Friday, 19 Jul 2024

“Decoding the Role of the Number Eight in Football”

Football is a game of intricate tactics that require players to take on specific roles within a team. One such role is that of the number eight. In this article, we will delve into the intricacies of this position, its origin, responsibilities, and the players who excel in it.

What is a number eight?

A number eight is a central midfielder who is known for his versatility, as he is required to contribute both offensively and defensively. Traditionally, the number eight operated as a box-to-box player, involved in both attacking and defensive duties. However, in modern football, the role has evolved to include support play through the inside channels, resulting in more controlled and strategic gameplay.

jersey number 8 in football

The position demands a high level of energy and the ability to make significant contributions in all phases of the game. Number eights can operate as part of a central-midfield duo, as part of a midfield three, or on the side of a diamond formation behind a number 10.

Where does the term ‘number eight’ originate?

The term ‘number eight’ originated from the use of numbered shirts in a starting XI. In the early days of football, when the popular formation was 2-3-5, the number eight shirt was assigned to the inside-right position in the front five. As formations evolved, the number eight shirt was worn by one of the central midfielders in a 4-4-2 or by one of the two players ahead of a single pivot in a 4-3-3.

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In-possession responsibilities of a number eight

A number eight primarily operates in central areas and is responsible for connecting the defense with the attack, as well as linking the right side of the team with the left. In a midfield two, the number eight adds an extra central presence by making forward runs from midfield, often targeting the space between the opposition center-backs. The other central midfielder stays deeper to provide protection in front of the back four.

In a midfield three, there are two number eights, allowing for simultaneous runs through each inside channel. These forward runs aim to exploit the space between the opposition full-back and center-back. Number eights are dynamic, constantly moving around the pitch to receive the ball and build plays. They play a crucial role in switching play, providing crosses, shooting from distance, and combining in central areas with the striker.

Out-of-possession responsibilities of a number eight

When out of possession, the number eight’s responsibilities include tracking central runs, protecting the defense, and engaging in aggressive counter-pressing when required. In a midfield pairing, the number eight must possess athleticism, speed, and the ability to win individual duels while screening passes into the opposition’s center-forward.

In a midfield three, the number eights are more likely to press, tackle, and engage the ball-carrier. The single pivot player provides cover for the defense and fills the space behind the number eights. When operating in a low block, the number eights play a vital role in maintaining compactness and preventing central passes from penetrating the team. They slide across the pitch to maintain a compact unit and may press into wide areas when necessary.

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The best number eights in the modern game

Several players have showcased exceptional skills in the number eight role. Let’s take a look at some of the best:

Toni Kroos

When in possession, Kroos excels at dropping into the left inside channel from central midfield. He breaks lines with precise forward passes, allowing the left-back to push forward and overlap with the left winger.

Luka Modric

Modric’s movement, passing range, and ability to connect teammates make him a key player for Real Madrid. His exceptional passing allows him to switch play, break lines centrally, or find teammates making runs into the penalty area.

Jordan Henderson

Henderson is a box-to-box midfielder known for his technical ability and unmatched work rate. He provides penetrative runs to support attacks and offers defensive cover behind Liverpool’s attack-minded right-back. Henderson also counter-presses aggressively and makes intelligent off-the-ball runs.

Other notable number eights in history

Some other high-quality number eights include Andrés Iniesta and Xavi from Barcelona, as well as Steven Gerrard from Liverpool and Frank Lampard from Chelsea.

Benefits and disadvantages of playing with a number eight

Playing with a number eight brings several advantages to a team. Box-to-box runs can force defenses back, create overloads, and open up spaces between the lines. Number eights positioned in the inside channels enhance a team’s chances of breaking through the opposition’s defense. However, the role also demands a high physical output and a greater focus on technical quality, especially in today’s more controlled style of play.

While number eights excel at making forward runs, these runs can leave pockets of space for opponents to exploit on transition. Additionally, the role requires a delicate balance between attacking and defensive responsibilities, and a lack of cover or protection underneath the ball can be a potential disadvantage.

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Q: What is the role of a number eight in football?
A: A number eight is a central midfielder responsible for contributing both offensively and defensively. They connect the defense with the attack and provide support through the inside channels.

Q: Who are some of the best number eights in the modern game?
A: Some of the best number eights include Toni Kroos, Luka Modric, and Jordan Henderson.

Q: What are the advantages of playing with a number eight?
A: Number eights can drive a team forward, create overloads, and target spaces between the lines. They enhance a team’s chances of breaking through the opposition’s defense.

Q: Are there any disadvantages to playing with a number eight?
A: The role demands a high physical output and requires a balance between attacking and defensive responsibilities. Lack of cover or protection underneath the ball can be a potential disadvantage.


The role of the number eight in football is a versatile, demanding, and crucial position within a team’s tactical setup. From connecting defense with attack to providing support through the inside channels, number eights play a vital role in modern football. The likes of Toni Kroos, Luka Modric, and Jordan Henderson have showcased their exceptional skills in this position, leaving a lasting impact on the game.

Now that you have a deeper understanding of the number eight role, keep an eye out for players who excel in this position and witness their influence on the pitch. For more insightful football content, stay tuned to Pesstatsdatabase, your go-to source for all things football.