False 9 Soccer Position Explained

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Written by Daniel Pena, Bachelors in Kinesiology and footballer: Learn More

What is the role of the false 9 soccer position? Soccer has many different positions and the false 9 is one of the lesser known positions, especially for new players and fans of the beautiful game.

The false nine is a type of striker that plays more like a centre forward and center attacking midfielder who often drops deep and centrally to get the ball from the midfield. The false nine is a very important position, however this role is only used in some formations and if teams don’t use a false nine then they will use a traditional number nine, which means a true striker.

In this blog, I will dive deep into the role of the false 9 position.

false 9 soccer

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Where does the Term “false 9” come from?

The term “false 9” originates from the player’s position number 9 on the field, which traditionally represents the central striker. However, in this tactic, the player doesn’t stay fixed in that position and they drop deep into the central areas of the midfield, which is why it is called a false nine.

A true nine would be a real striker that stays close to the opponent’s goal to score goals and create scoring opportunities, instead of dropping deep and acting as a playmaker most of the. time.

The Role of the False 9 in Soccer

The false nine is a modern tactic that has become popular in recent years and was popularized by Pep Guardiola who used Lionel Messi as the false nine of Barcelona from 2008 to 2012. The main goal of the false nine position is to cause confusion amongst the opponent’s defensive line by picking up the ball in between the lines and in the half spaces.

By staying in these positions, in between the lines and in the half spaces, this causes confusion for the opposing team’s center-backs and full backs (left back and/or right back)because they will not be entirely sure who should be doing the marking.

Here are the important roles and responsibilities of the false nine.

Playmaking and creativity:

In the false 9, the player acts more like a playmaker or a creator instead of staying close to the opposing team’s goal like a target man striker. The false 9 requires a player with good technical skills, intelligence, creativity, composure, quick decision-making, risk taking, and the ability to create opportunities from out of nowhere.

Timing movements:

Along with playmaking and creativity, timing movements is a very important responsibility for a false nine, especially in the forward line and attacking third. The goal of a false nine is to make runs to confuse opposition centre backs, create space for the team’s CAM, CM, and even CDM, and also for themselves.

Movement into deeper positions:

One important movement of the false 9 is the ability to drop deep in the same way a center forward or center attacking midfielder would do. By dropping into a deeper position, the false nine can be flanked and overlapped by the wingers and act more like an extra midfielder.

This movement into deeper positions can give the opposition’s central defenders a dilemma as to whether to follow the forward into midfield or leave them and stay in their slot.

Score Goals:

Although the false 9 acts more like a playmaker, rather than a goal scoring striker, scoring goals and creating goal opportunities for their teammates are still some of their main responsibilities.

The Attributes of a False Nine

To play successfully at the false nine role, and be able to carry out each responsibility efficiently, it is very important to have the following key attributes:

false 9 soccer Image by Alexander Nadrilyanski

The Evolution of the False Nine in Soccer

The initial glimpse into the unique role of the false nine was during a game between Corinthians from Brazil in the late 1890s. Their center forward would drop deep into midfield, which baffled opposition defenders while creating space for fellow attacking players, especially the wide players.

This is one of the earliest cases that we saw a false nine and it was not until Johan Cruyff, one of the best players of all time, that we really saw this role again. Johan Cruyff excelled as an extraordinary player and left his mark as a coach at Ajax Amsterdam and FC Barcelona by effectively utilizing the false nine role.

His vision gave birth to ‘Total Football’, where any outfield player could assume another’s role, including that of true striker or number 9. Fast forwards to more modern times and Pep Guardiola popularized the false nine role by playing Lionel Messi in this position at Barcelona FC from 2008-2012.

In Guardiola’s era, Lionel Messi, initially positioned as a right winger, transitioned into arguably the world’s most successful false nine ever seen. Messi drew defenders away from their defensive line, allowing him room for scoring goals while simultaneously creating opportunities for his wingers Pedro Rodriguez and David Villa.

Guardiola continued employing similar strategies after moving on to Bayern Munich and Manchester City, often deploying Thomas Muller or Kevin De Bruyne in high starting positions only to see them dropping deep when required.

The Pros and Cons of Using a False Nine

As with any soccer tactic using the false nine has its pros and cons.

Pros of Using a False Nine

Employing the false nine tactic provides teams with several advantages.

  • It disrupts the opponent’s defensive line by having the false nine drop deep and roam in the midfield, creating space and openings for attacking opportunities.
  • These movements confuse defenders, draws out opposition midfielders, and enhances fluid ball movement from defense to attack.
  • The false nine’s versatility allows for a dynamic attacking approach, seamlessly switching between playmaking and goal-scoring duties based on the flow of the game.
  • Teams benefit from increased creativity and unpredictability in the middle of the field, by having an elite false nine, that can get the ball outside to the wingers.

Cons of Using a False Nine

While the false nine has many advantages there are also some disadvantages.

  • One concern is the risk of over-reliance on a single player to fulfill the demands of the false nine role, as finding a player with the ideal skill set can be challenging, which is why this tactic is not used very often.
  • Also, the false nine’s tendency to drop deep and drift into midfield areas can leave the team vulnerable to counterattacks, exposing the defensive line and creating numerical disadvantages in defensive transitions.
  • If the false nine fails to effectively execute their duties or is neutralized by the opposition’s defensive tactics, the team’s attack may suffer as a result.

false 9 soccer

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Best False Nines to Study and Analyze

Throughout history there have been many iconic false nines to analyze. Here are some of the best examples for false nines to learn from

  • Francesco Totti for AS Roma (retired)
  • Lionel Messi for Barcelona (Inter Miami)
  • Cesc Fabregas for Barcelona (retired and coaching)
  • Michael Laudrup for Ajax (retired)
  • Robin Van Persie for Manchester United (retired)
  • Roberto Firmino for Liverpool (Al Ahli)
  • Harry Kane (can often play like a false 9 and a traditional number 9 combined)
  • Antoine Griezmann for Atletico Madrid (still there)

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best soccer training program?

The best online soccer training program and soccer app is Football Entangled. There is no other program like Football Entangled on the market and this community, much more than just an app, will help you get closer to making your dreams a reality.

How is a false nine different from all the other positions on the soccer field?

The false nine position is unique because it is not part of most tactics. It takes a certain type of player to play this role, and the player must play well with the rest of the team.

How does the false nine system differ from the lone forward, or target man role?

Generally speaking, the lone forward, or target man, is usually a very physical player that is able to hold the ball on top, link up with the other players, and score goals while the false 9 is a more agile and creative playmaker that creates chances more than they do score goals.

What is the best soccer training program?

The best online soccer training program and soccer app is Football Entangled. There is no other program like Football Entangled on the market and this community, much more than just an app, will help you get closer to making your dreams a reality.

How can I learn more about the game?

To learn more about soccer the most important thing is to join a team and play the game as much as possible. If possible, analyze high level games as much as you can and your own games as well by recording them with a soccer camera. Also read soccer books, listen to podcasts and interviews watch soccer documentaries, as well as some movies, tv shows, and anime.


In conclusion, the false nine soccer formation has revolutionized modern tactics, offering teams both strategic advantages and challenges. While its ability to disrupt defensive lines and enhance creativity is undeniable, reliance on a single player, who needs to have very specific characteristics, and vulnerability to counterattacks remain a concern for this tactic.

To get better at this role make sure to spend time learning from and studying iconic false nines which can offer valuable insights into maximizing this tactical approach.

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