Following Spain’s defeat to Italy at Euro 2016, which saw them exit at the last-16 stage in the competition they had won consecutively in 2008 and 2012, Gerard Pique admitted that the playing style deployed in those two tournaments and the World Cup victory in 2010 may no longer work. ‘Tiki Taka’ is perhaps the single most common phrase associated with Spain and also club sides like Barcelona and Bayern Munich, but where does it go from here?
Pep Guardiola, it’s inventor, loathes the term; in Marti Perarnau’s book ‘Pep Confidential’, which documented his first season with Bayern Munich, he branded it ”pointless”, but even if the phrase is not an accurate representation of his ideals, it certainly is associated with him.
‘Tiki Taka’, he explained to Perarnau, is passing with “no purpose”, something he would never instruct his teams to do. Instead, passing is done to “overload one side of the pitch so that the opponent must tilt its own defence to cope”, leaving the other side of the pitch free to attack. Controlled possession is key, but not without purpose, as is a common misconception.
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Guardiola, therefore, considers it important not to get confused between ‘Tiki Taka’ and expansive football associated with the likes of Spain, and in club football Barcelona and Bayern Munich. Guardiola is one of, if not the, best coaches in the world, and used the method, in the broadest possible terms, to excellent effect; the Barcelona team of Messi, Iniesta, Xavi and the rest at their peak is one of the greatest of all time, and if they used so-called ‘Tiki Taka’, then of course it cannot be considered a failure.
In general terms, ‘Tiki Taka’ is the name given to a style of football played by a team that passes out from the back, with technically gifted players. In that sense, then, it must surely live on.
This is not the end for the attractive football, but perhaps the start of a new cycle. A reinvention to make the style less predictable, as was the key criticism of Spain this summer, is required; evolution rather than revolution. Spain’s build-up was too slow, too obvious and lacking a spark.
Having Nolito and Silva as the wide players relies on speed in other areas of the pitch, especially against an opponent content to just sit in and defend. Of all of the first eleven, only Jordi Alba, the left back, has any real pace, and as such the opposition was able to sit deep, and let the likes of Iniesta and Fabregas play the ball in front of them, causing no harm. It is easy to play against a team with the ball in front of you, but less so when they get in behind and make the defence run back towards their own goal.
In short, ‘Tiki Taka’ is not finished; it just is not what it used to be. Football has evolved, and teams can play against it much more effectively than before.
Guardiola invented it, but has changed it so much since, particularly with Bayern Munich, that it is not the same as it once was.
Bayern play with genuine width with at least two of Douglas Costa, Arjen Robben, Franck Ribery and Kingsley Coman in the starting eleven. The style has changed so wingers are the focus of the system, rather than the central striker – often Messi – as it was when introduced at Barcelona, and the passing of the ball is done with the aim of creating more space for them to exploit.
Spain have not killed off ‘Tiki Taka’, just misused it. The reason they failed to match successes of previous tournaments was a lack of intensity and incision, not the style they chose to use; after all, it has been proven to work for them before.
Moving the ball around, which in basic terms is what ‘Tiki Taka’ is all about, is still effective, and will continue to be, but it must be done with more speed and purpose than what Spain showed.
With Guardiola arriving in Manchester this summer, the Premier League and English football might just be able to find that out first hand.