As part of the revolution in football that Pep Guardiola brought in with his FC Barcelona team - the false 9 position became the most talked-about tactical innovation in the game. Lionel Messi rose to become the best attacker in world football during the Guardiola period by playing in that position.
Though creative attackers such as Nandor Hidegkuti have often played as a deep striker (false 9) in history, it was the Messi-Guardiola combo that brought the term into vogue in modern football.
So what does a false 9 essentially do? Traditionally, the number nine shirt in football is worn by the main centre-forward of a football team, one who is the most advanced focal point of the attacks.
A false 9 is an attacker who plays in a more deeper role than a traditional striker, exploiting the space between the lines and linking up play with the midfield through his passing and dribbling skills. A false 9 is noted for both getting goals and setting them up.
Lionel Messi, with his skill-set, was the perfect embodiment of the false 9 position during the tiki-taka era, linking up with the best playmakers in the business in Andres Iniesta and Xavi. With time, Messi has changed his position frequently, often shifting to the right-wing in recent times, but still remains one of the most potent number 9s in football.
In this article, we take a look at the best false 9s in football right now.
Five best false 9s in football right now:
#5 Nabil Fekir
Nabil Fekir remains the most prolific football player at a mediocre club. His exploits for Lyon and then Real Betis, for whom he signed in 2019, have won him acclaim from all corners.
Didier Deschamps, who found space for the attacker in his World Cup-winning, star-studded French team, said that Fekir brought a different quality to the side.
That quality is his ability to exploit the spaces between the opposition's defence and midfield to find pinpoint assists and goal-scoring chances as a false 9. With seven goals and as many assists in all competitions, he will be the main attacker for Real Betis this season as well.
#4 Paulo Dybala
Paulo Dybala has seemingly rejuvenated his career after seemingly being on the verge of exiting Juventus. Known for his vision, shooting and dribbling abilities, Dybala, is one of the most complete attackers in football right now.
The false 9 pipped Cristiano Ronaldo to the Serie A MVP award last season after scoring 11 times and assisting as many goals in the league as Juventus won their ninth straight Serie A title. Dybala will be integral to new coach Andrea Pirlo's plans as a deep striker in the coming season as Juventus chase Champions League glory in addition to more domestic success.