Understanding the allotropic relationship between role and position in football

Chemistry teaches us about allotropy, which is the property of elements to exist in two or more different forms whilst existing in the same physical state. The concept of allotropy mirrors the relationship between roles and positions in football, with the fixed physical state being analogous to position and its different forms analogous to roles.

Whether it is Edinson Cavani and Roberto Firmino in modern times or Claude Makelele and Andrea Pirlo in earlier times, we observe this curious phenomenon – the tendency of players playing in the same positions to operate differently. Why is this so?

In the first part of this weekly series, we try to educate ourselves on the nuance between positions and roles in football.

ALSO READ: The shot-stopper vs the sweeper: Analyzing the influence of style on the choice of a goalkeeper

Position primarily describes the area of operation of a player—his territory. A player’s position is determined by their proximity to either goal. Primarily, he is either a goalkeeper, defender, midfielder, or forward.

However, given the fact that football is played by eleven players on each team, the positions are a bit more specific, albeit still spread around these four primary positions. The easiest way to outline the positions that exist is through the numbering system. The numbering system is a system where each position is identified by a number between 1 and 11.

Role, on the other hand, refers to how the players operate in their respective positions. It is specific and more clearly defined than position.

1GoalkeeperShot stopper/Sweeper keeper
2Right backFull back/Right wing back
3Left backFull back/Left wing back
4Centre backLibero
5Centre backLibero
6Holding midfielderDestroyer/Regista
7Right midfielder/wingerInverted forward/True winger/Ramdeuter
8Central midfielderClassic CM/Box-to-box midfielder
9StrikerClassic centre forward/False nine
10Attacking midfielderTrequartista/Supporting striker
11Left wingerInverted forward/True winger/Ramdeuter

Since we have established the fact that role is different from position, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. In the next part of this series, we look at the number 10 position and how it has evolved from earlier times to what we have today. Stay tuned.

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