Tiki-taka has been Barcelona’s, or for that matter, Spain’s major weapon, which helped them immensely to set new benchmarks in last half a decade or so. But after their dismal show in the on-going World Cup, their unique football style has been facing criticism from all corners.
Tiki-taka is a style of play, based completely on short and accurate passes, to work the ball via various channels to maintain the ball possession. The inventor of tiki-taka is no other than the former Dutch international, Johan Cruyff, who implemented this style of play during his eight-year tenure as a coach with FC Barcelona, starting from 1988. Cruyff, the three-time Ballon d’Or winner, who was also one of the major exponents of ‘total football’ during his playing days, made some amendments in the style of ‘total football’ and came out with this improved version which was later timely upgraded by his Barcelona successors -- Louis van Gaal, Frank Rijkaard and Pep Guardiola.
During Guardiola’s tenure (2008 to 2012), Barcelona achieved a lot of success by using this effective style and gradually it was adapted by the Spanish team as well. In fact, under Spanish coach Vicente Del Bosque, Spain achieved new heights as he led the team to win their maiden FIFA World Cup in 2010 in South Africa and then went on to successfully defend European title in 2012.
It has often been said that tiki-taka is most suited to Barcelona players, due to their diminutive structure and excellent touch and vision.
Now the question is - would it be right to write off this style, which has earned a name for Spanish football over the years, just because of their getting ousted in the Brazil World Cup in the group stages?
It is always easy to criticize. To state that: ‘it’s the end of the road for tiki-taka’, ‘RIP tiki-taka’ or ‘It is the end of an era’.
Spain entered the tournament as favourites to defend their title. But their shocking early exit after being thrashed by Netherlands and then at the hands of spirited Chile, undoubtedly broke many hearts. It also forced the football pundits to put them under the hammer. After dominating football globally for six long years and then crashing out of the football World Cup in such a fashion, makes the adage, tailor-made for Spain that ‘It takes years to build the reputation and five minutes to ruin it.’
But, I still strongly believe that it’s too early to say goodbye to tiki-taka. Yes, tiki-taka is a bit complicated yet soothing, boring yet highly skilled way of play. It’s an art which demands extraordinary skills and vision. And mind it, it’s not an easy style of play that every team can adopt. Though, a few teams broke the tiki-taka code at club level in the past by beating Barcelona by big margins at important junctures. In 2012-13 season of Champions League, under coach Jupp Heynckes, Bayern Munich crushed Barcelona 7-0 on aggregate, in the semis. And then this season again, Barcelona were thrashed by 5-0 by Real Madrid in the same tournament, which demanded some serious up-gradation in their style of play.
As far as Spain’s first round exit in FIFA World Cup 2014 is concerned, it isn’t the first time we have seen a defending World Champion fade like this in the early stages. In the past, teams like Brazil (1966), France (2002) and Italy (2010) also lost the plot in the group stages after lifting the title in the previous season.
First of all, we need to understand that behind Spain’s pathetic show in the on-going World Cup, tiki-taka wasn’t the main culprit. A primary reason was their complacency, which came from the fact that Spain had been winning every major tournament for the last six years. Secondly, their poor team selection was also a major reason behind their debacle.
Making tiki-taka the scapegoat isn’t the right thing to do. This is the style, which helped Spain maintain their top world ranking for six years. This is the style that helped Barcelona win three La Liga titles in the last six seasons.
Now, one can argue that this is the reason that Barcelona failed to defend their La Liga tile this season to Atletico Madrid. But, if that would have been the reason, then they wouldn’t have managed to finish at second spot, ahead of the robust Real Madrid.
The argument that ageing players, especially Xavi (34) and Andres Iniesta (30), known as the heart of Spain and Barcelona, are now past their prime is quite valid. Even the same goes for Spain’s skipper and the golden glove winner of last World Cup, Iker Casillas (33), who made some terrible decisions in the last two games which cost Spain dearly.
But after a dramatic exit from the World Cup, two areas where the Spaniards need to work are – to upgrade their tiki-taka version, so that they can create more chances upfront to score goals and to focus more on La Masia, the world renowned youth academy of Barcelona, which has been producing a lot of young footballers every year, mostly Spanish, to replace their seniors at the club and country level.
Fresh legs and a bit of up-gradation in tiki-taka might help Barcelona and Spain to get their Midas touch back and stamp their authority once again in the time to come.