Decoding the roles and responsibilities of false 9 in football
A center-forward is called a number 9 in football. They are known to focus on scoring goals and are often seen lurking around the d-box rather than playing deep. A false nine is a player, who plays in the center-forward position but is often seen retreating into mid-field and getting involved in playmaking. They are often used in 4-3-3 or 4-1-4-1 formations.
Why does it matter?
- False 9 is a unique CF, whose role is to control the game and open space around the goal box for others to exploit.
- It is arguably the most distinguished tactical innovation used nowadays.
- Contrary to popular beliefs, it did not originate in the 21st century.
- However, the duo of Lionel Messi and Pep Guardiola made it popular during their time together in Barcelona.
How does it work?
When false 9 decides to play the role of a playmaker rather than a forward, two possibilities occur. Either a defender can follow him back and in the process open up space at the front for others to attack or leave him alone, leading to numerical disadvantage in midfield. These possibilities are the reasons, it's so difficult to defend against a skilled false 9.
The responsibility with and without the ball
A false 9 often plays as a regular striker when their team is out of possession. When in possession, they play the role of playmaker, creating chancing for their side by getting the opposition team out of shape. During counter-pressing, they play the role of a defensive mid-fielder. They are also seen taking the role of the highest CF when defending for prolonged spells.
How to counter a false 9?
The best way to deal with the false 9 is to field four players in the back, leaving no space in the defensive line for the opposing side to exploit. The job of a false 9 is to force the other team to throw away their plan. When faced with a stubborn side, that refuses to get out of the shape, they are useless.
The origin of false nine
According to the Irish Times, the Austrian national team was the first to use a false 9 in the 1930s in from of Matthias Sindelar. Sindelar is credited to be the first striker, who used to drop deep to rattle the opposition defense. In the 1950s, this strategy was followed by the Hungarians. They used Nandor Hidegkuti as a false 9 to wreck-havoc.
Best examples of false nine
Lionel Messi for Barca under Pep Guardiola Karim Benzema for Real Madrid under Zinedine Zidane Francesco Totti under Luciano Spalletti for Roma Harry Kane for England under Gareth Southgate Cesc Fàbregas for Barca under Tata Martino and for Spain under Vicente del Bosque. The trio of Raheem Sterling, Bernardo Silva and Kevin De Bruyne has played as false 9 under Guardiola for Manchester City.