What Is A False 9 In Soccer & Who Plays It Best ?

A False 9 is an unorthodox lone striker or center-forward who drops deep into midfield. In some ways, this position is comparable to a more advanced attacking midfielder/playmaker role.

This poses a challenge for the opposition center backs, who can either follow the false 9 and create an opening behind them for advancing midfielders, forwards, or wingers to take advantage of, or they can stand aside and give the false 9 times and space to dribble or pick out a pass.

The phrase “center-forward” refers to a player who typically sits near the line of defenders until they have an opportunity to advance beyond them toward the goal.

The key aspects of a false 9 are similar to those of a deep-lying striker: good short passing skills to connect up with the midfield, vision to play through teammates making deep runs toward the goal, and dribbling ability to take advantage of space between the lines.

What is a false 9 in soccer?

An attacking player also known as a “false nine” in soccer is a player who drops lower than most other attackers, enabling the team to play without a marked striker. Coaches who frequently rely on their wingers for their attacks prefer to use the false nine, which links play between the midfield and the wide attackers.

A false 9 often plays as a striker and works with a front three. To make room for the wide attackers, a false nine usually retreats into the middle of the field.

During counter-attacks, they play the role of a defensive midfielder. They are also seen taking the role of the highest CF when defending for prolonged spells.

Is a false 9 a formation?

A false nine is a unique formation role. But because the role is so exceptional, it’s often used to describe a team’s overall strategy for a game.

Without a known central striker, you can play the game by using a false nine. Normally, every team starts with at least one striker and sometimes two, but in the false nine, the two wingers advance even further.

The formation works best for teams with a potent central midfield and quick, dangerous wingers. The false nine often dives deep to receive the ball from the middle.

Then, by luring the opposing defense with them, they introduce the wingers into action, allowing the central midfielders to sneak in behind and attack.

The entire team must play with a specific philosophy that prioritizes ball retention, quick counterattacks, and playing through the thirds in order for a false nine to be effective.

When you play a false nine, for instance, you can no longer rely on your center forward to hold the ball up against the defense because they are not in the conventional role!

Who is the best false 9 in the world?

A soccer team consists of 11 players, but each position has a range of roles that can be played; for example, fullbacks can also play as wingbacks, and the box-to-box midfielder can also be used as a holding midfielder.

The list goes on, but the infamous false 9 is the one role that never fails to pique interest.

While the tactical innovation and its implementation have led to commendable success for some teams, as football fanatics ever wondered whose players genuinely and painstakingly interprets or interpreted the tactical innovation quite well for their team?

  • Ezequiel Lavezzi

What Is A False 9 In Soccer & Who Plays It Best ?

Walter Mazzarri’s Napoli side of 2009-2013 was known for their swashbuckling attacking style of play with a 3-4-3 formation that boosted the likes of Lavezzi, Hamsik, and the lethal Edison Cavani.

Both in Serie A and Europe, Mazzarri played a strange formation with three at the back and three upfront, and when the recognized center-forward isn’t available he often deployed the Argentine into the false 9 positions.

Lavezzi’s interpretation of the position against Chelsea in the Champions League where he scored and assisted gives credence to how innovative Mazzarri can be when one of his key players is unavailable through injury or suspension.

  • Johan Cruyff

What Is A False 9 In Soccer & Who Plays It Best ?

Johan Cruyff literally single-handedly changed the way soccer was played via his philosophies and strategies. He was more than just a player or manager; he was a legacy.

Cruyff, who is rightfully considered one of the all-time best soccer players, served as the soccer’s maestro, directing play and portraying the idea of “Total football.”

He played a position that allowed him to move around freely; as a member of the Ajax club under manager Rinus Michels, who revolutionized soccer.

He would often find space behind and between the lines, making him a really lethal player. Cruyff moved about the field like a panther because you can’t stop what you can’t see.

Cruyff would serve as the team’s mainstay as he used his deft passing to split through defenses while dominating possession and creating chances.

The dutch man was a virtuoso of the false 9 roles, he would start games as a central striker but kept scurrying into midfield, losing his markers.

There will never be another soccer player quite like Johan Cruyff, who is still as significant a force in the game now as he was fifty years ago.

  • Robert Firmino

What Is A False 9 In Soccer & Who Plays It Best ?

One of the finest false 9 players in the modern era is Roberto Firmino, often known as “The Bobby Dazzler.”

There is no disputing Firmino’s success at Liverpool as a false nine; it is obvious. In the Reds’ successful Champions League and Premier League campaigns, the Brazilian was a key player. Firmino made his debut as a false nine during the 2017–18 campaign.

Firmino was able to score 27 goals and make 17 assists in his first season playing the false nine roles. One of the best stats ever recorded by a false nine-player, these numbers are impressive.

  • Dennis Bergkamp

What Is A False 9 In Soccer & Who Plays It Best ?

The fact that Dennis Bergkamp is still revered today, 16 years after his retirement, speaks volumes of how great of a player he was.

Bergkamp was a remarkably talented and committed player who had the ability to do extraordinary things with the ball.

Bergkamp had his training at Ajax for the first five years of his childhood career, where he learned the best techniques for playing soccer. “Total Football,” as it is known, transformed a young Bergkamp into a creative magician who sought excellence both on and off the field.

The Dutch player had his most successful years while playing as a second striker with Arsenal after joining the North London club in 1995.

  • Thomas Muller

What Is A False 9 In Soccer & Who Plays It Best ?

Thomas Muller, a German who has played for Bayern Munich since he was eleven years old, is largely overlooked, although experts unanimously agree that he is one of the greatest attacking midfielders in history.

Because of his unmatched tactical awareness, Muller is regarded as the best off-the-ball player of all time.

Muller, who spent his whole professional career at Bayern, has been quoted as saying that the best way to define his job is as a “space interpreter” or “Raumdeuter.” It’s difficult to argue Muller’s skill at exploiting available space and transitioning defense into attack.

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  • Matthias Sindelar

What Is A False 9 In Soccer & Who Plays It Best ?

In football, Matthias Sindelar was likely the first-ever false 9. He led the Austrian wunderteam to the 1934 World Cup while under the supervision of the famous Hugo Meisl.

In place of the standard W-M formation, the Austrian coach used a W-W (2-3-2-3) and allow Sindelar to drop deep.

Although he was known as “The Mozart of Football,” a reference to his artistic talent, he still managed to score 27 goals in 43 games for Das Team.

  • Francesco Totti

What Is A False 9 In Soccer & Who Plays It Best ?

One of the best attackers of his generation, Francesco Totti spent his whole professional career with AS Roma. Totti possessed all the traits necessary to be a versatile forward. His passing, vision, and control of the ball at his feet were all exceptional.

Totti was also one of the most fervent players in the game, and he would certainly shed blood for the Giallorossi.

At AS Roma in 2006, Luciano Spalletti famously employed the 4-6-0 configuration. Totti was his team’s primary forward at the time, and he always played a step or two ahead of the opposing defense.

  • Kevin De bruyne

What Is A False 9 In Soccer & Who Plays It Best ?

Given his rising significance to the Manchester City squad that is now dominating the Premier League, Kevin de Bruyne is conceivably the heir apparent to the crown most recently held by Lionel Messi. De Bruyne is a genuine genius who rarely feels offended and can be unstoppable at times.

De Bruyne dominates the midfield and roams freely in an attacking position, usually playing the false 9. He is one of the most dynamic players in the world of soccer.

What makes the Belgian international one of the best players is, that you will hardly see him make a tackle, he can’t head a ball, and he isn’t very quick over any kind of distance.

Even with some of the top players in the Premier League playing for Manchester City, Kevin de Bruyne appears roughly three levels above everyone else. His extraordinary set of skills has made Manchester City the juggernaut they are today.

  • Lionel Messi

What Is A False 9 In Soccer & Who Plays It Best ?

Barcelona underwent a transformation into a tactical phenomenon under Pep Guardiola’s tutelage. Messi’s versatility made it impossible to confine him to a playmaker or a goal scorer.

Lionel Messi has mastered the art of playing the false 9 better than any other player in the game’s history. The Argentinian international, who has won the Ballon d’Or a record seven times, is probably the greatest football player of all time.

Messi is not just one of the greatest dribblers and finishers of all time, but he is also among the best playmakers. An ideal false 9 is made up of all of those qualities.

It goes without saying that he did well in that role.  Messi would whiz past defenders like it was nothing. He created trouble by dropping deep and eliminating defenders from the action with his superb close control and beautiful distribution.

What are the benefits of playing a false 9?

The false nine strategies can be incredibly effective for soccer teams at all levels of play when used properly. Among the particular benefits are:

  • Linking the play

The ability to link the play exceptionally well from the false nine positions is probably its strongest feature.

This implies that the midfielders or defenders are not required to play pointless long balls up towards the attackers.

Instead, they can use a cutting pass past the defense to find your false nine. When the false nine has the ball, they use their depth perception to draw other players into the play, successfully linking the play.

  • Overloading the middle

You are effectively playing with a second central offensive midfielder when you use a false nine. The ability to control the ball will increase in games where possession is critical.

This is because they help to direct the play by reentering the midfield. They are also good at bringing in players from the flanks.

  • Defenders find it challenging

Opponents’ defenders find it quite confusing when a game is started with a false nine, as they typically stay close to strikers and effectively mark them.

The defenders are forced to decide whether to keep their positions or follow the false nine back into a deeper position when a false 9 frequently drops deep.

The center midfielders and wings can take advantage of the space created in the back of the defense if the defender follows the false nine.

The false nine roles can be somewhat difficult to get the hang of at first, but it’s an exceptionally effective strategy.

How difficult is it to play a false 9?

The false 9 position in soccer is fairly difficult. The player must possess exceptional skills, be creative, and be prepared to go above and beyond for the team.

It’s undoubtedly more challenging than playing as a regular striker because you have to fill numerous roles and occupy different areas on the pitch.

The false nine is therefore not a formation that beginners or new teams should use, despite the fact that it can be an excellent formation to use.

SEE ALSO | What Is A Wall Pass In Soccer? Detailed Explanation

What qualities are necessary to play the role of a false 9?

The false 9 role has the added benefit of allowing players with different playing styles to excel in it. However, the following are some essential qualities that all soccer false 9’s ought to possess:

  • Outstanding creativity
  • Confidence
  • Game vision
  • Precision
  • Speed
  • Incisive passing abilities
  • Clinical finishing
  • Swift body movement
  • Strength
  • Team spirit & work ethic

The final quality was added since the false nine frequently plays a selfless role. The primary responsibility of a striker is to bang in goals, but a false nine is expected to do much more than just that.

You can think of them as the maestro of the final third because it is their responsibility to ensure that every other player is active and contributing to the game. Players such as Dennis Bergkamp, Johan Cruyff, and Lionel Messi excel at this position because of this.

How do you counter a false nine?

Fielding four players in the back, leaving no vulnerabilities in the defensive line for the other team to take advantage of, is the best strategy to deal with the false 9.

A false 9’s role is to pressure the other team into abandoning their tactics. They are ineffective when dealing with a side of their own that is unwilling to change its tactics.

The word “false 9” has been used since the start of the 20th century, despite the fact that many people refer to it as a tactical breakthrough of the modern era.

False 9 roles were first used in the 1930s, according to a study. Hugo Meisl, head coach of the Austrian national team, chose playmaking forward Matthias Sindelar over a more physically dominant number 9 in Josef Uridil in order to fit the fluid style of game he wanted to play.

Sindelar was a center forward of Jewish descent who played for Austria Vienna for the entire of his professional career. He was renowned for his “etheric movement” and cunning decision-making on the ball.

He was the fulcrum of Meisl’s 2-3-5. He scored 26 goals in 43 games while also inspiring his attacking teammates to succeed.



Final thought

It is undeniable that the false 9 will continue to be a significant part of football tactics even though it is an “old” tactical idea in the game. In essence, it has superseded the conventional number 10, which appears to be on the verge of extinction as a result of the game’s unique physical and tactical requirements.

We cannot say for sure if the standard will be a 5’7 dribbling genii such as Messi or physical pressing machines like Debryne. In any case, it will be interesting to see how the false 9’s function and usage evolve.

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