The traditional role of a centre-forward is to score the majority of goals on behalf of the team. The player may also be used to win long balls or receive passes and retain possession of the ball with their back to goal as teammates advance, in order to provide depth for their team or help teammates score by providing a pass ('through ball' into the ); the latter variation usually requiring quicker pace and good movement. Most modern centre-forwards operate in front of the second strikers or central attacking midfielders, and do the majority of the ball handling outside the box. The present role of centre-forward is sometimes interchangeable with that of an attacking midfielder, especially in the 4–3–1–2 or 4–1–2–1–2 formations. The term "target man" is often used to describe a particular type of striker whose main role is to win high balls in the air and create chances for other members of the team (not necessarily scoring many goals themselves). These players are usually tall and physically strong, being adept at heading the ball. The term centre-forward is taken from the early football playing in which there were five forward players: two outside forwards, two inside forwards, and one centre-forward.
When numbers were introduced in the 1933 English FA Cup final, one of the two centre-forwards that day wore the number nine – Everton's Dixie Dean a strong, powerful forward who had set the record for the most goals scored in a season in English football during the 1927–28 season. The number would then become synonymous with the centre-forward position (only worn that day because one team was numbered 1–11 whilst the other was numbered 12–22).