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The End of Tiki-Taka

 Posted by on May 6, 2014 at 6:59 pm  Spain, The Ball is Flat
May 062014
With Bayern's recent exit from the Champions League and FC Barcelona's struggles in the same competition, to go along with Spain's struggles in World Cup qualifiers, there is a growing sentiment in fan circles that what Spanish journalist Andres Montes coined as "tiki-taka" or "el juego del toque-de taca" is at least passe or past its prime but more than likely "solved" and that the athleticism and counter-attacking brand of football that has been trying to assert itself instead has finally reached its pinnacle; tiki-taka is dead, long live the parked bus.

Empirically there is no "answer" to tiqui-taca just as there is no favored status to counter-attacking football. We see what we want to see. On the road to 17 titles Pep's Barcelona squad met scores of teams who parked the bus. Not many of them were successful; Numancia maybe in that first year? At its best there's no long-term solution for the pressing/possession style that Pep plays, but you need players who buy into it and Bayern's players, some of the same ones that got Heynkes's predecessor van Gaal fired actually for playing a similar style, were just not right for it. In any footballing philosophy you need players to run a system correctly: David Silva, Juan Mata, Thiago Alcantara, and a score of others would have been perfect to sustain Barcelona's one-touch brand of footie. You think the ridiculous criticism that Eden Hazard is getting for Chelsea would stand if he were at a  club that appreciated his individual creativity like Barca, Man City or Bayern?
Yeah, no. It's all cyclical.

After Greece won the Euros we suffered through years of negative football. Have we forgotten how dull and boring it was as recent as the early 2000's to watch clubs in England emulate each other with 5 in the midfield to stop the vaunted Arsenal attack? No one called that tiki-taka, but the criticisms were the same: naive, undisciplined, and even boring which has always been inexplicable to me.  It led to clubs sitting in their own end daring the other club to do something with the ball. Ten years on the landscape has changed again. Spain have won two Euros and a World Cup, something they never came close to doing before Luis Aragones played to their strengths. Barcelona were dominant for the better part of that decade and their success has influenced coaches like Roberto Martinez and Brendan Rogers to play to the strengths of a certain group of players that while not being ignored, they had been devalued and now they aren't.

Now the trend is for pace and athleticism. Gareth Bale signs the biggest transfer in history, Jurgen Klopp builds his Borussia Dortmund squad to challenge Bayern in Germany and now everyone wants to play on the hairspring counter. It's a veritable mad-rush for quick-wingers, pundits sound the death-knell of possession football, and the Twitterverse writhes with disdain at Pep Guardiola for "ruining a Champion." Not only that, but it becomes a litmus test for labeling people for preferring "boring football"; as if there a proper way to play rather than just a personal preference for one or the other.

There is no right way to play and never has been. The English and the Scots 100 years ago were arguing whether the game should be played on the counter or in possession. 50 years ago there were arguments in the streets of Buenos Aires whether the attractive (if a bit naive) brand of football that they had traditionally played in Argentina would serve them internationally. They developed a more intense, tactical game built on results and not so much on this fantasy of a neglected footballing past, but the arguments continued. Cesar Luis Menotti won a World Cup playing one way and Carlos Bilardo won another one playing in a diametrically opposite way, and these sorts of arguments have continued onward since. No one had the answer then, because there is no right answer. It is the eternal argument at the heart of football, one that can never be won.

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The Ball is Flat is a website and podcast devoted to the Beautiful Game. Football, Futbol, Fusball or whatever you call it, it is the game that divides and unites us. The Ball is Flat's mission is to cover European football with an eye open, the heart in motion, and the brain colored with the right amount of cheerful cynicism. Read more:

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