There’s no doubt that this Euro’s campaign was another disappointing tournament for the Spanish, who have set the highest of standards for their fans and for everyone around the world – but why has it gone so wrong? And more importantly, is Gerard Pique right? Will a change of style be the only way forward for Spain? Personally, I don’t think Spain need to change their style, but actually should remember what it was that made them so great before, which I believe has been forgotten…
Tika taka is a glorified term for fast, open, electric football. The ‘tika taka’ name is a description of the passing between players. It’s quick and it’s unpredictable. Many criticise tika taka for being boring, but true and pure tika taka is far from boring, and is in my opinion the greatest style of football to watch. Barcelona and Spain mastered this unique style and method so brilliantly, and it won them two Euro’s and a World Cup. Tika taka should not be mistaken for ‘possession football’, which is passing the ball relentlessly to tire opponents. In fact, tika taka isn’t just short passing amongst players, it’s about spreading out and using the whole pitch, it’s about getting all the players involved and making your opponents run further and harder to catch the ball, and it’s about creating the space so you’re not threading it through the eye of a needle but actually you’re giving your team mates as much time as possible. I don’t believe Spain and Barcelona have played tika taka football for a while, and there’s a few reasons why that may be the case.
I think the influence of Xavi is so important for tika taka football – or at least a Xavi equivalent – not that there are any. He always found the space and the right pass to make life difficult for his opponent, whilst his positioning was genius. He didn’t come short for the sake of coming short and looking useful, he found space to buy himself time, but was always in areas that didn’t block paths to players in more advanced and dangerous areas. Dropping deep can congest the midfield and make it difficult for defenders to distribute the ball, but Xavi always made that easier by showing intelligent movement. His passing accuracy was phenomenal, and his range was even better. It allowed his team mates to make runs that they could trust would be repaid with perfect passes in behind or out wide to cause their opponents danger. I truly believe that without Xavi, Spain and Barcelona can’t replicate the tika taka of the past, unless someone else steps in to play that role and play it just as well, something Rakitic and Fabregas (both fantastic players) haven’t managed to do.
The influence of Pep Guardiola on Spain’s success is something I’ve always felt is severely underrated. Vincente Del Bosque will rightly take a lot of credit for the tournament victories between 2008 and 2012, but Guardiola was undoubtedly a big reason for Spain’s dominance during those years, the same years he managed Barcelona, funnily enough. Since he’s been at Bayern Munich, Spain have struggled, while Germany have won the World Cup themselves… Coincidence? I think it would be very wrong to put Germany’s success on Pep, as the influence of Jurgen Klinsmann and Joachim Löw is certainly far more extreme, but you get my point.
Many will argue that Pep has taken over clubs in their prime, and that perhaps his job is easy, but there is a very direct impact Pep has had for all to see. Spain’s winning teams always included countless Barcelona stars. The line up would include Pique, Puyol, Alba, Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, Fabregas, Pedro and Villa on a regular basis. They had a rhythm that ran through them, and bringing it into the national side was never difficult. Real Madrid’s Spaniards had the class to slot in and not disrupt the rhythm, which made it a faultless system. Del Bosque just had to say ‘same again’ and they would. This core was built by Guardiola and it won many many titles, for club and country. Guardiola seriously believes in building a team of domestic players, players born and raised in the footballing ways of that country, and it’s led to many successful young talents breaking through. He turned Toni Kroos into a Xavi-style player and the Germans are reeping the rewards now as he dictates every attack and controls possession from the centre of the pitch, after originally playing as a number 10 under Jupp Heynckes.
My final reason for Spain’s collapse has to be put simply down to the fact that these stars aren’t what they once were. Del Bosque has tried to recreate his winning sides this year with younger and newer players, but they’re simply not the same as the legends who carried their country before. Morata was a poor man’s Torres at these Euro’s, as was Nolito a poor man’s David Villa. Fabregas couldn’t do Xavi’s role in the middle and for some reason Pedro doesn’t get a look in, wrongly. Unfortunately for tika taka to succeed, you need pace, and this Spanish team lacked it. Morata wasn’t running the channels and lines like Torres did in his prime, and Nolito lacked the skill, pace and sharpness of Villa as well.
All in all, tika taka is not dead for me, but it is so difficult to master. Unfortunately it’ll be hard to find a group of players who can master it like the Barcelona and Spain of 2008-2012, but it can be done and when done right it is beautiful to watch. Spain shouldn’t abandon their beliefs and shouldn’t doubt themselves – just continue to produce young stars and continue to teach them the beautiful game and these kids will repay you one day. Spain have taught the world so much about football and I would hate to see the teachers question their own methods, they’re too good to. Spain will be back. Will it be in a different style or with a different approach? I hope not, but that remains to be seen, but the most important thing is that great footballing nations like Spain never disappear.