Recently I read a few articles about strikers playing as a "false 9". My understanding of a "false 9", is that he is a striker whose purpose is to pull defenders out of position so that his teammates will have a better chance of scoring. Is my understanding correct or is there more to this?

Also, where did this term come from?

And who are the best players who made this role popular?


3 Answers 3


Let's start from the end. The best player who plays "false 9" today is, without any doubt, Lionel Messi.

There isn't one definition of a "false 9", but I will try to explain it from my understanding.

"False 9" is generally a player who isn't a pure striker as defined in the past. This player will drop deep into the field to be a part of or start the attack. When doing that, opponents / defenders will follow him and leave more space to players from the 2nd line to threaten the goal.

The "false 9" usually has great finishing, a very high level of vision on the pitch, and good dribbling and passing.

Zonal Marking defines it as:

A unconventional lone striker, who drops deep into midfield. Francesco Totti perhaps invented it for Roma in 2006/7, Lionel Messi played here when he swapped positions with Samuel Eto’o for Barcelona in 2008/09, and Robin van Persie played the role for Arsenal at the start of the 2009/10 season.

Teams who play with a "false 9" generally play in 4-6-0 formation with the "false 9" turning into a striker when needed. I answered a similar question about this formation here: Has 4-6-0 ever worked in high level football?

Another great explanation of the "false 9" according to Barcelona and Josep Guardiola's dream about a team with a goalkeeper and 10 midfielders can be found at the following post.


According to my understanding of a "false 9", a team who starts their game with 4:3:2:1 could play with this strategy provided when they will turn with 4:3:3. An attacking midfielder will make a constant disturbance into opposition's backline (the last 6 to 10 yards of opponent's half).


When I first heard of it, it was concerning Lionel Messi. He appeared to only be playing as a false 9 at his club, Barcelona.

Observing Messi play, I realised Messi plays more of an attacking midfielder, but he'd smartly convert to a striker when needed so.

Based on my observations, a false 9 is a striker who's influential enough to keep defenders going after him, leaving room for his wingers to take his position in front of goals.

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