What is a False 9 in Soccer? Explained

Vince Massara

Soccer is a sport that has been played for centuries and is enjoyed by millions of people around the world. One of the most interesting positions on the field is the false nine. This position is a relatively new concept in soccer and has become increasingly popular in recent years.

A false nine is a center-forward who drops deep into midfield to create space and cause confusion among the opposition’s defense. This position is unique because it does not rely on a traditional number nine striker to score goals. Instead, the false nine is responsible for creating opportunities for other players to score.

Many of the world’s top teams have adopted the false nine formation, including Barcelona, Liverpool, and Manchester City. This position requires a player with exceptional technical skills, vision, and creativity. In this article, we will explore what a false nine is, how it works, and the pros and cons of using this position.

Read our guide to the striker position and see the differences.

The Basics of a False 9

A false 9 is a unique position in soccer that requires a player to have a combination of skills from a traditional center forward and an attacking midfielder. The position is characterized by a deep-lying striker who operates between where a traditional number 9 center forward and a playmaker number 10 would usually play. The false 9 lines up at the start of the match in the position normally taken up by the center-forward, but their approach and what is expected of them is quite different.

Unlike a traditional center forward, a false 9 drops deeper into midfield to try and receive balls, vacating the space higher up the field. Once on the ball, they look to create chances for their teammates by playing through balls, dribbling past defenders, or taking shots themselves. The false 9’s role is to create confusion in the opposing team’s defense by pulling defenders out of position and creating space for other attacking players.

Read our guide to soccer formations

One of the most significant advantages of playing with a false 9 is that it can create a numerical advantage in midfield. This is because the false 9 drops deep into midfield, which means the opposing team’s center backs have to decide whether to follow them or stay in their positions. If the center backs follow the false 9, it creates space for the attacking players to exploit, and if they don’t, the false 9 has time and space to receive the ball and create chances.

Playing with a false 9 requires a high level of tactical awareness and technical ability. The player in this position needs to be comfortable with the ball at their feet, have excellent passing range, and be able to read the game well. Many top-level teams, such as Barcelona, have used the false 9 to great effect, and it is a tactic that can be employed at all levels of the game.

The Role of a False 9 in Soccer Tactics

Creating Space for Midfielders

One of the primary roles of a false 9 is to create space for the midfielders to exploit. By dropping deep into midfield, the false 9 draws the opposition defenders out of position, creating gaps in the defense that can be exploited by the midfielders. This allows the midfielders to push forward and create scoring opportunities for themselves or for the forwards.

Drawing Out Defenders

Another important role of a false 9 is to draw out the opposition defenders. By dropping deep into midfield, the false 9 forces the defenders to follow him, creating space behind them that can be exploited by the other forwards. This can be particularly effective against teams that play with a high defensive line, as the false 9 can draw the defenders out of position and create opportunities for the other forwards to run in behind.

Linking the Attack

Finally, a false 9 is often used as a link between the midfield and the attack. By dropping deep into midfield, the false 9 can receive the ball from the midfielders and then turn and run at the opposition defense. This can create confusion in the defense, as they are unsure whether to follow the false 9 or stay back and defend. This can create scoring opportunities for the other forwards, who can exploit the gaps left by the defenders.

Overall, the role of a false 9 in soccer tactics is to create space, draw out defenders, and link the attack. By dropping deep into midfield, the false 9 can create confusion in the opposition defense, creating opportunities for the other forwards to score.

Famous False 9s in Soccer History

Playing with a false nine has become more popular in recent years, but the concept has been around for decades. Here are some of the most famous false nines in soccer history:

Lionel MessiBarcelona, Argentina2009-present
Cesc FabregasArsenal, Barcelona, Chelsea2007-2019
Roberto FirminoLiverpool, Brazil2015-present
Dennis BergkampAjax, Arsenal1986-2006
Johan CruyffAjax, Barcelona, Netherlands1964-1984

Lionel Messi is perhaps the most famous false nine in soccer history. He played the position for Barcelona and Argentina, and his success in the role helped popularize the tactic. Messi’s ability to drop deep and create chances for himself and his teammates made him a nightmare for opposing defenses.

Cesc Fabregas is another player who excelled in the false nine role. He played the position for Arsenal, Barcelona, and Chelsea, and his ability to control the tempo of the game and pick out passes from deep positions made him a valuable asset for his teams.

Roberto Firmino is a modern-day false nine who has helped Liverpool win numerous titles in recent years. His work rate and ability to link up with his teammates make him a perfect fit for the position, and he has become one of the most important players in Liverpool’s squad.

Dennis Bergkamp and Johan Cruyff are two players from earlier eras who are often cited as examples of great false nines. Bergkamp played the position for Ajax and Arsenal, while Cruyff played for Ajax, Barcelona, and the Netherlands. Both players were known for their vision, creativity, and ability to score goals from deep positions.


The false 9 position in soccer is a unique and versatile role that can be used to great effect in certain tactical situations. This position has evolved over time and continues to be an important player in modern soccer.

One of the key advantages of the false 9 position is the ability to create space and opportunities for other players on the team. By dropping deep and dragging defenders out of position, the false 9 can create gaps for midfielders and wingers to exploit.

However, the false 9 position also requires a high level of skill and tactical awareness from the player. It can be difficult to master and requires a specific set of attributes such as good ball control, vision, and the ability to link up with teammates.

Overall, the false 9 position is a valuable tool in a coach’s tactical arsenal, but it is not a one-size-fits-all solution. It requires careful consideration of the team’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as the opponent’s tactics and style of play.