How Do Football Commentators Know Who Has The Ball

5 Reasons Why Football Commentators Know Who Has The Ball

Last updated on March 7th, 2022

You may have watched a football match, and may be amazed how the commentators know the names of every player!

Here are 5 reasons why football commentators know who has the ball:

  1. Players’ jersey numbers are prominent
  2. Players have specific positions
  3. Players have unique running styles and characteristics
  4. Commentators have access to the team sheets
  5. Commentators will become familiar over time

#1 Players’ jersey numbers are prominent

Every football player is required to have a jersey number. Initially, they were used to distinguish players on the field. A certain position had a certain number, such as ‘1’ being for goalkeepers.

Commentators would be able to see these numbers and identify the players.

However, the rule is much more flexible now. You are able to use any squad number that you wish! This can be pretty overwhelming now.

Nevertheless, most players will have a favourite number. They will choose the same number, no matter which club they go to.

As such, some numbers have become synonymous with certain players.

For example, famous strikers like Lewandowski will have take the number 9 jersey. Centre attacking midfielders that are the main goal creators will usually choose number 10.

You can view my breakdown of how the roles of a striker and a centre attacking midfielder (CAM) are different.

Most numbers can usually be associated with a certain player. Players who wear smaller numbers are usually in the first team.

Meanwhile, players with a larger number are usually youth players. They do not have much experience and have yet to prove themselves yet.

As such, they do not have any rights to claim the coveted smaller numbers.

This may make it easy for commentators to identify the player just based on their number!

#2 Players have specific positions

Each player has a role to play in the team. They will have specific positions and responsibilities to carry out. As such, they will usually stay in a certain area of the pitch.

Here are some examples:

1. Centre backs stay at the back

Centre backs will usually be just in front of their goalkeeper. Their main role is to block the center channel. This is the most important channel for the attacking team to score a goal. As such, centre backs will mainly occupy this central area.

This makes it hard for the opposition striker to be free in this dangerous area.

The only time when they will move further up the pitch is during corners or free kicks.

2. Wingers and full-backs occupy the flanks

You may have a right or left winger / full-back on your team. These 2 positions will usually hug their respective flanks.

The role of these players is to provide width to the attack. This helps to attack to continue flowing, especially when the centre is too occupied by players.

As such, they will mainly stay at their specific flanks to both attack and defend for their team.

3. Midfielders occupy the centre

True to their name, midfielders will usually stay around the centre of the pitch. Their main role is to control the play and link attack to defence.

Midfielders can run around the entire pitch, but they usually stay in the middle area of the pitch.

However, there are some midfielders who act as a pivot and stay just in front of the defence, and they can be also known as CDMs.

4. Strikers usually stay high up the pitch

The striker’s main role is to score goals. As such, both strikers and centre forwards will be seen high up the pitch.

However, it is also possible for defenders and goalkeepers to score goals too.

They will rarely go beyond the mid-line to their defensive half. If not, they have a lot of ground to cover when they want to score a goal!

5. Goalkeepers usually stay within their penalty area

Goalkeepers are the easiest to identify since they wear different jerseys compared to their teammates, and are wearing gloves too.

Moreover, they usually stay within their penalty area. They do not move around as much compared to outfield players, which could be a reason why they are able to retire later.

Some goalkeepers may play the role of a sweeper keeper. This will be the only time where they’ll appear higher up the pitch!

However, if they are outside their box and make a deliberate stop with their hands, they may be sent off for a handball offence.

Players’ positions make it easy to identify them

When commentators see the player with the ball, they may know who the player is based on their position!

#3 Players have unique running styles and characteristics

Everyone of us has unique traits that define themselves. This makes it very easy for commentators to identify these specific traits so they know who has the ball.

Unique running styles

Some players have very unique running styles. One example is Raheem Sterling, who ‘inherited’ his running style from his mum.

Other defining features e.g. hairstyles

Other players may have other defining features. For example, a player may have a unique hairstyle that differentiates him from his teammates.

Having these unique traits will help commentators to easily identify who is on the ball.

#4 Commentators have access to the team sheets

Before the start of each match, there are 2 things that will be announced which tells us who will be playing in the match.

1. Squad announcements a few days before the match

A football club may announce the squad that will be going for each match. This includes both the starting 11 as well as the substitutes.

If the club is playing at another stadium, particularly in another country, they are unable to bring the full team. They will at most bring a 23-man squad to represent their team.

This usually happens a few days before the match.

2. Starting lineup announced one hour before the match

Usually one hour before the football match starts, the starting lineup will be announced by the club.

This will help the commentators to know who will be on the pitch at the start.

Commentators have team sheets to refer to

Once the squad and lineups have been announced, commentators will have access to the team sheets.

These team sheets will have both the names of the players as well as their numbers.

Since the players’ numbers are so prominent, commentators can use the team sheet to find the name of the player if they need to.

#5 Commentators will become familiar over time

Most football commentators have been around for years. This has led to some amazing moments in the game.

These commentators have been around for so long. As such, they will gain more experience after watching many football matches.

Over time, they will instinctively recognise certain players. This makes their job so much easier as they know straightaway which player has the ball!


Being a football commentator can be rather tough. Having to know the names of all the players while providing engaging commentary can be really tough.

However, there are many things that can help the commentator identify a player more easily. Over time, they will gain more experience and be able to know who is always on the ball!

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