Soccer Sweeper?
Does Anybody Play with One Anymore?

soccer sweeper

A dominating soccer sweeper in today's game is tough to find, mainly because modern professional soccer is generally played with a flat back four and the sweeper positions has been almost eliminated.

The days of old where sweepers use to run the show at the back are gone, but there is good news. All the qualities, traits and attributes of the position are still vitally important in all defenders particularly center backs.

"so coach what position am I playing today? ummm, well Jimmy

you can play.. let me see, okay sweeper....."

"sweeper? really? thanks coach"

"yeah sure you can be sweeper of the field before the game make sure it's clean for the players Jimmy"

The position acts as a security blanket for the back four defenders and virtually for the entire team. The sweeper generally doesn't really man mark but "sweeps" in behind the back four defenders in the case of any mistakes or just as a safety valve. 

What Is A Soccer Sweeper Exactly?

  • If you're reading this wondering what a sweeper is you were probably born after 1995 and have never heard of such a position. If you were born before then welcome my prehistoric friends.
  • All jokes aside the soccer sweeper is a position on the field that has gone away in recent time but was common in the early years of the sport.
  • Basically the sweeper sits in behind the defensive line as an extra layer of protection, sweeping up in behind the defence so to speak.
  • Typically this position is a free roaming position that has no man-to-man responsibility but plays between the keeper and center backs.
  • The sweeper has many defensive responsibilities but the most important job the sweeper can play is protecting the center backs, period.

Soccer Sweeper Video Explanation

Top 5 Qualities Of A Great Soccer Sweeper

1. High IQ & Strong Communicator

  • Putting yourself in the right position is more important than actually making the tackle is what having a high IQ is all about.
  • Great sweepers can sense the danger before it happens while playing low risk soccer. 
  • Being able to organize those around you is vital to your own success on the field.
  • Other than the goalie, a sweeper is the furthest person back with the best view of the pitch so keeping your teammates in compact is just as important as any tackle you make.

2. Ability To Read The Game

  • Anticipation is key as a sweeper so try and think where the danger is going to be and look to put people in place to deal with it before putting yourself in that position.
  • Thinking two or three plays ahead to get your body positioning adjusted can be vital in sniffing out the danger.

3. Great Ball Winner

  • Nothing complicated here, pure and simple ball winner on the ground and in the air with whatever body part it takes.
  • Timing of the tackle is everything and the sweeper has to be able to challenge for balls with controlled aggression and come out with the ball no matter the situation.

4. Discipline Defender

  • The last line of defence needs to be the rock of the team and can't be running up past the defensive line or out wide doing other people's job and compromising his deep position.
  • Protect the middle of the park by staying there and letting the danger come to you.

5. Athletic

  • You need to have the ability to jump with the strikers, sprint with the wingers and stand strong with any center back that may come your way on a set piece.
  • You don't have to be Lebron James but a certain level of athleticism (especially defending in the open field) is critical in this position.

What Is This Sweeper Keeper Things Everyone Is Talking About?

As much as the pure sweeper role is rarely used in the modern game the sweeper keeper role has started to grow.

If you're not familiar with what this means it is basically a keeper that plays high off of their line and cleans up in behind the defensive line while still maintaining the goalkeeper position.

Manuel Neuer from Bayern Munich and the German National team has been the player that has really brought this role to center stage. Next time you get a chance have a look at how high and how often he comes off of his line to win balls with his head, feet and other body parts.

Key Attributes Of A Keeper Who Acts As A Sweeper

1. Quick Off Your Line

2. Confidence To Play In The Open Field

3. Ability To Anticipate The Play

4. Ball Winning Ability

5. Good Vision To Pick Out The Right Pass

Top 5 Things To Remember When Playing Sweeper

1. Protect The Center Backs

  • Your primary job is to protect the center backs.
  • Don't get caught running around all over the field like a chicken with their head cut off.

2. Anticipate

  • Anticipate the play and put your teammates in a position to do your dirty work first to make your job easier.

3. Neat And Tidy

  • Be neat and tidy when the ball is at your feet, this means take little risk, your job is to go unnoticed and clear your lines.

4. Be A Great Ball Winner

  • Straight up be a viscous ball winner, after all that's why you're there.

5. Lots Of Communication 

  • Constant instruction and communication to your keeper and the lines in front of you.
  • We don't always play our best games but nothing is stopping us from being great communicators all game long.

Top 5 Things To Avoid When Playing Sweeper

1. Doing Other Peoples Job

  • Trying to be the sweeper, center midfielder and striker all at once, do your job and nothing more.

2. Bad Body Position

  • Flat footed and closed body position. Always be side on ready to move in any direction, remaining flat will only leave you reacting to the opponents.

3. Playing For The Cameras

  • If the ball needs to be cleared out of bounds or up the field to nobody so be it, zero risks is the sign of a great soccer sweeper.

4. Not Talking

  • Open your mouth and organize, encourage and instruct your teammates for the greater good.

5. Dribbling Unecessairly

  • A coach's nightmare is a sweeper who tries to dribble in the most dangerous part of the pitch.

What Should A Soccer Sweeper Be Working On Before & After Training?

It's really no different then what a defender needs to be working on. The only difference may be the positioning relative to the keeper and other center backs.

All the other fundamentals a defender needs to be working on applies to the sweeper. The two most important things you should be working on are your ball clearances and 1v1 defending.

Ball Clearances

  • Ask a teammate or friend to serve balls to you from all different parts of the field from 20 to 30 yards away.
  • With this simple drill you can practice your timing and clearing of the ball with different parts of your body.

1 v 1 Defending

  • Have the best dribbling players on your team take you on 1v1 in the open field from different angles to work on your discipline 1v1 defending.
  • Remember the defensive principles such as maintaining a low athletic stance, tackling with your front foot, not jumping in, maintain an arms length cushion and never let the man and the ball past you. 

Can One Of The Two Center Backs Play Sweeper at Times?

If they are doing their job they should be rotating the sweeper role constantly all game long. Why?

Well any good center back knows when a ball is being played in to the posting forward or over their heads one center back steps with the man and the other provides cover in behind acting as a sweeper temporarily.

As the game develops the two center backs (if doing their jobs right) will be providing a 5-7 yard cushion off of the other providing support and safety to the play. This sounds a lot like the role of a sweeper of sorts, providing support and safety.  

Whether your considering bringing the sweeper role back to its former glory or you’re a center back trying to see what you can learn from this almost extinct position it’s important to remember a few things.

  • First, all the same technical and physical attributes still apply if you’re a center back.
  • Second, the man in the back is the leader, general and directs traffic at all times and is responsible for the whole team.
  • Third warrior like mentality is a must for any quality soccer sweeper, sticking your head where most wouldn’t put their feet. 

Attributes A Successful Center Back Pairing

  • Strong sense of communication and chemistry.
  • Understand each other’s roles and responsibilities.
  • Trust one another’s judgments.
  • Through good and bad remain positive.
  • Strong positional awareness. 

Do Professional Teams Ever Play With A Sweeper?

  • As a set formation, rarely. The reasoning is because the flat back four or three most sides play with provide protection without giving up the long ball over the top.
  • Also players these days can handle at times one or two strikers coming at them with four players plus the help of their midfield line.
  • Adding another player to fortify the backline is taking one away from your attack, this is the philosophy that many teams and coaches have adopted and if it works for the best teams in the world who are we to argue. What was all that defence wins championships talk?
  • So to tell it to you bluntly no, it will be truly unique to see teams lining up to start a match with a sweeper in behind their back line. 

Does A Soccer Sweeper Ever Get To Attack?

  • A sweepers main responsibility is to hold down the fort in the back breaking up plays and creating defensive harmony. There are although times where the second last man back gets to go forward and join the attack.
  • Mainly this goes on during set plays. If your team happens to get a free kick or corner then the big man (the sweeper is generally one of your bigger players) get to go forward and try and get their head on the end of a ball swung in.
  • The rare opportunity may arise when a sweeper goes on a run forward and connects on a scoring opportunity. This either results in something positive or a seat on the bench next to the coach if your team gets exposed. Stick to defending big man and do your job. 

Technical Attributes Of A Great Soccer Sweeper

  • Ability to clear the ball with all parts of the foot both left and right.
  • Proper defensive stance with attackers back to them, stationary or dribbling at speed toward them.
  • Proper heading technique in clearances of the ball and directional heading.
  • Sound technically in passing and receiving with both feet for distribution if necessary.

Physical Attributes Of A Great Soccer Sweeper

  • Quick backward movements being able to jockey and track back to chase down attackers.
  • Excellent timing and co-ordination in assessing tackles.
  • Strong lower body strength (1v1 duels with attackers).
  • Strong upper body strength (holding off attackers).
  • Very aggressive and powerful in the air.
  • High level of speed both forward and backward.
  • Agile lateral movements.
  • Powerful tackler and insurance policy in the back.

Mental/Psychological Attributes Of A Great Soccer Sweeper

Strong Vocal Communication

  • Organizing, instructing and encouraging teammates is something you can always bring to the field no matter the score.

Connection With Other Players

  • The way you trust and connect with your keeper and other defenders is an important attribute of an effective sweeper.
  • Being on the same page and understanding each other goes a long way in the success of you and your team.


  • There may be long moments in the game where nothing is happening and in a flash it can all change so maintaining your focus for the entire game is essential.


  • There may be a moment when you go down a goal or need to push players into different positions and it is not uncommon that the first person to be moved out of their position is the sweeper.
  • This is where being selfless comes into play and understanding that it's a tactical and what's best for the team decision and not personal.\
  • Giving up self for the whole is a leadership quality a great sweeper must possess.

Essential Foundational Attributes Of A Great Soccer Sweeper

  • No non-sense tackler and clearer of the ball.
  • Neat and Tidy (does not try and do too much with the ball).
  • Understands his role as a defender and not as a playmaker.
  • Confidence of teammates to act as the last line of defence.
  • Leadership skills in organizing and arranging team shape as it changes and develops.

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