It seems odd to talk of an entire position in football being dead. After years of tactical evolution, who would have thought that vast numbers of players could potentially be out of a job? Such is the strength and the appeal of tiki-taka football across the globe that it could even be considered.
The role of a ‘false 9’ (for the less obsessive tactician) is used to draw centre backs out from the back or play in the space in front of them, either linking play to the midfield or running at goal. A similar role of the trequartista, a striker that links play with the midfield (Francesco Totti, Alessandro Del Piero or Javier Saviola) has been used on occasion, but never more effectively than with Lionel Messi.
The Spanish national team gained much attention for effectively playing a 4-6-0 against Italy in their opening group game, using Cesc Fabregas to link play with the midfield. However, despite Spain’s uncanny ability to keep possession, they only managed a single goal in a 1-1 draw.
Spain’s problems in front of goal would probably have been gone had David Villa been fit following his broken leg. A lethal finisher for club and country, Villa’s skills have been sorely missed by Vicente Del Bosque’s team. However, that’s not to say that Spain lack in strikers of real quality. While Fernando Torres’ form has been erratic of late, he arguably provides more of a threat to goal than any of Spain’s passing midfielders will do. Both Alvaro Negredo, Fernando Llorente, and to a lesser extent Roberto Soldado, can feel hard done by that despite their fine performances they have not been used yet. Llorente provides skills to link play as he does done for Athletic Bilbao, while Negredo and Soldado have made careers from the role of poachers at club level.
Maybe the ‘false 9’ role made so famous by Messi just doesn’t work for players that essentially aren’t him. When Fabregas was used in this role for Spain, he simply lacked the ability to run at the defence and pose a real threat to goal compared to his Barcelona teammate. Russian forward Aleksandr Kerzhakov was used in the role for the national side and was largely ineffectual; not dropping deep enough to link midfield and not posing a genuine threat to goal. Perhaps it takes a world class player that needs no more superlatives to effectively make the position work.
It still remains true that at every level of football, a striker who does his job of scoring goals is priceless to the team. The simple fact is that unless your midfielders are extremely clinical in taking their chances, goals will be harder to come by. There’s no shame in playing towards the strength of a team, especially when Spain’s is so focused in the rich talent of their midfield. However to win the match, there still needs to be a player converting possession into goals and even more so at international level, when goals are at a premium.