Tactics: The ‘false 10’ – a clarification

During the last World Cup, I wrote a piece positing a theory about an emerging tactical role that I called the ‘false 10’.

With the concept of the false nine still liable to provoke mirth among those irked by the supposed ‘over-intellectualisation’ of football analysis, I was concerned about inviting scorn upon myself for introducing another ungainly term to the tactical debate, but I was pleased that the piece provoked a healthy number of comments on this site and that the idea has been tentatively picked up, from time to time, by other writers and bloggers.

However, there appears to be a bit of confusion about what exactly the ‘false 10’ is. In my original piece, I said it was a playmaker who confounds the expectations of the opposition defence by breaking beyond the nominal tip of his side’s attack and posing a direct goal threat in his own right. The key point is that the ‘false 10’ spends more time playing alongside and in advance of the number nine than an attacking midfielder would ordinarily be expected to. “A second striker playing in the clothes of a playmaker” was one suggested definition from the comments beneath my piece.

In an article evaluating the tactical trends of 2011 written for The Guardian in December, Jonathan Wilson cast the ‘false 10’ as a playmaker who actually spends a significant amount of time foraging for the ball in his own half. “This year has also seen the advent of the term ‘false 10’, a coinage that feels a little clumsy,” he wrote. “There is as yet, though, no other term for a player who operates as Wayne Rooney did towards the end of last season, playing off a front man as an orthodox 10 would but coming deep to help win possession.”

While the Rooney example does indeed highlight a role for which a specific name has yet to be assigned, it does not chime with my initial observations about the positions adopted by players like Wesley Sneijder and Mesut Özil during the World Cup. Where Rooney unsettles his opponents by going backwards, Sneijder and Özil surprise defences by going forwards – at least, further forwards than you would expect for players habitually referred to as ‘midfielders’.

In the 2011-12 season, the player whose profile most closely fits the bill of the ‘false 10’ is Cesc Fàbregas. In Barcelona’s new 3-1-4-2 configuration, it is he who can most often be found breaking beyond the forward line from midfield and bursting into the penalty area. Indeed, in the early part of the season, while operating in a hinterland between his colleagues in midfield and attack, Fàbregas managed to score five goals in his first seven appearances. With his well-timed runs, intuitive movement and accomplished finishing, there is no truer example of the false 10.

9 Responses to “Tactics: The ‘false 10’ – a clarification”

  • Yeah, I prefer your ‘false 10′ to Wilson’s. There’s been a lot of players who flitted between a #10 and, say, a #8 during the course of a game (a simplification of Wilson’s observations on Rooney perhaps), whereas Fabregas’ new role is, well, new.

  • DP:

    “There is as yet, though, no other term for a player who operates as Wayne Rooney did towards the end of last season, playing off a front man as an orthodox 10 would but coming deep to help win possession.”

    …a “reverse trequartista” perhaps? :)

  • WhatFakeNumber:

    This is more an old role being filled by new players. Cantona, Yorke etc operated in the no.10 role behind a striker but because they were classed as forwards themselves, it was not unexpected and neither was their goal return. Cesc is doing no different in terms of his positional play in this role, its just simply classed as something new because everyone took him to be more of a midfielder. His role has changed, but the dynamics of the position he is playing in has not. I do understand the confusion however as you would really expect Rooney to play the role like Cesc and Cesc doing the reverse, coming deep for the ball. I think this is why Wilson more accurately identified the “false 10” as someone that goes back, since this is the only thing that can currently be classed as a “fault” to the system.

    What should be more noted is that managers are relying less on specialists for midfield positions, relying more on players with tactical awareness so that they can have more flexibility in their team set-ups. This is the number 1 reason why Manchester United have seemingly gotten away with playing and winning “without a midfield” for so many years.

  • Sam:

    Hey Tom,

    First off, long time reader, first time commenter

    Down in Australia (yes, that footballing backwater), we’ve seen Melbourne Heart experiment with both concepts – fielding a False Nine with inverted wingers and a False Nine paired with a False Ten. http://passandmovetactics.blogspot.com/2011/11/gold-coast-1-2-heart-match-analysis.html This is a match report/tactical analysis I wrote up a couple of months back, in a game where Heart used the latter variation against a standard 4-4-1-1.

    The definition I came up with after reading your original stellar piece on the False Ten goes something like this: “…the False Ten is a logical extension of the False Nine. Whereas the False Nine is a creative player fielded in the striker’s usual berth, whose primary role is to dictate play and vacate space, the False Ten is the inversion. A creative player, fielded in the playmaker’s/withdrawn striker’s/No 10’s usual berth, who primary role ISN’T creative, but attacking; to directly exploit the space vacated by the False Nine.”

    In this particular match, Melbourne had Fred, a classic Brazilian trequartista converted to regista, fielded as the False Nine, and Matt Thompson, a highly versatile central midfielder often fielded in central defence as a Fabregas-esque False Ten.

    This experimentation in Melbourne has been pioneered by someone you’ve probably heard of – John van’t Schip, erstwhile of Ajax and Holland.

    Anyway, look forward to the next piece.

    – Sam

  • […] link: The ‘false 10′ – a clarification Posted in Tactics, World Cup | Tags: false 10, false nine, Keisuke Honda, Lionel Messi, Mesut […]

  • Jesse lioce:

    Does a false ten resemble a seconda punta like they call it in italy, a 9,5 a bit like cassano and early del piero

  • bob hayes:

    A complete load of absolute intellectual rubbish and garbage!

    The truly great managers , such as Busby, Shankly , Paisley, Clough and Cullis used to send their lads out with the message ” Enjoy yourselves…and just make sure you score more goals than the other team does!”.

    They achieved far more with that simple message than you intellectuals, who’ve just discovered the gravy train that is football post 1992, will ever achieve.

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