When looking at the value of a player for a position, there are certain criteria that the player must fulfil.

For a striker, you will look at his goalscoring rate, a goalkeeper, how many clean sheets he keeps, and for a centre midfielder, it will centre around his ball retention or tackle completion rate, depending on which aspect of the game the midfielder specialises in. 

Now what criteria would you look at for a winger? The stereotypical opinion would be to look at how many crosses he gets in the box. But is getting to the byline and whipping in a cross really valuable to your team? This kind of traditional wing play still has many admirers in the English game, and this could be a contributory factor to the international side's poor performance in major tournaments in recent years.

Of course, there is still value in getting the ball into the box, but only if you have players in there. The important criteria for a winger should be how many assists he gets, a cross is not an assist.

In the wrong side, a winger who crosses the ball a lot is actually giving the ball away, and in the modern game where possession is king, a trigger happy winger can be a liability to his side.

So what factors have limited the importance of the traditional winger?

Attacking full backs and the prominence of cutting inside

Tactics have evolved, the full back is no longer confined to his own half, a quality full back is as comfortable going forward as he is defending. With the full back overlapping, there is no point in clogging up the wings with too many players, this means that the 'winger' has to leave the wing, and cut inside to create attempts on goal. Players like Ronaldo, Messi, Ribery and Robben are all experts at this style of play.

Changes in the role of a striker

The chances of someone converting a cross will be higher when more people are in the box, it is simple logic. I guarantee Beckham and Giggs would not have had as many assists in their hayday if United didn't play with two men up front. Also, centre forwards cannot just lurk around the box anymore, they need to be able to link up with the midfield, run the channels and provide assists of their own. So with few traditional frontman partnerships in the modern game, the traditional winger suffers accordingly.

Defensive set-up

Teams defend in a different way in the modern game, there isn't as much space for wingers to take on their man, resulting in fewer crosses into the box.

The opposition winger doubles up as a second defender when his team is without the ball, this limits the effectiveness of the attacking winger when he has two players to beat.

With more players behind the ball, attacking midfielders like Mata, Iniesta and Santi Carzola are more effective at opening up packed opposition defences than a one dimensional winger that runs in straight lines.

Now for some sides, the traditional winger that gets plenty of crosses into the box is still an important commodity. Stoke and West Ham utilise this type of player, and to good effect. However, the fact that these sides are not of Champions League standard augments the idea that the modern game has evolved beyond the importance of traditional wingers. 


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