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9 Best False Nines in World Football History

Sam TigheWorld Football Tactics Lead WriterJanuary 13, 2017

9 Best False Nines in World Football History

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    The "false nine" position has been used sparingly throughout world football history, but it's currently trending in the thoughts of managers and fans across the globe.

    Bleacher Report brings you the very best to have graced this position, ranging from the current exploits of Lionel Messi all the way back to the Austrian wunderteam of the 1930s.

    Whether currently playing or sadly passed away, all nine of these players were wizards within the game.

Quick Definition

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    Gone are the days when the traditional No. 9, whose strengths lay simply in scoring, prospered.

    Robbie Fowler's playing style is an extinct commodity, making way for more well-rounded forwards with multiple facets to their game.

    Arrigo Sacchi, legendary manager of AC Milan in the 1980s, proposed the idea of ridding specialists from the game.

    By this, he meant to dispense with the "Claude Makelele" role, a position designed only to break up play in midfield. He meant to make the traditional, chalk-on-your-boots winger extinct, whose only objective was to get the byline and cross.

    Essentially, he was looking to redefine the very meaning of "versatility" in football.

    This carries across to the striking position too. Several managers in world football history have looked to add more elements to the forward position aside from simply sticking the ball in the back of the net.

    That's the essence of the false nine—not just to score, like Fowler did so well for Liverpool, but to create chances, holes, space and more.

Francesco Totti

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    Luciano Spalletti is the man widely credited for reintroducing the formula of the false nine in modern football, so it's only fitting to begin with his choice for the role.

    Injuries forced the Italian to make do with a 4-1-4-1 formation in 2006, and he elected to used Francesco Totti as the lone front man.

    This utilised his ability to create as well as score in a fine manner, and the 58-cap international enjoyed one of his best-ever scoring seasons, totalling 26 goals in Serie A.

Lionel Messi

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    From the initial proponent, we move to the modern master.

    Lionel Messi is by far the best false nine world football has ever seen, and he continues to astound us even today.

    Pep Guardiola was the man who resurrected the role and tailored it to the Argentinian's best attributes. A total of 73 goals and 29 assists in one season suggests it has been a success.

    Everyone sees the goals, the brilliant runs, the jaw-dropping long-range strikes and free kicks. What people don't often see is Messi's ability to drop deep, receive the ball and play a diagonal killer ball to his wide forwards.

    He really does have every single strength required for this position.

Matthias Sindelar

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    Matthias Sindelar was probably the first ever false nine in football. Coached by the legendary Hugo Meisl, he captained the Austrian wunderteam to the 1934 World Cup.

    The Austrian coach modified the conventional W-M formation to create a W-W (2-3-2-3) and allowed Sindelar to drop deep.

    His nickname, "The Mozart of Football," is indicative of his creative ability, but he still managed to score 27 goals in 43 appearances for Das Team.

Ezequiel Lavezzi

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    Walter Mazzarri plays a relatively strange formation at Napoli. His penchant for playing three at the back shines through, but this is usually accompanied by a fairly rigid formation.

    Not the case here. While you would sometimes find Ezequiel Lavezzi playing on the left of a front three alongside Edinson Cavani, Mazzarri would at times use the Argentinian as a false nine.

    His performance against Chelsea in the UEFA Champions League last season was devastating. He scored and created without an answer from the defence.

    While he doesn't have extreme pedigree in the position, anyone who's seen him play should agree he'd prosper in the role.

Robin van Persie

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    Throughout the course of the 2009-10 season, no one really knew what position Robin van Persie was playing for Arsenal.

    At times, it seemed like Arsene Wenger was warming toward a 4-3-3 formation in order to utilise Nicklas Bendtner. However, when the Dane was dropped, it appeared RvP had taken centre stage.

    According to Jonathan Wilson of The Guardian, the Dutchman remains one of the falsest nines in football, and that's certainly the case at Manchester United.

    Watch how often he drops in and out of the forward line.

Carlos Tevez

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    While the switch was forced by injury (much like Francesco Totti at Roma), Carlos Tevez was mightily effective in the false nine position for Manchester United.

    Deemed incapable of leading a line on his own due to his stature, and valued much higher for his teamwork and grafting skills, the Argentine was deployed as a false nine in the 2007-08 season.

    He would frequently drop in and create space for Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo. This was the season the Portuguese forward scored an incredible 42 goals from the wing.

Dennis Bergkamp

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    Dennis Bergkamp is often referred to as one of the greatest support strikers in world football history, and his role in assisting Thierry Henry's goal scoring exploits certainly lay credence to that opinion.

    However, he wasn't just a No. 10; he was a striker who was capable in any area of the pitch. In a way, he took after Dutch legend Johan Cruyff with his style of play.

    The Non-Flying Dutchman came to life at Highbury under Arsene Wenger, as the French manager extracted his very best football for 10 wonderful years.

Nandor Hidegkuti

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    England 3-6 Hungary, Wembley. Nov. 25, 1953.

    While many accredit this victory to Ferenc Puskas, it was in fact a quartet of forwards who wreaked havoc upon the Three Lions defence.

    One of them played a role that was approaching a nine-and-a-half—a concept Walter Winterbottom's team simply hadn't come across before.

    Nandor Hidegkuti was the man pulling the strings from a deeper role in midfield but also managed to get forward and bag a hat trick.

    I'm not sure what's more embarrassing—the 6-3 defeat or the rematch one year later that ended 7-1.

Johan Cruyff

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    We end with one of the greatest players ever to grace the beautiful game.

    Johan Cruyff is often absent from discussions regarding false nines, but his performances in Rinus Michels' 1-3-3-3 formation with Ajax in the 1970s represented the epitome of this position.

    It was a system that saw the Dutch master take up the central striking role but frequently drift wide or deep. Johan Neeskens, playing central midfield, would be the man who often surged into the open space created.

     

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