians give different accounts of its origin, the English Football League first introduced the traditional football position numbers in 1928 at the club level.

According to other publications, the numbering system was started in the 1920s by Arsenal manager Herbert Chapman.

Are football numbers based on position?

The original football position numbers were based on the prongs of letters W and M and the 2-3-5 player formation. Additionally, other claims allege that the system is aligned to historical pictorial representations of teams in newspapers and match programmes with the goalkeeper at the top and the forward line at the bottom.

Football position numbers explained
Ilkay Guendogan scores the team's third goal during the Premier League match between Manchester City and Liverpool FC at Etihad Stadium on 1 April 2023 in Manchester, England. Photo: Michael Regan
Source: Getty Images

Here is a representation of the positions based on the 2-3-5 and the W-M formations.






Right fullback


Left fullback


Right halfback


Centre halfback


Left halfback


Outside right


Inside right


Centre forward


Inside left


Outside left

How are football numbers allocated today?

Restrictions surrounding the system have been loosened, with players even sporting figures higher than 11 to send messages. Today, soccer football position numbers help identify players on and off the field. For instance, Ronaldo's signature, number 7, has merged into his branding, earning him a multimillion-dollar business empire.

What are the 11 positions in soccer numbers?

There are eleven positions for players in a standard soccer match. These positions include the goalkeeper, the right and left backs, central defenders, defensive midfielders, wingers, central midfielders, strikers, and attacking midfielders.

Figures worn on the backs of soccer players were first introduced in 1911 by Australian teams Sydney Leichardt and HMS Powerful. The sport has since been using that criterion and has immensely impacted each athlete's popularity.

Number 1 jersey (Goalkeeper)

Origin of football position numbers
Goalkeeper Jay Gorter during the International friendly match between Netherlands U21 and Czech Republic U21 at the Pinatar Arena on 27 March 2023 in Murcia, Spain. Photo: David Ramirez
Source: Getty Images

Who is the number 1 player in football? This number is reserved for the first-choice goalkeeper in a soccer team. Legendary netminders who wear the number 1 shirt are renowned for gracing their positions like their lives depend on it.

Some of the most outstanding goalkeepers the sport has ever seen include vast names like Peter Schmeichel, Degea, Dino Zoff, Gianluigi Buffon, and Lev Yashin, among others.

Number 2 jersey (Defender/Right back)

If you are a soccer diehard, you will agree that the defender position is among the most vital positions in the sport. Just from the word, the athlete is required to defend his opponents from actually making any attempts to score any goal.

In a standard team of eleven, this exact position is held by the first-choice right-back playing on the right side of the defensive four. Some of the best right-backs in the sport include Cafu, Lillian Thuram, Carlos Alberto Torres, and Djalma Santos.

Number 3 jersey (Defender/Left back)

Like number 2, the number 3 position is held by the squad's first choice, and only he bases on the left side of the defensive four. These athletes are often required to possess good athleticism and stamina throughout the game.

Football position numbers and roles
PSG defender Nuno Mendes passes the ball during the French L1 football match against Toulouse FC at the Parc des Princes stadium in Paris on 4 February 2023. Photo: Franck Fife
Source: Getty Images

And while their main task is to defend the opposing team's wide wingers, left and right backs ought to be swift. Some of the best in this position include Nuno Mendes, Andy Robertson, and Alphonso Davies.

Number 4 jersey (Defender/Central defender)

One of the squad's first-choice central defenders holds this position on either the center of defence's left or right side. It is among the most pivotal roles at the heart of the defence that it is also often worn by the team's captain or vice-captain.

The most common names that pop up whenever this position is mentioned are Cristian Romero, Antonio Rudiger, Marquinhos, and Marquinhos.

Number 5 jersey (Defender/Centre back)

Also known as the central defender, this position is often represented by the team's other first choice. Their primary roles include tackling, blocking, heading the ball away, and putting their bodies on the line for the team.

Additionally, they are expected to mark attackers and close down spaces to prevent scoring opportunities for opponents.

Number 6 jersey (Defensive or central midfielder)

Athletes wearing jerseys branded with the number 6 are called defensive midfielders. Their main task is to slow down the opposition from getting to or attacking the middle of the field and gaining possession.

Traditional football position numbers
Central midfielder Jude Bellingham controls the ball during the Bundesliga match against RB Leipzig at Signal Iduna Park on 3 March 2023 in Dortmund, Germany. Photo: Alex Gottschalk
Source: Getty Images

These central midfielders achieve this by tackling attackers, gaining possession of loose balls, and forcing the ball laterally instead of allowing attackers to attack down the centre of the pitch. Some famous central midfielders the sport has ever seen include Thiago, Jude Bellingham, and Pedri.

Number 7 jersey (Right midfielder or right winger)

Wingers are also known to be among the most critical positions in the sport. Aside from being one of the most coveted positions, it is often fulfilled by star players of soccer sides and is known for brightening up soccer stadiums.

In this position, the athlete operates on the right side of the midfield, usually as a winger or as a second striker. Some of the well-decorated right midfielders in the sport's history include Garrincha, Stanley Matthews, and George Best.

Number 8 jersey (Attacking or central midfielder)

Football position numbers and roles
Hertha BSC new signing Matteo Guendouzi shows his jersey with number 8 on 5 October 2020 in Berlin, Germany. Photo: Jan-Philipp Burmann
Source: Getty Images

Athletes who wear the 8 soccer jersey are the other traditional central midfielders who partner with the number 6 to form the team's heart. Together, these two seek to control an entire match.

And while they mainly occupy the centre of the pitch, central midfielders help both in attacking and defending roles. Therefore, these particular athletes must often have great stamina throughout the match.

Number 9 jersey (Centre forward)

Also referred to as the striker, these athletes wear shirt written 9. Their main task is to hunt for goals and tuck away all their chances into the back of the net. And since they battle with the opponent's centre-backs throughout matches, they are expected to have good physical strength and speed.

Notably, successful players who have adorned this jersey and are exhilarated in this role include Pele, Ronaldo, and Gerd Muller, among others.

Number 10 jersey (Second striker, playmaker, and often all-round star)

Origin of football position numbers
Juventus' midfielder Paul Pogba celebrates after scoring during the Italian Serie A football match against Torino on 31 October 2015 in Turin. Photo: Marco Bertorello
Source: Getty Images

Playing just off of the centre forward is the second or support striker. Their prominent role is similar to an attacking midfielder regarding the positions they take up. Additionally, they are required to have epic dribbling, passing, and shooting skills.

The most common attacking midfielder is the advanced playmaker. This position is vital as they do all of their work in the heart of their opponent's territory.

Number 11 jersey (Left midfielder or left winger)

Best football numbers by position
Players are seen wearing the jersey 11 during the LaLiga Santander match between Real Madrid CF and Elche CF at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on 23 January 2022 in Madrid, Spain. Photo: Berengui
Source: Getty Images

Another winger on the soccer pitch is in the 11th position. It is traditionally worn by the athlete who plays on the left side of midfield or in the team's left wing.

Wingers' prominent roles are spacing, creating scoring opportunities for others, pushing the ball up the field, and scoring themselves. Opposing teams have to have defensive players accountable for both wingers.

From the goalkeeper to the wingers, all football numbers by position on the field are essential as all athletes relate to the team's overall success. Moreover, there is no position termed as more important than the other, as all of them are vital.

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Claudia Kogi photo
Claudia Kogi
Claudia Kogi is a Kenyan content creator with over 3 years of experience. Claudia joined Sportsbrief.com as a writer in January 2022, covering sports and relatable content.