Great Team Tactics: Francesco Totti, Roma and the First False Nine

Sam Tighe@@stighefootballWorld Football Tactics Lead WriterDecember 7, 2012

ROME - OCTOBER 31:  Roma coach Luciano Spalletti during the UEFA Champions League group D match between Roma and Olympiakos at the Stadio Olimpico on October 31, 2006 in Rome, Italy.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Luciano Spalletti stumbled upon something innovative in 2006.

His AS Roma side were hit hard by injuries and he was forced into making some odd decisions, one of those being the birth of the "false nine" position for which Lionel Messi is currently the global ambassador.

Spalletti's switch to this formation saw his side break a league record. Eleven consecutive wins on the way to two consecutive Coppa Italia wins saw Spalletti elevated to genius status.

The shape

Call it what you want, but there's no defined term for this. Is it a 4-6-0 or a 4-1-5-0?

The back four, at least, were normal, with familiar names such as Christian Panucci, Philippe Mexes and Cristian Chivu anchoring a good defensive line from January 2006 onward.

The midfield, on the other hand, was organised chaos.

Francesco Totti mastered the false nine role that is so revered right now, starting in a forward position but dropping deep to take possession, ripping holes in the opposing formation and allowing his teammates to exploit them.

The false nine must be a good passer, and his colleagues must make good, direct runs into the space he creates. The problems for the opposition occur when you try to man-mark the forward. He can drag you as far as halfway down the pitch before you realise you've made a fatal error.

Take this goal as an example:

Matteo Brighi receives the ball at least 35 yards from goal, attracting the attention of a defender. The defender's been drawn out so far, he barely realises his mistake before the ball slips past him to Totti in the hole. 

The playmaker jinks his defender, then plays Simone Perrotta in for a pull-back to Cicinho.

The entire move was started by the man who finished it, and it only took five seconds to elapse. That's incisive, attacking, exciting football in a masterful system.


Who invented the false-nine? Was it Matthias Sindelar of Austria, or Nandor Hidegkuti of Hungary? It's difficult to say, but the modern icon of the innovative position is Totti, and its creator is Spalletti.

It only worked because of the ability of the midfield runners once the holes had been created, and was trumped fairly easily by Sir Alex Ferguson in the UEFA Champions League by defending deep, sucking them in and then pouncing on the counter.

We've seen Spain fail to use this system due to a lack of movement in the midfield, while we've also seen Barcelona master it, thanks to the dynamism of Pedro and David Villa.

Spalletti's was perhaps the most attacking of them all, committing up to six men in full flow at any one time.

How do you stop a train?


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