A lot of the credit for the reinvention of the false nine (defined quite nicely here) in recent years has been directed towards Josep Guardiola, the erstwhile Barcelona manager who is now the head coach in charge at FC Bayern. The deployment of Lionel Messi in the false nine position was brought about mainly as a method of trying to bring the best out of the diminutive Argentinian forward. At the time Messi was playing on the wing and was frustrated at his own lack of involvement, and Pep also realised that playing him as a regulation number 10 would not help the situation as he would simply be man marked or double teamed out of the game. The solution was therefore to play with no dedicated strikers, Messi in a free role and the impetus provided by midfielders and full backs bombing forward.
However, the use of a false nine in the modern game was hardly pioneered by Pep Guardiola during his Barcelona tenure. Liverpool FC have a great history of false strikers at the club, particularly during the period between 2000 and 2010.
Take, for example, one of the greatest non-strikers to ever wear the famous red of Liverpool – Mr Emile Heskey. The burly player scored a miserly 60 goals spread out over a leisurely 223 appearances. Many people love to comment on how Heskey’s role was not just as a striker, but how he managed to hold up the ball and bring other players into the game. His other skills were a nice-to-have, but having been signed as a forward one’s job is to score goals!
Another false striker brought in by Rafael Benitez during the summer of 2007 was Ukranian Andriy Voronin, who arrived on a free transfer from German club Cologne. During his two seasons with Liverpool, Voronin chalked up an unimpressive 6 goals in 40 appearances. Surprisingly enough, he was offloaded to Dynamo Moscow in January 2010.
Andrew Carroll was always on a hiding to nothing when he arrived from Newcastle for a British and Liverpool record transfer fee of £35 million. Carroll delivered an uninspiring 11 goals over 58 games for Liverpool and was subsequently loaned out to West Ham in August 2012. The deal was eventually made permanent at the start of the 2013-14 season and Carroll signed for West Ham for £15 million.
Other notables false strikers who came and went from the Liverpool ranks include Sean Dundee, El Hadji Diouf, Robbie Keane and David N’gog.
Jose Mourinho appears to have incorporated the art of strikerlessness in his current Chelsea team at the moment, more by accident as opposed to by design. Fernando Torres 2.0, Samuel Eto’o and Demba Ba as the club’s main strikers have ten goals between them in all competitions and have been outscored by the midfield pair of Oscar and Eden Hazard who have eleven goals at this stage of the season. If Mourinho is to be believed, he is happy with the strikers at the club as he mentioned during a recent press conference:
In the January market we’re not going to buy any striker, so we will go through to the end of the season with Fernando, Samuel and Demba. Nobody goes in. Nobody goes out.
The fact that Chelsea do not have a strike force on form (like Suarez and Sturridge at Liverpool) is not a concern as long as their midfielders (and defenders) are on hand to chip in the necessary goals. Based on current form, Mourinho does not have any regrets about Romelu Lukaku going on loan to Everton particularly in light of Mourinho’s comments that the Belgian requested to leave Chelsea.