What is a False 9 in Soccer?

In the ever-evolving landscape of soccer tactics, the role of the traditional center-forward has undergone significant transformation.

Enter the “False 9” – a tactical concept that has revolutionized the way teams approach attacking play.

The false 9 is a fascinating and versatile position that challenges conventional notions of a fixed striker role.

In this article, we will delve into what exactly a false 9 is in soccer, its origins, how it functions within a team’s tactical framework, and the notable players who have excelled in this role.

Now, let’s begin with a quick definition of the role.

In soccer, a false 9 refers to a tactical approach where a player traditionally occupying the central striker position acts as a decoy or drops deeper into midfield, rather than playing as an out-and-out forward. This unconventional positioning aims to create confusion and disrupt the opponent’s defensive structure.

what is a false 9 in soccer - multifaceted role


Who invented the false 9 role in soccer?

The origins of the False 9 role in soccer trace back to the 1930s when the Austrian national team, known as the “wunderteam,” showcased its brilliance under the leadership of centre forward Matthias Sindelar.

what is a false 9 in soccer - matthias sindelar role inventor

Sindelar’s ability to drop deep and unsettle opposition defenders became a hallmark of his playing style, which in itself was cerebral, complex, less direct and forceful than many of his contemporaries.

This tactic of drifting back into midfield also found favor with Johan Cruyff during his tenure as Barcelona manager.

Cruyff frequently deployed Danish legend Michael Laudrup as a false nine within a dynamic 4-3-3 system.

Another prominent figure in the false 9 lineage is former Italian forward Francesco Totti, who gained fame at Roma, particularly during the 2006/07 season under coach Luciano Spaletti.

Totti’s role primarily revolved around operating as a false 9.

These influential players and managers have played significant roles in shaping and popularizing the False 9 position in soccer.


What are the general roles and duties of a false 9?

The false 9 in soccer assumes a distinct role and set of responsibilities within a team’s tactical framework.

Here are the general roles and duties associated with the false 9 position:


1. Dropping deep

The false 9 often drops deeper into midfield, creating space and dragging opposing defenders out of position.

This action aims to disrupt the defensive structure and open up gaps for teammates to exploit.


2. Playmaking

As a false 9, the player becomes a key playmaker, acting as a link between the midfield and the attack.

They are involved in building up attacks, distributing passes, and initiating offensive moves.

More so, their technical ability and vision play a vital role in creating scoring opportunities.


3. Attacking unpredictability

By operating in a deeper position, the false 9 adds an element of surprise and unpredictability to the team’s attacking play.

This positioning can confuse defenders, who are unsure whether to track the false 9 or maintain their defensive shape.


4. Mobility and intelligent movement

The false 9 requires excellent movement off the ball, constantly seeking spaces and making runs into channels or pockets to unsettle the defense.

This mobility allows them to exploit gaps, drag defenders out of position, and create scoring chances.


5. Goal scoring

Although the false 9 often drops deeper, they are still expected to contribute to goal scoring.

Their intelligent movement and positioning can create opportunities for shots on goal or for teammates to score.


6. Defensive contribution

While primarily an attacking role, the false 9 is also expected to contribute defensively.

This includes pressing the opposition, disrupting their build-up play, and helping to regain possession.


How do you play as a false 9?

Playing as a false 9 in soccer entails a demanding role with specific objectives.

The primary aim is to create confusion within the opponent’s defensive line by finding open spaces away from their center-backs to receive the ball.

This strategic positioning enables attacking players to disrupt the defense, draw defenders out of position, and complicate marking assignments for the opposition.

To excel in this role, false 9s require exceptional technical abilities, including intelligent movement, precise ball control, a diverse passing repertoire, and most importantly, the proficiency to convert scoring opportunities.

Despite frequently dropping back into advanced midfield positions to generate chances, they must exhibit clinical finishing skills akin to those of a top-class center forward.

The role of a false 9 demands a combination of skills and attributes, making it a challenging and multifaceted position to fulfill successfully.

Check out the informative video below, which shows how to play this role to perfection:


Which players are modern examples of the false 9 role?

There have been several notable modern examples of players excelling in the false 9 role in soccer.

Here are a few prominent names:


Lionel Messi

During his time at Barcelona, Messi often operated as a false 9 under the guidance of coach Pep Guardiola.

His ability to drop deep, link up play, and score goals made him a formidable force in this role.


Roberto Firmino

As a key player for Liverpool over the years, Firmino has showcased his versatility as a false 9.

His work rate, movement, and ability to create space for teammates have been instrumental in Liverpool’s attacking success.

Firmino has consistently been able to open up space for wide forwards like Mohammed Salah, Sadio Mane and Diogo Jota, who’ve excelled with significant goal contributions brought about by the Brazilian’s selfless play in the role.


Harry Kane

When Harry Kane – the talented England and Tottenham Hotspur striker – initially emerged in the football scene, he epitomized the traditional role of a striker.

One who relentlessly scored goals and pressured defensive lines throughout the country.

However, his game has evolved over time.

Nowadays, it’s common to witness him dropping deeper on the field, orchestrating play with his accurate passing and contributing valuable assists.

In these instances, Kane demonstrates exceptional skills as a false 9, showcasing his versatility as one of the most proficient players in this position worldwide.


Is Ronaldo a false 9?

The short answer here is no.

Cristiano Ronaldo is not typically considered a false 9.

Instead, he’s primarily known as a forward or winger who operates in more advanced positions on the field.

Ronaldo is recognized for his goal-scoring prowess, explosive speed, and aerial ability.

While he has occasionally played as a central striker in certain matches or tactical setups, his preferred position is usually as a wide forward or winger, where he can utilize his speed and cutting inside to create scoring opportunities for himself and his teammates.


Is Harry Kane a false 9?

Yes, Harry Kane has demonstrated his capability to play as a false 9.

While he’s traditionally known as a center forward, Kane has showcased his versatility by dropping deeper and assuming playmaking responsibilities.

He often drifts back to participate in the build-up play, providing assists and creating opportunities for his teammates.

Additionally, Kane’s ability to combine goal-scoring instincts with his passing range and intelligent movement makes him an effective false 9 when deployed in that role.


Is Messi a false 9?

Yes, Lionel Messi is widely regarded as one of the most notable examples of a false 9 in modern soccer.

During his time at Barcelona, under the guidance of coach Pep Guardiola, Messi frequently played as a false 9.

In this role, he operated as a central forward but often dropped deeper into midfield to participate in the build-up play and create scoring opportunities.

Messi’s ability to link up with teammates, his vision, and his goal-scoring prowess made him a formidable force in the position.

His success in this role has influenced the way the position is perceived and has inspired many other players to adopt similar tactics.


Is Benzema a false 9?

Yes, Karim Benzema, the French forward who plays for Real Madrid, has often been deployed as a false 9 throughout his career.

Benzema’s style of play involves dropping deep, linking up with midfielders, and creating space for his teammates.

He consistently showcases excellent hold-up play, technical skills, and the ability to provide assists in addition to his goal-scoring abilities.

While he can also play as a traditional center forward, Benzema’s adaptability and skill set make him well-suited for the false 9 role.


Can a false 9 perform other tasks on the pitch?

Yes, a false 9 can perform various tasks on the pitch beyond the traditional role of a center forward.

Due to their deeper positioning and involvement in the build-up play like an attacking midfielder, false 9’s often contribute to the team’s overall attacking strategy.

They offer additional support by playmaking, creating space, linking up with the midfield, pressing and defensive contribution.


Wrap up

In conclusion, the false 9 position in soccer has revolutionized the game and provided teams with a unique tactical option.

The false 9 operates as a versatile attacker who drops deeper into midfield, causing confusion among the opposition’s defensive line.

By doing so, they disrupt defensive organization, create space for teammates, and contribute to the build-up play.

The rise of the role in soccer has added a new dimension to team tactics and challenged traditional notions of fixed positions on the field.

More specifically, it emphasizes the importance of fluidity, creativity, and adaptability in the modern game.

As teams continue to innovate and evolve, the false 9 position will undoubtedly remain a fascinating and influential aspect of the beautiful game.

Samuel Waihenya
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