A few years back, @v_maedhros started work on a series called Understanding Roles In FM (And Real Life). As he so rightly stated at the time, one of the toughest parts in playing Football Manager (FM) is understanding the roles of the players and how they work in-game. Sadly, he never got around to finish the actual series. With some help, we are trying to finish and update his work.

As in the previous instalments, we will try to describe each role in terms of their movement and their behaviour in the game, as well as some basic information on how to utilise such a role in the game.

Initially, we will focus on the positions and roles not covered in the initial parts of the series. We will start this new part by explaining the defensive roles, both wide and centrally.

A little heads-up about the way we want to work. When describing a certain role we want to describe what they do and add a graphical regarding their movement on the pitch. We also wish to differentiate between Defend, Support and Attack roles, as they have their importance in what a player will do but also defines which part of the field the player will act.

We also realise that we may have been incomplete in our efforts. Feel free to comment on any omissions that need addressing.


Central defenders

Position-wise, the central defender is the backbone of any team. They are the building blocks of the attacks from the back and ensure defensive stability. In Football Manager, you can select four roles for a player in the central defender position:

  1. the central defender role;
  2. the ball-playing defender role;
  3. the no-nonsense defender role;
  4. the libero role.

Out of these, only the libero requires a special setup tactically. You can only use a libero as the middle defender in a tactical setup that uses three central defenders. Alternatively, if you are so inclined, you can also use the libero if you are using only a single central defender. You need to position him in the exact middle of your defensive line if you wish to try such a setup.

The central defender

The plain central defender role is a mainstay in most tactics. The role itself is simple; he is supposed to stop opposing forwards and clear the ball away from his own goal in case of emergencies. Depending on your tactical settings, a plain central defender can contribute to the build-up play somewhat but it is not their primary task.

For the role of central defender, you can select three settings:

  1. defend;
  2. stopper;
  3. cover.

On a defend duty, the central defender does nothing special. He stays in line with the other central defender(s), doing what central defenders do. He marks his opponent, breaks up attacks and protects his own penalty area. On a stopper setting, the defender behaves more aggressively, stepping out to confront potential threats before they can reach the penalty area. On a cover setting, the defender behaves less aggressive, dropping deeper than the others in the defensive line to deal with through-balls that penetrate the defensive line.

The movement of the three central defenders

The starting position for the central defender is always the same, regardless of their setting. The distance between their own goal and the defensive line is determined by the team instructions you have selected, their individual settings determine their behaviour when the opposing team is in possession in a position near them.

The defender on a normal defend setting will act in accordance to the team instructions given. The other two will act according to these team instructions as well but with slightly altered movement patterns compared to a regular defender. The stopper defender will step forward to close down the opposition more aggressively compared to the others, the cover defender will drop back more.

The positioning in the graphic above is a demonstration of how the defenders will move and not an exact replication. The exact positioning in-game is determined by the team instructions and the positioning of the other defenders in the defensive line.

On neither of the three settings does the hard-coded behaviour of the central defender differ much. Be it Defender, Stopper or Cover, the plain central defender is hard-coded to dribble less and shoot less often. The only difference between the three settings is the pressing intensity. On a cover setting, the central defender has an extra setting to tweak the intensity of the pressing. For the most part, however, the central defender role is a blank page and allows for an almost unlimited level of customisation.

The ball-playing defender

A different kind of defender is the ball-playing defender. As the name alludes to, this defender offers an additional skill on top of the usual defending he does. The ball-playing defender does what a normal defender does but when the team wins possession, he tries to contribute offensively with through-balls from deep.

Much like the central defender, you can select three settings for the ball-playing defender:

  1. defend;
  2. stopper;
  3. cover.

In terms of what the player does with each setting, there is not much difference between the ball-playing defender and the regular central defender. These settings mostly impact the behaviour of the defender when the team has lost the ball and is on the back foot, so it makes sense that there is no fundamentally different behaviour pattern to the primary task of this defender, which is defending.

The movement of the three ball-playing defenders, with the dotted yellow lines representing the more direct through-balls they will attempt to play

Again, the movement is the same as the central defenders’ movement. As stated before, the main difference is in the passing behaviour for this player, although at times, a ball-playing defender will dribble into defensive midfield if there is space. That is not a very common occurrence though, so we have not included it into the typical movement graphic. Also, and we want to emphasise this, the positioning is determined partially by the team instructions and always relative to the positioning of the other defenders in the defensive line.

The hard-coded behaviour of the ball-playing defender is more defined than that of the regular central defender. He is allowed to dribble into midfield, which would suit his ability to play through-balls. On a defend setting, the ball-playing defender is hard-coded to hold his position, however, so it would not make sense to instruct him to dribble more. Much like the central defender, there is also an extra setting when you want to tweak the pressing of a ball-playing defender on a cover setting.

The no-nonsense centre-back

The no-nonsense centre-back is essentially the negative mirror-image of the ball-playing defender. When compared with the regular central defender, the no-nonsense centre-back differs only in what the brings to the table offensively. Or to be more accurate, what he doesn’t bring to the table. Instead of trying to help with the build-up play, he will not take any risks and either pass it to someone who can play football or, when pressured, just hoof it clear.

As the two types of central defenders above, you can select three settings for the no-nonsense centre-back:

  1. defend;
  2. stopper;
  3. cover.

In terms of what the player does with each setting, there is not much difference between the ball-playing defender and the regular central defender. These settings mostly impact the behaviour of the defender when the team has lost the ball and is on the back foot, so it makes sense that there is no fundamentally different behaviour pattern to the primary task of this defender, which is defending.

The movement of the three central defenders

As with the ball-playing defender, the movement of this type of defender is the same as the central defenders’ movement. The no-nonsense defenders’ movement is determined partially by the team instructions and always relative to the positioning of the other defenders in the defensive line.

The hard-coded behaviour of the no-nonsense centre-back is rather restrictive with him being a specialised type of player. He is hardcoded to dribble less, take fewer risks and take fewer shots. He is also hardcoded to never go easy on an opponent. Lastly, he is hardcoded to hold his position when on a defend setting. On stopper and cover, he lacks this hardcoded instruction because it would nullify the effect of a stopper and cover setting if he cannot move past his initial position. His passing is also quite direct by default, regardless of the team instructions. Like his cousins mentioned above, on a cover setting the no-nonsense centre-back has an extra option to tweak his pressing.

The libero

A libero is always part of a defensive line with three central defenders, with the libero being the middle defender. He is skilled at stepping up to meet the ball from a deeper position, he is very good at bringing the ball out from defence, and is an extremely capable and creative passer.

As the libero steps into defensive midfield (and beyond) the remaining defenders are able to cover for his forward movements. With his ability to cover space, read the game and play the correct pass into midfield, the libero is a combination between a covering defender and a deep-lying playmaker.

For the role of libero, you can select a mere two settings:

  1. support;
  2. attack.

The difference in movement between the two types of libero is a matter of getting involved offensively. With a support duty, the libero will step into the midfield when possession is secured and look to play balls through to attacking teammates, while on an attack setting, the libero ventures much higher up the pitch to provide a goal-scoring threat from distance as well as playing through-balls towards his forwards.

On a support setting, the libero will venture less far into the midfield zone compared to an attacking libero. Allowing a libero the license to step up into midfield when in possession could mean that a midfielder could be replaced by an attacker, or that midfielder could push up with encouragement to attack.

With two defenders to cover the forward movement of the libero and wing backs to cover the wide areas, the libero would in no way be a defensive liability and could be the deep-lying playmaker without the need for a specialised player in defensive midfield.


The wide defenders and wing-backs

The wide defenders and wing-backs are often neglected positions in football, particularly in a four-man defence. They are often not the most glamorous positions to play in, though that tendency has been changed somewhat over the past few decades under the influence of certain Brazilian defenders such as Cafú and Roberto Carlos and to some extent by modern-day wide defenders such as Kimmich, Robertson and Alexander-Arnold. In FM, you can use the following roles in the full-back stratum of the pitch:

  1. full-back;
  2. wing-back;
  3. no-nonsense full-back;
  4. complete wing-back;
  5. inverted wing-back.

In this section, we will also cover the roles available in the wing-back stratum of the pitch. In FM, you can use the following roles there:

  1. wing-back;
  2. complete wing-back;
  3. inverted wing-back.

For the sake of this article, we will cover the players in the defender stratum and wing-back stratum side by side. A complete wing-back will behave the same in terms of his movement patterns, regardless of where he is positioned. It will merely impact his starting position on the pitch.

The full-back

A full-back’s primary job is to defend first and then if the team is on the ascendancy, join in on the attack. He usually sits on the same line as the centre-backs. They are the most defensive flankers on the team, hence why they are full-backs. Full backs can, depending on their setting, move forward to provide assistance in the attack but their primary role is to defend the flanks.

For the role of full-back, you can select the following settings:

  1. defend;
  2. support;
  3. attack.

Primarily a defensive player with auxiliary offensive duties, the settings determine the amount of offensive involvement for a full-back. With an Attack duty, the full-back supplements his defensive responsibilities by overlapping the midfield and providing first-time crosses into the area. It is the most offensive movement for a full-back and not quite as offensive as a wing-back would be.

With a Support duty, the full-back will support the midfield by providing extra width and will look for crosses and through balls when the opportunity for each arises, whereas, with a defend duty, the full-back will stay back with the defensive line and make simple possession passes down the flanks or into central midfield.

The full-back is usually part of a back four, where he secures the flanks. The more offensive a team is willing to play, the more offensive his setting can become, without sacrificing defensive stability.

Their hard-coded behaviour shows us the same. The defensive setting prevents the full-back from getting too involved, while the attacking setting offers a more adventurous setting. The support setting is the most versatile setting because it allows for more customisation and tweaking.

The wing-back

One of those wonderful sights FM can offer is seeing the wing-back fly up and down the touchline terrorising the opposition. This role is more attacking than the full-back’s, and it basically involves a great deal of running. They have to assist in the attack, which is usually because a team playing wing-backs will not have wingers, but they also have to be able to get back and help in the defence if needs be.

A wing back can be employed in the defensive stratum as well as in the wing-back stratum. As a defender, the wing-back sits as deep as the rest of the defensive line but moves forward as often as you allow him to. As a wing-back, he sits slightly ahead of the defence, on the same line as a defensive midfielder.

For the role of wing-back, you can select the following settings:

  1. defend;
  2. support;
  3. attack.

Looking at their movement, we can see that the wing-back offers multi-faceted behaviour, depending on the setting you select. Each setting offers its own behaviour, which is identical in some ways and wildly different in other ways.

The wing-back is expected to contribute on both ends of the pitch. Depending on the chosen setting, the emphasis is placed on defence, offence or a more balanced approach.

A wing-back is usually employed in a formation that includes just three players in midfield. This allows the wing-backs to supply all of the width in the team. When his movement is not curbed by other wide players, a wing-back on an offensive setting can act almost as a deep-lying winger.

The defensive and attack settings are fairly specialised roles, with many of the custom instructions hard-coded. The most versatile option is the support setting, which leaves the most room for tweaking and customisation.

The no-nonsense full-back

The no-nonsense full-back is the wide version of the no-nonsense centre-back. Instead of trying to help with the build-up play, he will not take any risks and either pass it to someone who can play football or, when pressured, just hoof it clear. He is, essentially, a pure defender. Not bothered with build-up play, nor with moving forward when in possession, his presence is meant to guard the flank and eliminate any and all threats in his zone of the pitch.

The no-nonsense full-back is only available in a single setting:

  1. defend.

Movement-wise, this role is very plain. No movement forward is involved at all, while the initial positioning is determined by the team instructions.

The movement or lack thereof of a no-nonsense full-back

This pure defender is out on the pitch to either guard a zone of the field or to eliminate a specific threat to the defensive line. When you look at his hard-coded instructions, you can see that he is limited in what he is even allowed to do.

The settings for a no-nonsense full-back

As stated in the name, this role offers few frills and thus few options to customise the role. Almost every single box is somehow ticked. He is to hold his position, is hardcoded to not move forward, dribble less, shoot less often, take fewer risks and cross less often. You can instruct your no-nonsense full-back to stay wider or sit narrower or where to run with the ball. The last option seems strange since he is hard-coded to hold his position and dribble less.

The complete wing-back

The complete wing-backs are the jacked-up-on-steroids cousins of the regular wing-backs. They are expected to perform the same defensive tasks but they are also expected to bomb forward at any given chance to maraud down the flank and get involved offensively with crosses or through-balls. They are very talented players, as they are expected to perform well on both ends of the pitch but always with an emphasis on the attacking part of the game.

For the role of complete wing-back, you can select a mere two settings:

  1. support;
  2. attack.

When it comes to their movement, we can see that the complete wing-backs are expected to perform on both ends of the pitch. Out of all the wide defensive roles, the complete wing-backs are most likely to track back and forth the most but with an emphasis on the attacking aspect, hence the absence of a defensive setting for the complete wing-back in comparison to a regular wing-back.

The complete wing-backs are so industrious, that it would make sense to use them on their own on a flank, not fielding any wide players in front of them, allowing them free reign of the entire flank. As they drive forward, it makes sense not to impede their movement so they can be more effectively used to cover the entire flank.

You see, when their movement is not checked or curbed by other wide players the complete wing-backs can end up near the penalty area of the opposing side. With such movements, the complete wing-back can, under the right circumstances, perform many of the attacking tasks of a winger, providing crosses or even scoring the odd cheeky goal.

Unlike the regular wing-backs, a complete wing-back offers a less balanced option defensively but more potent in an offensive sense. Complete wing-backs will not ignore their defensive tasks, they are just more focused on providing offensive support to the midfielders and forwards.

Looking at their hard-coded behaviour, we can see that the complete wing-back is a very specialised role. Quite a few of the instructions possible in FM are not editable for the complete wing-back. They will always stay wide, get further forward and run wide with the ball and dependant on their exact setting, certain other movement-patterns are also hard-coded.

The inverted wing-back

On a basic level, the inverted wingback is a right-footed defender playing on the left side, or vice versa. These talented all-rounders can be important both offensively and defensively. They are tasked with surging forward and bolstering the offensive movements of the team as well as protecting the flank of the defensive line. This implies a broad technical skill-set, a strong physique and the mental ability to make the right decision based on the situation a player is in.

The difference between a traditional wingback and an inverted one lies within their positional play on the pitch. Whilst a normal wingback will generally offer width to an attack, the inverted wingback will make runs through the centre of the pitch, creating space for numerous players around him.

Much like most of the wide defenders, you can select three settings for the inverted wing-back, both in the defensive stratum and the wing-back stratum of the pitch:

  1. defend;
  2. support;
  3. attack.

As you can gather from the graphics above, inverted wing-backs are naturally inclined to drive inward with the ball, where they can disjoint the opposition’s defensive shape as, once the ball has reached them, they can dribble diagonally infield onto their favoured foot.

As they drive inside towards their more favoured foot, they are able to not only pass diagonally and vertically forward but diagonally forward to their opposite flank as well. This is a potentially defence-unlocking pass as they can draw the opposition towards them and the ball by driving diagonally inward to the left before passing to the right, once again potentially unhinging the opposition’s defensive line. 

When their movement is not checked or curbed by other wide players the inverted wing-backs can even end up inside the penalty area of the opposing side. With such movements, the inverted wing-back can, under the right circumstances, perform many of the attacking tasks of an inside forward, though it is also important for him to hold his wide position at times, in order to stretch the opposing defensive line.

The inverted wing-backs’ tendency to cut inside doesn’t stop when an attack breaks down and this tendency helps the team in the defensive phase. By playing a bit more narrow than a regular wingback, the inverted wing-backs assist their midfielders by cutting off the half-space opportunities for opposition players. If an opponent takes up a position between a central midfielder and the IWB, the latter closes down from the outside while the former moves toward the opponent from the inside. This forms a kind of pincer movement that congesting the space available to the opposition player. When the IWB is facing a regular winger or inside forward, he acts as a traditional wingback, marking his opponent and moving outside to take on his marker when needed.

Looking at their hard-coded behaviour, we can see that the inverted wing-back is a very specialised role. Quite a few of the instructions possible in FM are not editable for the inverted wing-back. They will always sit narrower and cut inside and dependant on their exact setting, certain other movement-patterns are also hard-coded.


A massive word of thanks goes out to our proof-readers. In no particular order, we wish to thank Filip Borowski, Matthias Suuck, From The Cheap Seats, Gareth Clarke.

Guido is the founding father of Strikerless and main nutjob running the show.

A 24 year old aspiring football writer with a keen passion for football in Eastern Europe, and its relationship with politics. Particularly interested in the effect of Communism on football in the region, and the results of its collapse. Lover of Back 3's, Italian football and classic Number 10's. I also write about the Football Manager series of PC games on my own blog, The Tactical Annals. I am available on Twitter (@JLAspey).


5 Comments

Simon · March 28, 2020 at 3:21 pm

I remember getting blue-balled with a similar series on here years ago, stopped right at the last chapter!

    Guido · March 28, 2020 at 3:30 pm

    This is literally the final chapter of that series. I do intend to re-new the first two parts 🙂

      Simon · April 12, 2020 at 12:44 pm

      Good stuff, thanks for all the wonderful work

Sailesh · July 25, 2020 at 4:37 am

Great stuff!
Looking forward to the next part on midfield & attacking roles.

    Guido · July 25, 2020 at 3:01 pm

    Thanks. Work in progress 🙂

Leave a Reply to Sailesh Cancel reply

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