When I covered the position of the Regista a couple of weeks ago, which can be found by clicking here, I made a plea to my readers for someone to request an analysis of the False 9. Luckily, my prayers have been answered!
The genesis of the soccer hipster can be traced back to Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona side; where Tiki-taka and the False 9 became popularized. Since creating this blog, I have realized that tactics within soccer come and go. Many of the world’s greatest managers simply evolve tactics that have been present throughout the history of soccer.
The False 9 is no different.
The History of the False 9
The emergence of the False 9 can be traced back as far as the 1930s and the creation of the position has been accredited to the Dunabe School. The Dunabe School were a set of soccer tacticians that were once prominent within Austrian soccer. Austrian centre-forward, Matthias Sindelar, was the first player to be utilized within the False 9 position. His performances as a False 9 led to fans calling him “the Mozart of soccer.” Interestingly, the Hungarian sides of the 1950s also utilized the False 9 position and the legendary striker Nandor Hidegkuti excelled within the role. Clearly, the False 9 is not a modern creation but is a position with a stellar history.
The traditional number 9
The traditional number 9 is the centre-forward of the side who remains in the most advanced position. The number 9’s primary focus is to score goals, but number 9s also have other responsibilities within the side.
For example, the number 9 is given the challenge of disrupting the opposition’s defensive shape. This is achieved by the number 9 being proactive and intelligent within their movement. The number 9 disrupts the shape of the opposition’s defense by making different types of runs, i.e in behind the opposition’s defense or in the spaces between the opposition’s centre-backs and full-backs, and these runs stretch the opposition’s defense. By stretching the defense, the number 9 creates spaces within the opposition’s back-line which can be exploited by his teammates.
The traditional number 9 aims to make runs into the opposition’s box and tries to take advantage of crosses that have been played into the opposition’s danger area. The number 9 is often seen as the predator within the side who is given the responsibility of being the side’s main goal threat.
The False 9
The False 9’s role within the side is very different from that of the traditional number 9’s. The traditional number 9 positions himself next to the deepest centre-back of the opposition. However, the False 9 adopts a much deeper position.
The image below shows how the False 9 positions himself in the spaces between the opposition’s midfield and defense.
Many of soccer’s defensive theories have been built around man-marking and defensive integrity. The positions in which the traditional number 9 plays within makes him easy to cover. However, the False 9 challenges the positional integrity of the opposition’s defense and midfield.
By operating within the spaces between the opposition’s defense and mifdield, the opposition cannot effectively man-mark the attacker. If the opposition were to try and man-mark the false 9 then they would damage their own positional integrity. This is because they would have to fill the space occupied by the False 9 with one of their defenders or midfielder. Therefore, losing a player from either the defense or midfield.
Where the traditional number 9 acts as a focal point for the attack, the False 9 acts more as a facilitator. Though the False 9 still aims to score goals, their primary objective is to create chances for his side. By dropping deep, the False 9 can play in a similar manner to that of a Regista; but in a much more advanced position. The Regista acts as a quarterback from a defensive position and the False 9 pulls the strings from an advanced one.
The most famous False 9 in the history of soccer is Lionel Messi. Whilst playing as a False 9, Messi and his Barcelona teammates dominated European soccer. Indeed, Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona side is widely regarded as one of the best domestic sides ever constructed. During this period, Guardiola emerged as a tactical mastermind and his utilization of Messi saw him become one of the greatest coaches in the history of the game.
Messi’s skill-set enabled him to thrive as a False 9. His exceptional control over the ball allowed him to play within the tight spaces between the opposition’s defense and midfield. The Argentinian seemed unstoppable when he played as a False 9. Messi played as a False 9 for the majority of Guardiola’s time at Barcelona and the Argentinian scored a staggering 211 goals in 219 matches during this period.
The image below shows Messi’s positioning whilst operating as a False 9.
A traditional number 9 would be further up the pitch and in a more advanced position than Messi. As you can see from the image, Messi is positioned between the opposition’s defense and midfield. From this position, Messi was able to orchestrate his side’s attacks. The way that Messi played meant that sides could not cover him effectively. His movement between the lines of the opposition made him a nightmare to man-mark. When sides decided to man-mark Messi, they disrupted their defensive integrity.
In order to man-mark Messi, the defending side would have to allow one of their midfielder or defenders to leave their position. This created spaces within the opposition’s defensive structure which Messi’s teammates could exploit. Therefore, Messi created chances for his side but also created space for his teammates to play within. The reason why Messi was so prolific as a False 9, besides his ability to score goals, was that he had the passing capabilities needed to take advantage of the spaces that he created.
Some of the game’s best players, such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Francesco Totti, have been utilized as a False 9.s However, none have been as impactful from this position as Lionel Messi. The period in which Guardiola utilized Messi as a False 9 is something I will never forget.
As soccer has developed we have seen a decline in the utilization of a False 9 and the position has become unfashionable. However, tacticians within soccer are constantly evolving their arsenal and I will not be surprised if we see the False 9 become popular once more.
Thank you for requesting a post on the False 9 as it gave me an excuse to watch lots of highlights of Guardiola’s Barcelona. Have anymore request? You know what to do by now.
Any suggestions, questions or comments then do not hesitate to get in touch! Remember, if you have any requests for future articles then you all you have to do is ask! Whether it’s about a manager’s tactical philosophy or an in-depth analysis about a specific player, if it is soccer related; I will look into it!