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What is a False 9 in Soccer

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In the 21st century, there has been a rise in one tactical maneuver in football. "False 9" has shown a great deal of success for many different teams, both in clubs as well as international games.

Many teams that have dominated the sport for years have decided to build their playbooks around this maneuver. But how is this tactic utilized, and where did it begin? 

In this article, we'll take a look at this question and so much more. Let’s get to it!

False 9 Explained

The "false 9" maneuver is based on a center forward who takes the ball from his starting position into deeper positions. This often means that he drops into a central position to receive the ball. 

This maneuver's main goal is to move the ball away from the opposing team's center backs. By doing this, the opposition's players will move out of their positions, leaving holes in their defenses.

Origin of the Term

Understanding where the term originates may help you also understand the tactic itself. There are many that think that the first use of the "false nine" tactic was in the 1890s by the Corinthians club. 

Their center forward liked to pass balls to the wingers, creating opportunities for other players to make their mark. This, of course, was a change in the overall playing style of the time. Most preferred to stay in as high a position as possible and utilize their strikers.

In the 1920s, the River Plate club also chose to use a tactic similar to that but called it "conductor". This consisted of a five-man frontline. Then again, in the 1930s, the tactic was used once again but more in the frame that we're used to as a dropping center forward maneuver.

"False nine" is what the modern coaches and players call this maneuver. However, where does the name come from? It comes from the idea where the striker could potentially have the number 9 on their back. This, in turn, coupled with the fact they move into false positions, gave the maneuver its name.

As an example of modern-day use, we can look at Barcelona. This club utilized several of its team members to draw the other team's defense out of position to free up a clear shot to the goal.

Soccer formation tactics and strategy on a blackboard

In-Possession Responsibilities

There are a few big responsibilities when it comes to the "False 9" maneuver. The biggest of these is timing. You have to have perfect timing of the movements, especially when it comes to the center backs. They have to be able to receive the ball between the lines both when in possession as well as during counter-attacks.

By moving into positions that are deeper down the field, in turn, creates some dilemmas for the opponent's center backs. Either they will choose to move with the forward to the midfield or stay in their designated position. If the maneuver is done properly, this can actually cause quite a bit of trouble. 

If a team's "false nine" has a heightened sense of awareness and can keep their eye continually moving across the field, they will be able to take advantage of this pressure. Being able to do this will ensure they can move into the positions left by the opponents to move the ball from teammate to teammate.

The "false nine" has to be a versatile player. In other words, because they're filling holes in positions, they have to be able to have great turning, dribbling, and playing through capabilities. The player in this position will have to react quickly and do so from a wide range of angles. This means that not only do they have to have fantastic ball skills but also be quick.

Out-Of-Possession Responsibilities

The "False 9" plays a versatile role when the team is in possession. However, when the team is out of position, they pretty much return to doing duty as a regular striker. This means that their main defensive responsibility is important when dealing with counter-pressing.

This player adds an extra person in the center midfield and could potentially be used to outnumber the opposition in order to gain possession of the ball again. Typically the "false nine" players well situate themselves as one of the higher central players so that they can screen passes two of their aggressive center backs.

Pros and Cons of the False 9

Like with any other maneuver, there are always benefits and disadvantages to utilizing this tactic. When it comes to benefits, having a center forward drop into deeper positions creates gaps in the backline of the opponent's defense.

If the defenders don't press, it also leaves a center forward open to receive and maneuver easily between the lines. On the other hand, for midfielders situated in the central area of the field, it also allows them to screen the "false nine" player, freeing them up to pick passes more easily.

This maneuver requires a central forward player who is great with the ball and good under pressure. However, when not utilizing it in this manner, you may find this "false nine" player pretty much unnecessary. Utilizing this tactic can also eliminate the thread behind your opponent's backline, which means they may not feel the need to drop or cross into the middle of the field.

Along with this, if the opposing team is set up with a 3 center back-formation, they may be able to manage the space left open, which negates the benefits of utilizing this tactic.

Final Thoughts

The "false nine" play is a clever way to build holes in your opponent's defense so that you can easily maneuver the ball down the field. Though like with any other tactic, there are benefits as well as disadvantages, but many modern clubs have utilized this maneuver to ensure victory.

Hopefully, this look at what the maneuver actually is, as well as the history, responsibilities, and pros and cons, have helped you understand it a bit better.