Wide players have a very important role in the tactics and shape of the team. They must be good athletes, with the ability to work very hard from box to box, defending one moment, attacking the next. They should ideally possess decent pace and have a good tactical awareness. It is a very specialised position, because much of the time they will be tight against the touchline and will therefore be forced to play in a very controlled and discipline manner. Ideally, they should also be able to pass and manipulate the ball with their outside foot i.e a left sided midfield player, should be naturally left footed, so that they can open themselves up when receiving the ball, which will give the team natural width, rather than bring the ball back inside, which tends to close attacking situations down.
When the team are in possession, the wide midfield player should try and get as wide and as far forward as they can. This makes the pitch as big as possible and gives the attacking team more options and the defending team problems with defending a much bigger area. It isn't enough for a wide player just to get wide and hope they receive the ball, they must also work hard to create space to receive the ball, either by threatening the space behind the full back and then checking to receive the ball to feet or to check back down the line to create space and suck the fullback towards the ball so the ball can be played behind the fullback into space.
Ideally, when a wide player does receive the ball, they should try and receive it on the back foot, so they are facing the defender, with the ball on their outside foot i.e left winger, left foot.
One of the main roles a wide player should be able to perform effectively is to deliver crosses into the box for their forwards. This may require good technical ability to cross early and accurately, without actually beating a player - David Beckham was one of the World's best at this, or the ability to take on and beat their fullback, much like Ryan Giggs. But, however they do it, they must have the correct attitude and a technical ability to be able to deliver crosses into the box for their forwards.
Wide midfield players must also have the desire and determination to get into the box to attack crosses from their opposite flank. This is hard work and requires a real positive attitude from the player, but very often the reward is worth the effort.
When possession is lost, wide midfield players have a vital defensive role to perform for their team. They should be able to recover quickly so they are in contact with their central midfield colleagues. Their next role is to get themselves in a position that makes it difficult for the opposition player on the ball to pass to the opposition wide player on their side of the pitch. If the ball is passed wide, the opposite side wide player (i.e if ball is on the opposition left flank, the wide left player) should tuck in field in order to compact the midfield. If the ball is then played across the pitch, they should readjust their position, gradually pulling wider again as the ball travels across the pitch.
If the wide player gets caught out of position, then their main responsibility is recover, as quickly as they can, to the goal side of the ball and provide cover for their fullback who will have to pressure the ball.
When the opposition are crossing the ball into the penalty area, the wide midfield player must get themselves back into their own box, to assist the defencive unit, by either marking an opposition player or taking a position where they can clear any knock downs or mishit crosses. Once the goalkeeper has the ball, they must quickly break forward and wide to be in a position where they can receive a throw or a kick from the goalkeeper.
Gone are the days when a wide player was a winger whose sole task was to attack the opposition fullback and deliver crosses. The modern wide player has a great deal of responsibility, both from an attacking and defending sense.
Wide midfield player animated drills:
Roles and responsibilities of a wide player: