When Pep Guardiola played Lionel Messi in the “False Nine” position in his time at Barcelona, the little magician exploded. Messi played his best football under Guardiola and in that “False Nine” position. But what is the False Nine and who invented it?
False Nine and Tiki Taka:
Pep Guardiola used the most pure and elegant form of Tiki-Taka the world had ever seen in his Barcelona side. To understand Messi’s False Nine position, we should look at the style of play that Guardiola used.
In recent years Tiki-Taka has often been labelled as worthless recycling of possession. But this isn’t the case, Tiki Taka is the playing style of creating chances through fast short passes and keeping the opposition side at bay through not letting them touch the ball. Pep Guardiola and Vincente Del Bosque are probably the most successful managers who’ve used this tactic in their playing style.
The False Nine is the formation where the Centre Forward acts as a link man and plays deeper than usual forwards. He often receives the ball from midfield in this withdrawn position. Usually, a more technically astute player with a slight build is used in this position. They are good dribblers, have the ability to create chances and lack the physique of traditional center-forwards.
How the magic happened
Lionel Messi with his 5’7 height and amazing dribbling ability was perfect for this position. He was an incredible passer, had an amazing vision with which he regularly created chances and his goalscoring prowess was a means of his genius.
Defenders weren’t used to small dribblers like Messi as the focal point of any team’s attack. At the time, big strong Centre Forward like Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Didier Drogba, Wayne Rooney were the norm. But in theory that should’ve worked in the favour of the defenders as they faced someone less physical than them.
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But, it didn’t turn out that way. Messi, time and time again, would drop deep and receive the ball. Defenders were puzzled as to what to do with them. They were confused, should they mark him and leave their zone or let him have space and try and guard the penalty box.
Messi wreaked havoc. Defenders couldn’t keep up with him, he was too fast and his individual ability was too for them. The little magician was deadly if given the space as well. His chance creation was elite and due to his adept footballing brain, he found himself in the right places at the right time, scoring a record amount of goals.
Several players have tried to play the false nine position throughout history. The legendary Matthias Sindelar of the Austrian Wünderteam, Johan Cruyff played in this position as well. No matter how good one becomes in this position, the False Nine position will always be synonymous with Lionel Messi.