Football Jargon for dummies Pt 1- False 9

During EURO 2012 I noticed that a new fad had started. People started tossing around words like “False 9!” and  “Deep Lying Playmaker!” without really knowing what they were talking about. But fret not, this series will tackle all those fancy footballing terms so that the next time people talk, you can butt in and make sense.

Let us start with the famous ‘False 9’. Contrary to what the world may say it is NOT the exclusive domain of Barcelona/ Spain. The first true False 9 of the modern era (or atleast the last 20 years) is Francesco Totti for AS Roma. Luciano Spaletti turned Totti from a playmaker into a lone striker who did not actually stay upfront. The formation generally evolved to a 4-6-0 when they were attacking.

Nowadays ‘False 9’ is pretty much synonymous with Barcelona/ Spain with the ‘False 9’ fitting seamlessly into their tiki-taka style of play. Among the finest examples of the ‘False 9’ are Fabregas (Spain), Robin Van Persie(Ex-Arsenal, might be used differently by SAF) and of course Mr. False 9 himself, Lionel Messi (Barcelona).

The beauty of the ‘False 9’ lies in the fact that he is not a true striker. Stop your sniggering for a minute and imagine that you are a top class defender playing for one of those big clubs. And Messi is playing as a ‘False 9’. He starts of as an attacker and you are comfortably marking him and suddenly he is gone! He has dropped into the space BETWEEN your midfield and defence. You end up with 2 choices.

  1. You move out of position to pick him up. Of course then you open up a lot of space which either of the inverted wingers can exploit. (Don’t know what an inverted winger is? Keep calm, that’s the next topic in the series)
  2. You let your midfield handle him which allows one of his team-mates to come and out-number your midfield.


So how do you counter such a scenario? Apart from the kick-them-till-they-fall tactic, the only way is to ensure that as a defensive unit you do not lose shape. Mourinho’s teams are a great example of this. Not the kicking tactic, but the defensive part. The defense lines up across the penalty spot while the midfield lines up along the penalty box. This leaves pretty much no space for the number 9 to do any falsehood (pun intended). However this is an exceptionally hard tactic since the team requires an extreme amount of concentration.

Now you will ask, “But then why is this not used by every team!!!!???” The reason is simply that playing as a ‘False 9’ requires a lot of intelligence. Not the Einstein type, more along the footballing type. The ability to read the game and knowing when to drop out of the attack and when to run into the box are things not easily taught.

Another problem with this is that this tactic is not direct and can be frustrating against teams which park the bus *cough* Chelsea *cough* as Barcelona found out in the semi-final of the Champions League.

While the ‘False 9’ is a powerful tactic with some exceptional advantages, it is not in fact the “PERFECT TACTIC!” Frankly speaking, there is no tactic which works always. However, the ‘False 9’ has an advantage in the sense that defending against it is something no defenders face until they are at the top level and so they end up suddenly facing such a player. On the flip-side the number of players that can successfully play in such a role is very low, with only a handful having the requisite skills and the brains to pull it off.

Therefore, this particular tactic, in all probability, will not enjoy  widespread success since it is easily one of the most demanding offensive tactics with the entire team (not just the offense) having to play an extremely tight and co-ordinated game. But till then, I suggest we sit back and keep enjoying the moments of beauty which keep popping up due this brilliant position.



Hrishikesh Potdar

IT Engineering student Supports the Red devils. A devil himself. Literally. Loves banter - the good the bad and even the ugly kind. Left footed menacing winger.