Monday, 22 Jul 2024

The Role of the False 9

In the ever-evolving world of soccer, the traditional number 9 striker is becoming a rarity. Gone are the days of prolific goalscorers like Alan Shearer and Miroslav Klose dominating the game with their goal tallies. Nowadays, forwards are expected to possess a wide range of skills and contribute to the team in various ways.

Amidst this changing landscape, a new position has emerged as one of the most famous inverted forward roles in soccer – the False 9. In this article, we will delve into what this position entails, its rise to prominence, and some of the greatest players who have excelled in this role.

What is a False 9 in Soccer?

The term “False 9” is increasingly prevalent in modern football. As teams explore innovative ways to dismantle their opponents’ defenses, new positional strategies have emerged. At its core, a false 9 is a center-forward who operates high up the pitch but has the freedom to roam and drop back into deeper positions to receive the ball and initiate plays. These players typically operate in central areas, occupying a space between the center-forward and central attacking midfield positions.

The primary objective of a false 9 is to create confusion among opposition defenders by finding pockets of space away from the center-backs. By doing so, they draw defenders out of position, disrupt the defense, and make marking more challenging for the opposition.

False 9s need to possess technical prowess, intelligent movement, excellent ball control, a wide passing range, and most importantly, the ability to finish chances. Despite occasionally dropping back into advanced midfield positions to create opportunities, they are also expected to display clinical finishing skills similar to those of a traditional center-forward. As you can see, playing as a false 9 demands a versatile skill set.

Why is it called the False 9 position?

Soccer positions have traditionally been referred to by the number associated with that particular role. For example, a defensive midfielder in a double pivot is often referred to as a “Number 6,” while a central attacking midfielder is known as a “Number 10.”

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In the case of a false 9, the term derives from subverting the role traditionally assigned to the number 9 striker. When players in this position drop back and assume a more creative role, they challenge the conventional understanding of the striker’s role. Hence, they are referred to as “False” nines, highlighting their departure from the traditional expectations of a number 9 striker.

The History of the False 9

The roots of the false 9 position can be traced back to the 1930s when the Austrian national team, led by center forward Matthias Sindelar, embraced a style of play that involved dropping deep to unsettle opposition defenders. This tactic was also employed by Johan Cruyff during his time as Barcelona manager, with Danish legend Michael Laudrup often occupying the false 9 role in a fluid 4-3-3 system. Italian forward Francesco Totti also flourished in a similar position for Roma under the guidance of Luciano Spaletti during the 2006/07 season.

The false 9 gained significant prominence during Pep Guardiola’s successful reign as Barcelona’s head coach. Guardiola moved Lionel Messi from the right wing to the center, entrusting him with the false 9 role, and the Argentine maestro excelled in scoring and creating opportunities.

Since then, the false 9 system has been adopted by other elite coaches and remains a popular alternative tactic in the modern game. In the following section, we will highlight some of the most iconic players who have made their mark as false 9s.

The Best False 9s of all time

Numerous players have left their mark on the game while excelling in the false 9 role. Although it is impossible to include every legendary player, here are a few notable examples:

Michael Laudrup

Considered one of the greatest players of all time, former Danish international Michael Laudrup operated excellently in the space between midfield and attack – the false nine zone. Laudrup scored over 100 goals for clubs like Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Juventus during his illustrious career in the 1980s and 1990s.

Lionel Messi

Argentine forward Lionel Messi, widely regarded as one of the greatest footballers of all time, played a pivotal role in popularizing the false 9 position in the modern era. Messi’s ability to drop off and receive the ball, combined with his goalscoring prowess, has made him a devastating force in offensive positions.

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Cesc Fabregas

During Spain’s triumph in the 2012 Euro final, the team utilized a false 9 to link the forwards and midfielders, resulting in their unprecedented hat trick of tournament wins. Former Arsenal and Chelsea player Cesc Fabregas excelled in the false 9 position, contributing significantly to Spain’s success.

Roberto Firmino

Roberto Firmino, the Brazilian international, has been a key player for Liverpool under the guidance of Jurgen Klopp since 2015. His ability to drop deep and create space has posed significant challenges for opposing defenders, establishing him as one of the best modern false 9 players.

Harry Kane

English striker Harry Kane has evolved his game over the years, showcasing his ability to drop back and contribute to the team’s play. His versatility and effectiveness as a false 9 position him among the finest players in the world in this role.

How to play against a false nine

Playing against a false 9 requires careful planning and tactical execution. To neutralize the impact of a strong false 9, deploying a deep defensive line and employing a strong double pivot in front can prove effective. These central defensive midfielders can pick up the false 9 when they drop into midfield areas, allowing the central defenders to maintain their positions and discipline.

The 4-2-3-1 formation is often regarded as one of the best defensive setups against a false 9. This formation congests central areas, limiting the space available for the attacking player to operate. Instead, the focus shifts to wider areas, reducing the impact of the false 9.

Alternatively, man-marking can be employed, with a specific player, often a center-back, assigned to track the movement of the false 9 throughout the match. This strategy denies them time and space on the ball, restricting their freedom to roam.

While these tactics can help contain the influence of false 9s, it is important to remember that they are typically highly skilled individuals. Completely stopping them is no easy task.

If you found this deep dive into the false 9 position intriguing, you may want to explore our comprehensive guide to soccer positions for further insights into the key areas of the pitch. Additionally, if you are interested in the relationship between creative midfielders and traditional attackers, our article on the role of the attacking midfielder might grab your attention.

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Frequently Asked Questions:

Is a false 9 a forward or an attacking midfielder?

False 9s occupy a middle ground between attacking midfield and the striker position. They drop back to provide creative support while also scoring goals themselves. Each player interprets this role differently. For a better understanding of the attacking midfield position, refer to our comprehensive guide.

Is a false 9 just a 10?

No, a false 9 is not the same as a number 10. While a number 9 is typically the primary striker and a number 10 is a secondary striker, a false 9 combines elements of both roles. They have the freedom to drop deep from the forward position into midfield, receiving the ball in deeper positions and creating space for the midfielders or wide players to exploit.

Is Messi a false 9?

Yes, Lionel Messi has successfully played as a false 9 throughout his career. However, as potentially the best player of all time, Messi is capable of playing across the forward line as well as in midfield.

Is Firmino a false 9?

Yes, Roberto Firmino is one of the Premier League’s finest examples of a false 9. His ability to drop deep and orchestrate play perfectly complements attacking players like Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, and Luis Diaz.

What are the different positions in soccer?

Soccer features a wide variety of positions, including goalkeeper, defense, midfield, and attack. Each role contributes uniquely to the team’s overall performance. For a comprehensive overview of the different positions in soccer, consult our detailed guide.

What is a hat trick in soccer?

A hat trick occurs when a player scores three goals in a single match. It is considered a remarkable achievement mainly reserved for highly skilled forwards. To learn more about hat tricks in soccer, refer to our dedicated guide.

About The Author

Fred Garratt-Stanley is a freelance football writer, a passionate Norwich City fan, and an amateur footballer for AFC Oldsmiths in South London. His writing portfolio includes subjects such as set-piece coaching, xG in football, gegenpressing, zonal marking, and more. Fred’s work has been featured in publications like British GQ, VICE, FanSided, and Football League World.