What is a False 9 In Soccer?

What is a False 9 In Soccer?

What is a false 9 in soccer? A false 9 is essentially a forward who is stationed high up the center of the pitch but acts as a bridge from the backfield.

false 9The center forward drops deeper into midfield, allowing the attacking midfielders to push forward and creating confusion for the opposing defense.

The role of a false 9 really started taking shape during mainstream soccer matches in the early 2010s.

Lionel Messi is often credited with popularizing the false 9 role in the modern soccer game, particularly during his time at Barcelona where he played as a false 9 in a team that dominated La Liga for many years.

We’ll dig into the origins and some of the details surrounding the false 9 position in soccer.

Where Did the False 9 Come From?

The number 9 has historically been designated for the striker position.

The concept of the false 9 was first introduced in the 1930s by Austrian striker Matthias Sindelar.

Although the dropping center-forward was already practiced in central Europe and South America in the 1920s, Sindelar was the first to bring it to the forefront.

Due to his unconventional build, Sindelar was often forced to drop deep into the midfield to create space and involve his forwards and wingers.

In recent years, the false 9 has gained more popularity thanks to Pep Guardiola. During his coaching tenure at Barca, Guardiola’s positional theory emphasizes creating advantages between lines of pressure through well-rehearsed movements and quick passing.

He utilized this strategy by instructing the GOAT, Lionel Messi, to drop deep into the midfield and creating passing options for the team.

Another case of the rise of false 9 is Luca Spaletti’s Roma in the mid-2000s. The focal point of Spaletti’s team was Francesco Totti, who served as a creative attacking midfielder with striking duties. Spaletti’s use of the false 9 sparked interest among other tacticians and the strategy became widespread in the early 2010s. By employing a false 9, teams can exploit the potential for overloads between the opposing midfield and defensive lines

What exactly is a false 9?

In 2-3-5 formations, the number 9 occupied the central and most offensive position. Although numbers may vary on defense and midfield across different teams, number 9 is mainly used by strikers worldwide.

There are, of course, some exceptions to this rule – think of Gavi from Spain who wore number 9 during the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. Gavi is not a typical striker, yet he sometimes takes the role of a false 9. 

On the other hand, the true number 9 is the player who leads the attack, either by playing close to the opposing defense or holding up the ball to bring up other players.

The purpose of playing a false 9 is to score goals, either by getting on the end of crosses or feeding off through balls.

As such, the traditional number 9 plays a central attacking role and challenges the opposing center backs to find space and opportunities to score.

What are the pros and cons of having a false 9?

The false 9 strategy, like most tactics in sports, has both advantages and disadvantages.

One of its strengths is that a forward dropping back can create gaps in the opposing defense, giving the attacking team more options to control the game.

However, the strategy is dependent on having the right player for the role, who is skillful, confident with the ball, and performs well under pressure.

Another drawback is that the false 9 can be stifled by the increasingly popular 3-at-the-back formation, which restricts the amount of space available and strengthens the defense with additional players.

Is it possible for anyone to play this role?

The false 9 position requires a player with specific skills and attributes, including offensive creativity and the ability to perform well under pressure.

Teams that are successful in utilizing the false 9 tend to dominate, while those that struggle to use it effectively struggle to score.

A typical striker, or a traditional number 9, typically possesses different qualities, such as height and physical strength, rather than creativity and the ability to orchestrate play.

The agility and precision that players like Messi plays with can fit into a role of a false 9 effectively. Someone like Harry Kane may not be as effective for his team.


Having a coach who wants to implement a false 9 into their lineup could find success. As we mentioned earlier, not anyone can successfully play this role, and not every team is able to use their strikers as a false 9.

Having the perfect strategy in combination with a player who can actually play this role is almost always a match made in heaven.

If you are a player reading this, the skills of a false 9 are very valuable for a team. Intangible skills such as quick turns and passes, confidence to hold onto the ball for multiple seconds, offensive mindset and aggressive play are the cornerstone to a great team who can dominate in the middle.

Click on the link, if you’d like to learn more about soccer positions!

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      Beau Bridges - Soccer Novo Hey 👋 I’m Beau. A proud Dad, former coach and soccer enthusiast. I continue to love the game of soccer today the same way I did when I was 7. I created soccernovo.com to share what I know about the game as well as provide a platform so other parents can learn more about youth soccer in the U.S.

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