Exploiting Space: The False Eight

Hi chaps, first of all I’d like to apologise for the lack of posts recently. I did an update on my Le Mans save but I’ll be surprised if anyone managed to get through all of it, so hopefully this is a tad more exciting. For the time being I’ve abandoned my Le Mans save and returned to Palmeiras where my Copa Libertadores winning team is open to tactical innovations.

But from a brief overview of the team, I decided that the role to create would be the False Eight. It’s a fairly dire coinage but I feel it most accurately describes what I’ve attempted to create. I’m sure the vast majority of my readers will have heard of the False Nine, and even the False Ten. Although for those of you who haven’t, the False Nine (for example) is a player who plays as a traditional number 9 striker in the offensive phase of play, but whilst the opposition have the ball, he drops deep in an attempt to retain possession.

As followers of the blog will know, I have something of a fascination with players contributing more to the team than they perhaps should. And [hopefully], that’s what I’ve managed to do with the False Eight.

What is the False Eight?

Well, I suppose the first thing to establish is what the #8 is. When I asked this question on Twitter, it in itself caused quite a stir. There were a number of different calls on real-life examples, ranging from Javi Martinez to Raul Meireles to Andres Iniesta. However, I’d consider real-life examples to be Jack Wilshere and Claudio Marchisio. I consider the Number Eight to be the more offensive natured player in a central midfield pairing (note: for the purposes of the role, I’ll assume it can also be part of a trio).

The best example that was suggested was that of early Paul Scholes, particularly during his partnership with Roy Keane in the early 2000s, in Alex Ferguson’s 4-4-2. Known to most as a Xavi-esque regista in his later years, during his peak years, he was an incredible box-to-box midfielder who could play as part of almost any tactical system. He would break up attacks, charge forwards and contribute to United’s attacking transitions perhaps more than any other player.

Throughout his career, Scholes was famed for his… inconsistent tackling. However, he was able to play in a deep midfield role due to his excellent positional awareness. Despite not actually being a good ball-winner himself, he still solidified the midfield. The False Eight will exaggerate this effect by sitting as a central midfielder in the defensive transition, and whilst not being a good defender or ball-winner, they’ll help to create defensive solidity.

However, the crucial element lacking throughout Paul Scholes’ career as a #8 was his goalscoring. The red-headed dynamo only broke the 20-goal-a-season mark once during his career, with a second best of 14. He’s only scored 10+ league goals twice. And that’s where the False Eight comes in. In the attacking phase of play, the False Eight would burst forward and act as another striker. Instead of creating opportunities for teammates as Scholes did in the #8 role, the False Eight would instead be an out-and-out finisher himself.

I’ve put together a short video of clips of Scholes performing as I’d expect a False Eight to. The last clip in particular is exactly what I’m aiming for:

The False Eight in Football Manager

Creating the Role

So, after establishing what I wanted from the role, I had to actually put that into action in FM. The first thing I wanted to do was do a basic formation that would give the False Eight plenty of room to operate. So on that basis I opted for the following formation, with the Central Midfielder as the False Eight:

For now, I’d ask that you ignore the role of the Central Midfielder. I’ve deliberately made sure it’s wrong in that screenshot because I’ll be going over that now.

The creation of this role was very different to that of the Playmaking Defender and the Inverse Wing Back. For both of the aforementioned I knew which FM role I’d need, with Ball Playing Defender and Wing Back respectively. However, for the False Eight, I wasn’t really sure where to start. So I decided to take a look at a few different roles that might fit the bill. I’d then compare them with each other, and depending on what I wanted from the role, I’d then be able to tinker and adjust.

My first port of call was with the Central Midfield – Attack role. I liked what I saw but I decided I wanted another option so I checked out Advanced Playmaker – Attack.

However, this didn’t give me everything I needed. So I decided I’d have a look at the major roles that a CAM can have (note: the Advanced Playmaker – Attack role at CAM is the same as it is at CM but with a more defensive mentality – for the purposes of this comparison, I’ll use the AP situated in CM). These are; Trequarista – Attack, Attacking Midfielder – Attack and Inside Forward – Attack.

Below, I’ve put all the roles together into an easy image for quick comparison. If there are no colour circles on a slider then all the roles are the same. If a circle has lowered opacity then it means it is at the same level as another circle, which will also have lower opacity. For example, the creative freedom of the CM, AM and IF are the same.

And as a visual person, I found this to be of great aid. It’s not something I’ve done before but if you’re having trouble deciding on a role for one of your players then this is the way to do it. And there were a few very interesting things to come from this, for me. As well as this, any experienced FM player will tell you that it’s always dangerous when playing with the sliders – you can often completely nullify a player’s impact. However, my plan was to justify this by ensuring that I didn’t go past the most extreme role for that slider. For example, even the most direct passing roles still have some way to go before reaching the end of the slider. I’d use that as my limit and not go further.

What I immediately decided was that none of the roles were entirely suitable. For example, the trequarista has the creative freedom that I’d like from the False Eight, but I’m not interested in allowing him to slack off in defense as much as the trequarista is allowed to. Eventually, I decided on the following using a combination of the roles:

The closest role to that of what I was looking for from the False Eight was the Inside Forward. So I started off with that as my base. The first decisions I had to make were on the Creative Freedom and Roam from Position tabs. I changed my mind on this a number of times, perhaps more than any other categories. Eventually I decided that I’d be looking for slightly more Creative Freedom than the Inside Forward was afforded, so I moved that up to the level of the Advanced Playmaker. I also chose, after much deliberation, to not allow the False Eight to roam from position. This was perhaps trickier but I didn’t want to completely compromise the premise of the role. The False Eight is all about providing an extra man in midfield for added defensive solidity whilst providing a potent attacking threat. If given free license to roam, I expect I’d see him up front more than actually in midfield, particularly with his high creative freedom and attacking mentality. I’ve also given him reasonable defensive responsibilities in line with that of the Inside Forward (which was surprisingly the same as the Central Midfielder role) to complement this.

However, offensively, the instructions exactly replicate that of the Inside Forward. Not much to say there. It’ll be interesting to see how the role operates from a deeper position.

The Man for the Job

I’d decided that the save to find the ideal man for my False Eight role was with Palmeiras, where I had two potential candidates. As I’ve gone over many times, there’s no point creating a role for a player you don’t have. It just won’t work. And so, if you look to put the False Eight into practise, make sure you’ve got the right player first.

My candidates were Luizinho and Carlos Filipe. I quickly decided that Filipe, despite being a fantastic player, just doesn’t have the positioning for the role. Whilst Luizinho has poor positioning himself, Filipe’s 5 would just nullify his defensive impact.

I’ve already talked about the role in detail, now it’s time to see how it worked in FM itself. I’ve picked a fairly average game in order to not distort the perception you get from the video. It was a 1-1 draw between Palmeiras and Portuguesa, and Luizinho got a match rating of 7.8, which is not particularly special. Note that my right-winger was sent off very early on in the game so I’ve had to get a bit creative with the clip that I ‘analysed’. If you only want to watch the clip where I illustrate the shape of the team in various different phases of play, then skip to 1:05.

There’s quite a lot to talk about from that video, but particularly the clip I ‘analysed’. The entire idea of the False Eight is for the player to act as a midfielder in the defensive phase but act as another striker in the attacking phase. So that clip, for me, was absolutely fantastic. I’m aware there were some issues though. Throughout this article all I’ve talked about is the False Eight itself, however, as with every role, it’s about the combinations put in place with the role that make it successful. For example, in the attacking phase of the clip I ‘analysed’, the gap between the DMs and the attacking ‘four’ was far too large. That’s the sort of thing I’ll be looking to address. I’m wary that the article is getting a bit long and tiresome, though, so I’ll save that for another time where I focus solely on the roles around the False Eight. Whilst this article has solely been on the role itself, the follow-up will focus on it’s impact to a team’s tactic.

For now, I’m simply glad that I’ve managed to create the role successfully. And I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about it. I’d love to hear any feedback you may have, particularly on the different presentation techniques I’ve used in the article, such as video footage. It would also be fantastic if you attempted to create your own version of the False Eight. I’d love to hear about it.


  1. rtherringbone

    I always love some of the more detailed articles around, and you always deliver a level of content that hits the mark for me.

    Love what you’ve done with the Player Instructions and coloured dots – it would be a really useful tool if SI could implement similar in the game, as I’m often taking a screenshot of a particular combination and then switching to another, before flicking between the game and the screenshot to compare the Player Instructions.

    Vertical movement is now a big part of my focus. With a bit of asymmetry you can get a DM on Support pushing up into the MC line, and a DLP (Defend) heading in the opposition direction. From MC, I’ve always enjoyed the contribution of a CM (Attack), which is a combination not too far removed from your final setup.

    Really looking forward to hearing about the guys around the False Eight to see how the system as a whole functions. Good to see you back!

  2. Shrewnaldo

    The fact I was disappointed to find out that was ending tells you how much I enjoyed that. A good start to investigating a different approach.

    There was a guy on The Dugout a few years back who did an excellent thread on ‘The midfield targetman’ which is a bit different from your approach but might be worth a read to see if there is anything alternative you’d like to use.

    Do you plan to continue this approach as a theme on the blog as I’m definitely interested in reading more. The graphical presentation for the different roles was a fantastic idea, by the way.

  3. leslie

    looking forward to the next installment of this article, am already beginning to wonder if i can put together something incorporating the BPD Playmaker, Inverse Wing Back and False 8 as well as the swapping false 9 & 10 idea from rtherringbone…

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