Does Spain’s early exit spell the end of tiki-taka football?

2014-06-25 00:00

WITH defending champions Spain’s first-round elimination from the 2014 Soccer World Cup confirmed, many are asking whether this means the death of tiki-taka football.

Tiki-taka is a style of play characterised by short passing, movement, working the ball through various channels and maintenance of possession. Movement off the ball is key for tiki-taka football to prove successful.

Furthermore, players need to possess a very high work-rate, always look to get into a position to receive the ball between the lines and ultimately to receive a pass through the defensive line in order to score goals.

“La Roja” have utilised tiki-taka football highly successfully over the past six years — winning three major tournaments in a row. Prior to the current World Cup, Spain’s previous 19 tournament matches brought 17 victories, one draw and a loss.

It therefore made sense for manager Vicente del Bosque to employ the Barcelona style of play considering the fact that the Catalan club dominated world football during this period. Two players to capture all the headlines were Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta, who formed the engine room of the tiki-taka style of play.

Why then, is a tactical system which was first crafted under the stewardship of former Barcelona manager Johan Cruyff no longer proving effective?

I believe we are seeing the end of a fantastic generation of players that made tiki-taka such a lethal and difficult system to counter. Owing to their age and subsequent lack of stamina, Hernandez and Iniesta, in particular, are finding it increasingly difficult to seize control of the game because of the youthfulness of the opposition.

Moreover, with their opponents applying more pressure in the midfield using a man-marking system, key players such as Hernandez, Iniesta and David Silva are effectively denied the time to play.

After Bayern Munich thrashed Barcelona 7-0 on aggregate during the 2013 Champions League, one would have thought that that result would have sent a clear warning to Del Bosque prior to the World Cup.

However, he instead opted to employ the selfsame system against Chile, who like the Dutch, were very compact, well-organised defensively and used their speed to punish the Spaniards on the counter-attack.

When one analyses some of the top teams at this World Cup, one finds that they are all employing a very well-structured defensive line in their own defensive zone of the field. They are looking to break forward with speed and use very direct balls behind the defensive line of the opposition.

To a certain extent teams are taking increased risks and committing more bodies forward on the counter-attack.

Holland and Germany serve as fitting examples, with the latter proving most effective in employing the above style of play. Who can forget the way Germany demolished England using this strategy in the last World Cup?

The only alteration manager Joachim Loew has made in Brazil is to play Philipp Lahm in a defensive midfield role owing to his tactical awareness, aggression and speed to close players down, particularly on the flanks, when the fullbacks venture forward.

Football, like every other industry, is forever evolving and, as coaches, we need to constantly develop our thinking and strategies to ensure that we extract the very best from our players and attain the desired results.

As coaches, we have our preferred formations, particularly in attack. I, for example, prefer to play in a 4-3-3 or a 4-2-3-1 formation, but it’s important to note that formations only serve as a template.

The way a team will play or the formation that a team deploys depends entirely on the opposition’s style of play and, therefore, players need to be able to adapt during the match.

As a top-level coach, one needs to explore every conceivable permutation and be able to find solutions.

Furthermore, it’s important to possess a back-up plan — otherwise known as a Plan B — and ensure that the players understand and are prepared for all possible situations on the field of play.

Eric Tinkler was capped 48 times for Bafana Bafana. He is currently Orlando Pirates’ assistant coach.

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