The false 9 role is one of the consequences of modern-day football. Although it was invented in the 1930s, it rose to prominence when Johan Cruyff began to employ it with Ajax.
Cruyff gave it a start, but the false 9 role absolutely exploded when Messi and Guardiola conquered the world with it at Barcelona.
So, one might ask what is a false 9?
For those of you who are unfamiliar, a false 9 is a 9 (striker) that plays a little deeper when the team is in possession and plays like a true striker when the team is not in possession.
The purpose of a false 9 is to throw off the defense. He accomplishes this by dropping deep, which forces the defenders to choose between following him and risking being out of position or staying in position.
By dropping a little deep and occupying the CAM role the false 9 can provide a through ball to the wingers who can exploit the spaces created.
So, a false 9 is like a striker plus a playmaker (kind of).
Now that you understand what a false 9 is, let’s look at some examples.
Well, not just examples but the best examples, as we look at the greatest false 9 football players of all time!
(No prizes for guessing who comes in first.)
Cesc Fàbregas was utilized as a false nine for Barcelona under Tata Martino, as well as in Vicente del Bosque’s Spain team that won Euro 2012.
Fàbregas was mostly utilized there for his ability to receive and find a pass under pressure. Given his comfort in the central midfield, he also contributed to massive overloads in the center of the pitch.
This provided his team more control in the build-up, as opposing midfielders frequently dropped to cover Fàbregas’ positioning and block passes into him.
Despite the fact that he is not legally a false 9, Thomas Muller represents what a false 9 does, preferring the term raumdeuter, or space interpreter, for his specific style of play.
His relentless pursuit of space between lines, as well as his ability to link play between a central striker and a strong midfield, are testaments to his false 9 qualities.
Despite not being the best dribbler or shooter in football, Muller is a continuous roaming presence in the advanced zones who reads the game wonderfully and finds the best opportunities to score goals and assist teammates.
When it comes to false nines, Johan Cruyff is rarely mentioned, yet his performances with Ajax in Rinus Michels’ 1-3-3-3 formation in the 1970s were the apex of the position.
It was a system in which the Dutch master had the most prominent position, yet he tended to stray wide or deep. Johan Neeskens, who played central midfield, was the one who was constantly darting into space.
Lionel Messi is football’s greatest false 9 player.
While playing for Barcelona under Pep Guardiola, the Argentine relished and thrived in this role. Messi put up ridiculous stats under Guardiola, scoring and assisting in every game.
Lionel Messi amassed 221 goals in just 219 games and also contributed 91 assists during his four-year tenure under Guardiola.
Lionel Messi is so good that it seems difficult to stop him as a false nine. The Argentine transformed the position into a goal-scoring one, much like Cruyff did under Rinus Michels.