Any activity can be done in different ways; there are those who can prepare a pizza in a conventional way and there are those who prefer to roll the dough in the air. There are traffic controllers who can do their job simply indicating who should stop and who should move forward and there are those who can do it dancing or to the rhythm of music. This type of variety also applies to football, where teams can practice the sport in the way the manager indicates and considers it the most appropriate to achieve the objective. The style of how a team plays can become a hallmark with which a manager can be characterized and related. In football, when you talk Guardiola, he is directly associated with a very particular style of play – the Tiki-Taka
What is Tiki-Taka?
Tiki-Taka is a style of play that consists of making a large number of passes to keep possession of the ball during matches with the aim of setting the pace of the game. When it comes to the aesthetic side of things, Tiki-Taka is a very attractive and widely accepted style of play.
Its most basic origin arises from the 40s, where the so-called “La Maquina” of River Plate, that had iconic figures such as Adolfo Pedernera and Ángel Labruna among many others, played a very dominant football to the point of being called Los Caballeros de la Angustia (“Knights of Anguish”), which was a result of the almost absolute control they had of the matches that led them to the point of knowing that they could score a goal when they wanted it and many times they left it for the end of the match. During the game, they elaborated the play by making movements and position changes that came with touches of the ball that began with the defenders and progressed until they reached the strikers.
Later, a similar style would be seen in the Hungary national team of the 50s, with players like Ferenc Puskas and Sandor Kocsis, a legendary team that showed superiority with a football style that basically consisted of all the players attacking, without any reservations and they all defended with the same degree of intensity, depending on the development of the game. These teams served as the basis for the Netherlands national team led by Rinus Michels known as the Clockwork Orange, who practiced the widely regarded Total Football in the 70s, a style whose main foundation was constant movement and constant position changes that led to the disorientation of the rivals.
That team of the Netherlands had the legend Johan Cruyff as a player, who took many concepts from Michels for what would be his style as a manager, first at Ajax and later at FC Barcelona, where he would form the legendary Dream Team with which he would achieve the first UEFA Champions League of the Catalonian club. The style of play of FC Barcelona began to retain possession of the ball and make many passes, in order to achieve a more aesthetic football to achieve the results.
The Spanish press began to refer to this way of playing as Tiki-Taka in reference to the sounds that are usually made by successive touches of the ball. Later, when Pep Guardiola took over as manager of the Catalan club in 2008, he took many of Cruyff’s ideas to form a team that would win six titles in one year and that would evolve in his career with Bayern Munich and Manchester City.
As a result of Guardiola’s success, and the fact that several of FC Barcelona’s key players were Spanish, the manager of the Spain national team between 2008 and 2016, Luis Vicente del Bosque, took advantage of the synergy that existed between these players to save training time and implement Tiki-Taka as a style of play that led them to, for example, win the 2010 FIFA World Cup and that began to relate this way of playing with Spanish football.
Tiki-Taka, perhaps not called that way in that side of the pond, also has a side related to Argentinian football since Cesar Luis Menotti’s success with the Argentina national team in the 1978 FIFA World Cup and that has had many other practitioners such as Jorge Valdano, Ángel Cappa, Roberto Sensini or José Pekerman. These managers support an idea of obtaining results through beautiful football, based on the fact that the important thing is the path and not the destination, to put it simply.
Is Tiki-Taka a Good Style of Play?
Johan Cruyff said:
“I want decisive players who can make decisive moves in small spaces. I want them to work as little as possible so that they save energy for that decisive action.”
This is a simple way to interpret Tiki-Taka but at the same time it reflects what is sought with that style. Tiki-Taka requires a lot of training and preparation of the players to perfect this way of moving on the field and to make the successive passes to create the spaces in the rival defence. This training time can be shortened by finding players whose way of playing specializes in passing characteristics.
If Tiki-Taka is developed without a clear objective, what has happened to other teams such as FC Barcelona or the Spain national team may happen which, after the successes achieved with that style of play, fell into a period where their game it was inconsequential due to the fact that the possession of the ball and the number of passes was very high without translating into goals or goal scoring opportunities. Something similar has happened with other smaller teams that have practiced Tiki-Taka that, without counting on the talent of top players, could not turn their idea into tangible results within the pitch. An example was Paco Jemez’s Rayo Vallecano between 2012 and 2016.
How is Tiki-Taka Played?
Tiki-Taka is not defined by a specific tactical formation, but rather a way of developing plays during matches. A particularity that Tiki-Taka has is that all players are required to be able to enter the rotation of the ball and this includes the defenders and the goalkeeper, so they must be able to perform controls, passes and movements like the rest of the players. As a result of the success of Guardiola’s FC Barcelona and the Spain national team, many football clubs began to take Tiki-Taka principles, which is why they began to demand greater control of the ball from the goalkeepers, increasing the spectrum of capabilities of a goalkeeper to this type of technical aspects, not only limited to the ability to stop shots, jumping ability or reflexes. Something similar has happened with defenders, who are currently required to have greater control of the ball as well as an ability to function in more advanced areas of the pitch.
Tiki-Taka needs that the elaboration of the play takes place from the goalkeeper through the defenders, later to the midfielders until reaching the forwards, this with a progressive increase in the speed of the game as they approach the rival box. Once space is gained in the opponent’s defence, it must be exploited to generate a goal chance. In case that space is not available, the play usually goes back to the defenders or even the goalkeeper and starts again. Hence, possession of the ball usually favours the team that practices Tiki-Taka.
As you can see, the physical aspect seems to be in the background compared to the technical because when using Tiki-Taka, the team tends to have less wear since the ball is the one that usually moves and the opposing team that runs behind him. However, this can be counterproductive since if the team does not have an adequate physical level, especially for the current demands of professional football, the rival can take advantage of that in counter attacks.
To answer the question that this article titles, it must be said that the Tiki-Taka remains relevant if it is applied well, that is, maintaining a final objective that serves as an outcome to those plays of long possession of the ball. Currently, thanks to the results that the style practiced by Klopp with Liverpool, Nagelsmann with Leipzig or Gasperini with Atalanta, to name a few, the Tiki-Taka has become a bit “out of date”. However, that the way you play can bring very good results to any team that decides to do everything necessary to assimilate that style as its own.