What is a Poacher in Soccer? [Complete Guide 2023]

“I want to be a striker!”. I have heard that so many times when coaching kids that cannot even tie their shoelaces. However, as they get older, they understand that the role of the striker can vary significantly. If the advantage over the defenders is in speed, then they would do runs into the space behind them. Big player will act more like a target man. If our team has deadly wingers, we might deploy the striker as a false nine. However, if our striker is a poacher in soccer, we expect them to score goals. They operate in virtually all soccer formations, but they are always the ones leading the front line.

The Role of a Poacher in Soccer

The primary role of the Poacher is to score goals. They operate in the penalty area, looking for tiny gaps between the defenders to just take a touch on the ball and put it in the back of the net. The poacher is often called “fox in the box” and is very tough to guard against. The attributes required to excel in the art of poaching are reflexes, agility, and anticipation. Perhaps the best way to describe poachers is that they have a “smell for goals”. They know when and where to make the short sprint. They get in front of the defenders and score the goal.

A poacher is a player who operates in the offensive line with a primary focus on scoring goals through close-range opportunities. Their positioning and anticipation skills are key, as they thrive on being in the right place at the right time. So the timing and explosiveness, as well as the clinical finishing is what the poacher needs to practice constantly. Poachers exploit defensive errors, rebounds, and loose balls to convert them into goals. While not necessarily involved in the buildup play, their ability to finish chances efficiently makes them a valuable asset to any soccer team.

Attributes Needed for Poacher in Soccer

  1. Sharp Instincts: Poachers possess an innate ability to read the game, predict where the ball will land, and position themselves accordingly. This requires exceptional situational awareness and football intelligence. Now, this is a combination of innate abilities and experience. Many of the poachers decline physically over the years but manage to score more goals in their 30s. The most recent players that have shown us that are Luis Suarez, Robert Lewandowski, and Karim Benzema.
  2. Quick Reflexes: Given the close proximity to the goal and the rapid pace of the game, poachers must react swiftly to capitalize on scoring opportunities. Their ability to make split-second decisions sets them apart. The best strikers manage to get their foot before the defenders just a fraction of a second sooner. That’s all that is needed at the highest level and the highest pace.
  3. Clinical Finishing: The hallmark of a poacher is their proficiency in converting even the most challenging chances into goals. A composed and accurate finishing touch is essential to make the most of the limited space and time available. When two even teams are playing, often there aren’t many chances on either side of the pitch. So, that difference in who takes their chances is the deciding factor.
  4. Movement and Positioning: Poachers must be adept at making sharp, deceptive movements to outwit defenders and find pockets of space within the penalty area. Their positioning ensures they are ready to pounce on any loose balls or rebounds. This is a combination of knowing where the opponents are blocking them and where their teammates can find them with the ball. Poachers don’t rely on being found, they make sure they will be.
  5. Anticipation: Anticipating the trajectory of crosses, shots, and passes is a crucial skill for a poacher. This allows them to position themselves optimally for goal-scoring opportunities. Some of the best poachers are always scoring rebound goals. In theory that is not a plan for success. However, some of the best poachers have scored dozens of goals each year that way.

Practice Drills for Poachers in Soccer

  1. Rebound Drill: Set up scenarios where the goalkeeper makes saves, and the poacher must react quickly to the rebounds, ensuring they’re in the right position to convert the loose ball into a goal. Ideally, it’s a 3 person drill: one player takes something like a freekick, the goalkeeper tries to save it and the poacher makes a run to pick up the rebound ball.
  2. One-Touch Finishing: Work on improving quick decision-making and accuracy by practicing one-touch finishes from various angles and distances. This hones a poacher’s ability to react swiftly and make the most of tight spaces. This is the bread and butter for poachers, so these drills never stop for them. It starts from early age in soccer practice, and it keeps building over time.
  3. Positional Play: Create exercises that simulate real-game scenarios, focusing on the poacher’s movement within the penalty area. This helps them understand how to find gaps in the defense and position themselves optimally. We like to do a variation of the rondos, maybe a 5v2 rondo, where the poacher is the only player that can shoot on goals. We leave two goals to make it easier to shoot, but the real goal is for the poacher to find space to receive and shoot.
  4. Crossing and Finishing: Have players practice crossing the ball from different areas of the field, while the poacher aims to connect with these crosses and score. This improves the poacher’s ability to read and anticipate deliveries. Practice low crosses, medium crosses, and high crosses. Similarly, vary the short distance, medium distance, and long distance. There is lots of overlap with the one-touch finishing of it, so they can often be combined.
  5. Defensive Pressure Drill: Simulate scenarios where the poacher faces defensive pressure while receiving the ball. This drill enhances their ability to stay composed and finish under pressure. While the poacher in soccer doesn’t always need to hold the ball high, it is useful to have that skill. Now, if they can sometimes get around the player with a one-touch dribble, that can make them a big threat. Similarly if they can create space to shoot with a tight dribble, that can lead to more shots on goal and more goals.

Famous Poachers in History

  1. Gerd Müller: Known as the “Der Bomber,” Müller was a prolific German striker who played for Bayern Munich and the national team. His exceptional positioning and clinical finishing earned him 68 goals in 62 international appearances. He is not one of the players in history that were transformational, like Pele or Maradona. However, he was so clinical (>1 goal per game for Germany) that he epitomizes the role of a poacher in soccer.
  2. Ruud van Nistelrooy: This Dutch striker was renowned for his poaching skills during his time at Manchester United and Real Madrid. His ability to convert half-chances into goals made him a feared presence in the penalty area. Nobody could pinpoint only one quality that he had, except that he would score lots of goals.
  3. Miroslav Klose: A World Cup-winning German striker, Klose’s ability to score goals from close range made him the all-time leading scorer in World Cup history. His anticipation and positioning were instrumental in his success. He played alongside world-class players, but he knew exactly where to be at the right time. Simply brilliant!
  4. Filippo Inzaghi: Inzaghi, an Italian striker, was celebrated for his knack of being in the right place at the right time. His poaching prowess helped him win numerous titles with AC Milan and the Italian national team. When it comes to shooting technique or physical attributes, he was inferior to other strikers and the defenders that defended him. However, he always came out as a winner on the other side.

From the active players, we have to highlight Erling Haaland, Robert Lewandowski, Luis Suarez, and Karim Benzema. These players are so good at scoring goals that it’s news when they don’t score a goal in a game. They play as classic poachers, converting half-chances or just loose balls to goals. The poachers score so many goals that they become the biggest soccer stars that everybody talks about.


The role of a poacher in soccer may not involve intricate playmaking, but it’s a specialized and valuable position that demands unique skills. The ability to anticipate, react quickly, and finish with clinical precision sets poachers apart as goal-scoring machines. After all, nothing motivates soccer players more than scoring goals. With practice drills and dedication, aspiring players can hone their instincts and become lethal poachers on the field, leaving an indelible mark on the world of soccer, just like the famous names who have come before them.