Number 9 in Soccer: Meaning, Role, and Position

The number 9 in soccer featured image

Every player on a soccer team takes to the field with a number printed on the back of their jersey. Many people consider the player wearing the number 9 on their back to be one of the most important players on a team. But there are many things you may not know or fully understand about the meaning of a number 9 in soccer. Here I’m going to explain everything you need to know.

The number 9 in soccer is a team’s main center forward or striker. They play in front of the midfielders and have the responsibility of scoring goals for the team. The player who wears the number 9 jersey is usually a prolific goal scorer for their team.

The number 9 position in soccer is crucial! In this article, I’m going to give you a complete overview of the number 9.

I’ll show you:

  • What the number 9 means
  • The role of a number 9
  • What a modern-day number 9 looks like
  • what exactly a false 9 is
  • and the best number 9’s that have played the game

Let’s get started!

What Does the Number 9 In Soccer Mean?

When people first notice that soccer players are wearing numbers on the back of their jerseys, one of their first questions is – What is the significance of the numbers? What do they mean?

Well, it may surprise you that soccer players did not start wearing jersey numbers until the 1928 season when Arsenal and Wednesday (later renamed Sheffield Wednesday) wore numbers 1 – 11 onto the pitch. 

The team allocated the lower numbers to the defensive players and the higher numbers to more attacking-minded players. 

It was at this time that the number 9 became associated with the primary attacking player on a team.

The number 9 is allocated to the center forward position, which is also known as the striker. The number 9 is recognized as the biggest goal-scoring threat in the team and carries the responsibility of scoring goals for the team as frequently as possible. 

This means that the player wearing the number 9 jersey is playing as a striker and is expected to get into goal-scoring situations and positions where other players can attempt to assist them in scoring a goal. 

As scoring goals is a central part of soccer, you can understand why this is one of the most exciting positions to play!

The number 9 player plays as the focal point of the attacking players. 

Sometimes this means they play as a pivot player that can hold the ball up while more players push forward to create goal-scoring opportunities. 

Other times the number 9 is making runs behind the opposition team’s defensive line or getting into the box for crosses and assists from the wingers and midfield players.

When jersey numbers were first implemented within soccer teams, the numbers were handed out according to specific positions that matched the coach’s formation and strategy layout for the game ahead of them. 

Each number represented a particular position that had specific responsibilities. 

The number 9’s responsibility was to score goals.

During the early days of soccer strategies, coaches motivated their players to get the ball to the number 9 player as quickly and effectively as possible. The coach wanted to keep the player involved in the game and in front of the goal where they could attempt to score.

What Is The Role Of A Number 9?

Role of a number 9 in soccer
Role of a number 9 in soccer

Although a number 9 player’s primary responsibility is first and foremost to score goals, the role of a number 9 is actually multi-faceted.

The role of a number 9 in soccer is:

  • To score goals 
  • Win possession of the ball in front of the goal
  • Prevent defenders from tackling them
  • Run in behind the defense
  • Hold up play until other players arrive
  • Defend from the front of the field
  • Create goal-scoring opportunities for those around them

As I’ve already mentioned, the number 9 player in a soccer team generally plays as the center forward or striker. 

Players selected to play in this position are normally players with natural goal-scoring abilities and strengths.

But there are many different types of players who make a good number 9 striker. 

Different qualities offer different strengths and options for coaches when looking at what formation and tactics they want to use in the game ahead of them. 

Some number 9 players are big, tall, muscular, and relatively fast. This helps make it difficult for defenders to compete with them for headers and challenging tackles.

Big number 9 players offer great options for air balls and crosses into the box where their height and strength give them the advantage to head the ball towards goal. 

Their size and strength put pressure on defenders to compete with them shoulder to shoulder when challenging for a header!

Some number 9 players are smaller but have outstanding skill and speed. 

This type of number 9 can offer more speed for running in behind the defensive lines to break through for a goal-scoring opportunity. They can also find the small spaces to pull off a shot easier because of their quick feet and lower center of gravity. 

The number 9 player needs to be able to control the ball very well. 

Their first touch is vital to set up their next move towards a goal or a pass to another attacking player. Strikers must be able to play the ball with their back towards the goal and turn and play with the ball at their feet while running towards the goalmouth.

The first touch and turning ability of a striker can either create a goal-scoring chance or hinder the team’s forward movement. 

The center forward player often can drop deeper to collect the ball when his or her team is under pressure and hold the ball up by turning and carrying the ball forward or playing a simple pass.

When the player holds the play up, it gives the team time to reshape and begin their attack. 

Other times, number 9’s need to be pressing up against the opponent’s defensive line waiting for a through-ball or long ball over the top, and attempting to get in behind the defense. 

Center forwards and strikers who wear the number 9 jersey also have a responsibility to press and pressurize defenders when the other team has the ball. 

Soccer Striker
Soccer Striker

This helps put pressure on the opposition higher up on the field, which reduces the chances of a dangerous move against their team.

Pressing the defenders high can force them to make a mistake and present an opportunity for the number 9 to try and score. 

The number 9 jersey and role is a vital position in the team, and players who occupy these positions are often well recognized and praised if they succeed.

It is often the number 9 players who score the most goals for their teams which excites the fans!

For a comparison of how the role of striker differs from other positions on the field, check out one of my previous articles – Winger vs Striker in Soccer: What’s the Difference? or Soccer Striker Vs Forward: Differences and Similarities.

The Modern-Day Number 9

The game of soccer has progressed and changed in many ways throughout its history. While positions and formations are similar to how they have always been, the modern-day soccer player is expected to do more and offer more to their team than in the past.

The game of soccer has also increased in speed and skill as players progress in fitness and technical ability.

Training facilities are now more advanced because of modern-day technology and world-class fields, gyms, and recovery centers. Players are given everything they need to perform to the maximum week in and week out. 

The expectation of players has increased dramatically due to the drastic rise in player salaries, the professional lifestyle they live, and the facilities they use. 

All of these factors have changed the expectations that are placed on a modern-day number 9.

Modern-day number 9 players are expected to do a lot more than just wait for the ball and shoot. 

The modern game requires players that wear the number 9 jersey to make runs and strategic movements off the ball and create space for other attacking players to drive the ball forward.

The link-up play between the attacking midfielders, wide players, and a number 9 is much more intricate and developed in the modern game. 

Number 9’s often drift wide to open up space in the center of the field or switch with wide players to fetch the ball and prompt an attack.

Although there is extra work number 9 players are asked to do in the modern game, the expectation for goals is still on their shoulders. 

Goal scoring is the primary job of every number 9 in soccer. 

Players wearing the number 9 are becoming creative players that dazzle and excite fans who watch their teams. 

Modern-day defense setups can make it much more difficult to break teams down and find the spaces to create goal-scoring opportunities. 

Forward players are required to develop their creativity, decisiveness, accuracy, and finishing to ensure that they take as many chances of scoring a goal as possible for their team.

Not All Strikers or Center Forwards Wear the Number 9

Having talked about the number 9 being strongly linked to the role of striker or center forward on a team, you will sometimes see a game where there is no number 9 on the field at all.

Not all players playing as a striker or center forward wear the number 9 on their jerseys. 

The reality is that soccer never required any player to wear a specific number. It just became commonplace that certain soccer positions would wear specific numbers.

The modern game of soccer has evolved and adapted to players’ preferences. Players can wear their preferred numbers rather than a number based on their position.

Soccer Striker
Soccer striker

In today’s modern games, some defenders wear higher numbers, and some midfielders wear lower numbers. This change began to creep into the game during the 1954 world cup, where the organizers changed the usage of jersey numbers for the tournament. 

Instead of players swapping numbers based on which player played in each position, players were given numbers that they kept for the duration of the tournament. 

This began a new system of players receiving a club number that was designated to them for the season. 

In the modern game, we have strikers and center forwards playing in the number 9 role but wearing a jersey with other numbers such as 19, 20, or any other number of their choice.

What Is A False 9?

One variation on the role of a number 9 that you may have heard people talk about is the false 9.

A false 9 is a soccer position where the center forward or striker drops deeper into an attacking midfielder position to collect the ball and find space. A false 9 operates more as a playmaker within the team and focuses on creating goal-scoring opportunities for those around them.

When a player operates as a false 9, it forces the opposing center backs to decide whether to follow the number 9, leave spaces behind them for wingers to run into, or stay back and allow the number 9 to collect the ball instigate an attack.

The false 9 position enables strikers to play more as playmakers and creative players who dictate the flow of play. 

It enables attacking midfielders and wingers to drive forward ahead of the number 9, using the player as a pivot to create opportunities going forward.

Not all strikers or center forwards can play a false 9 position well. 

The position requires a player with good dribbling abilities to utilize the space and create, as well as the vision to distribute the ball forward. 

A false 9 position also requires a player with good shooting accuracy and power to take long shots from the edge of the 18-yard box.

Some of the most obvious first examples of false 9 positions being used were during World Cups in the 1930s and 1950s. Teams like Uruguay, Austria, Argentina, and Hungary were the first teams to consistently implement the tactic.

The most prominent and successful modern-day example of a false 9 system and player would be Barcelona under Pep Guardiola’s coaching with Lionel Messi as the false 9 strikers. 

Lionel Messi can be recognized as one of the most gifted and successful false 9 players of the modern generation. 

Messi played as the integral playmaker of that Barcelona side and created space and opportunities for other players, as well as scoring many goals for himself.

If a team has a player that can occupy the false 9 positions effectively, it can be a successful adjustment to typical formations that causes opposing teams to work hard to match the formation and style of play.

False 9 formations are not typical or common formations for most teams but have been used effectively and proven incredibly beneficial, providing the team can adapt.

Check out this helpful video below, explaining more about false 9’s.

What is a False Nine?

The Best Number 9s And What Made Them Great

It wouldn’t make sense to have an entire article on the number 9 in soccer without talking about some of the great number 9’s in soccer history!

So let me show you four of the best.

Ronaldo (Brazil)

Ronaldo, who played for Brazil, is recognized as one of the most significant and most explosive number 9s in history. His goal-scoring tally and career statistics are remarkable!

Ronaldo’s goal-scoring abilities caught the eye of many top teams throughout his career. He played for teams like AC Milan, Real Madrid, Inter Milan, and Barcelona

Ronaldo scored a total of 247 goals in 343 matches in his career!

Ronaldo was skillful, intelligent, fast, and deadly accurate when shooting. He was a prolific goal scorer and one of the best number 9 players in history!

Alan Shearer

Alan Shearer is recognized as the top goal scorer in the English Premier League’s history, with a total of 260 goals in his career

He is recognized as one of the best English strikers of all time, not only because of his goal tally but also because of his typical English football style and demeanor. 

Alan Shearer was a number 9 that was physically strong and tough, always working hard to find opportunities. It didn’t take long before he would maximize even the smallest chances into goals. 

His shooting ability was brilliant, and his technique and heading abilities were second to none. Alan Shearer was the typical “hit-man” style number 9 who was ruthless in front of goal.

Ian Rush

Ian Rush was a prolific striker for Liverpool Football Club and Wales. He was known for his calmness in front of goals and his clinical finishing. Ian Rush scored more goals than he missed and was a brilliant example of a clinical number 9 striker.

Ian Rush was brilliant with his positioning and was often in the right place at the right time to tap in easy goals. He understood the game very well and had the skill to turn small moments of potential into world-class goals.

Ian Rush scored 346 goals for Liverpool.

Bobby Charlton

Sir Bobby Charlton played for Manchester United and England and held the top goalscorer title for many years until Wayne Rooney broke his record. Bobby Charlton was a skillful and dangerous striker who scored goals with ease! He was fast and decisive when on the ball. 

Bobby Charlton is remembered for his explosive long-range shot to score many world-class goals for club and country. 

Sir Bobby Charlton scored 249 goals for Manchester United and 49 goals for England.

For more great number 9’s check out this video below.

10 of the Greatest Number 9's in Football/ Soccer

In Conclusion

The modern game of soccer may have changed in certain expressions of the game and the players; however, the number 9 role in most teams remains a crucial position in any team. Number 9 players are goal scorers who lead their teams in their attacking threats.

The different types of number 9 players make the position a diverse role. A team will appoint players in these positions based on their style and needs for each game.

The number 9 jersey number is a coveted and respected number with rich history and heritage. The position is one of importance and recognition in the team. This position can be the deciding factor between winning and losing soccer games!

For more information on other soccer positions, check out my related articles:

References – squad numbers explained – numbers, players, and roles – football forward – number 9 – speed, power, and touch

Ben Clayfield

Hi! My name's Ben. I've played, watched, read about, and enjoyed soccer throughout my life. I really enjoy finding out more about the game I love and sharing it with you all. Find out more about me here - Ben Clayfield

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