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Graham Ruthven: Why football fans should rejoice if this is the death of Tiki Taka

Nobody expected the manner of Spain's defeat. But we shouldn't be surprised - or disappointed - that Tiki Taka has run its course.

by Graham Ruthven | June 18, 2014

For much of the first half against the Netherlands, Spain had dominated, in that way Spain tend to do. Xavi and Xabi Alonso were controlling the midfield – and Vicente Del Bosque’s side was winning – as they also tend to do.

But then Daley Blind sent an angled long-pass over the head of Sergio Ramos, for Robin Van Persie, who did his best Superman/Peter Pan/leaping salmon impression, throwing himself through the air, and flicking the ball over the stranded Iker Casillas.


What followed in the second half was astonishing. Holland stuck a further four past Casillas, consigning the World and European champions to a humiliating 5-1 defeat. Spain have been killed, and so has their ‘Tiki-Taka’ style of play.

Or at least, that’s what football should be hoping for.

Far from being the Utopian realisation it is often hailed as, ‘Tiki-Taka’ has been a bad thing for football. If indeed it is dead, it won’t be missed.

The manner of Spain’s defeat to the Dutch was obviously a surprise, but their downfall had been predicted.

Spain’s style of play, honed within the walls of Barcelona’s famed La Masia youth academy, defined an era of international football. At its prime ‘Tiki-Taka’ made Spain and Barca alike, near invincible.

Predictable downfall

But heading into this World Cup, Spain were only fourth favourites. La Furia Rojo had lost just one competitive game since the last World Cup final, yet we were led to believe their premiership was coming to an end. Even still, nobody expected such a defeat in their opening game.

But there might still be life in the ‘Tiki-Taka’ model.

Little over an hour after it had supposedly died with Spain’s defeat to Holland – Chile were 2-0 up against Australia playing their own variation of the short passing, high-pressing game.

And we shouldn’t forget how Spain lost their opening game of the last World Cup to Switzerland, only to win the whole thing less than a month later. But this loss felt different. Something has snapped.

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Pep Guardiola840

Total Football

When Real Madrid thrashed Bayern Munich 4-0 in the second leg of this year’s Champions League semi-final it too was seen as the end of an era. It was a triumph for counter over control. Pep Guardiola (above)  – the founding father of ‘Tiki-Taka’ was forced to face the mortality of his own methods.

Guardiola’s ethos borrowed the fundamentals of ‘Total Football’ and took them to unprecedented extremes. At the height of his success with Barcelona it wasn’t uncommon for opposition sides to play entire games with less than 20 per cent of possession.

Nobody could get near them. Press the ball, and it would be somewhere else before you could even put in a tackle. International teams found the same against Spain, with the La Furia Rojo sharing the same ‘Tiki-Taka’ heart.

But now that heart is straining to pump blood round the rest of Del Bosque’s team.

There is no doubting that opponents are now better educated when it comes to countering the short passing game. And with every Spain or Barcelona defeat the question is asked: is ‘Tiki-Taka’ dead?

David Villa (R) celebrates scoring first goal with Xabi Alonso (L) and Xavi 25/6/2010 00439885

Football should hope so because its influence had a detrimental impact on the sport. As the game’s predominant force Spain set a precedent for measured, passing, football at the last World Cup.

Spain won what was a rather insipid tournament by scoring just eight goals over seven games. By contrast Germany, who went out in the semi-finals scored double that tally.

Spain completely discredited the logic that goals win games. For them, passes won games.

Pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, repeat 20x, and win 1-0. That was Spain’s routine, undermining the essential drama and excitement of football. At the risk of rolling out a tired cliché, it was boring.


No country for Old Men

Many tried to ape the Spanish philosophy (see Athletic Bilbao and Swansea City) but nobody managed to perfect it in the way Guardiola did in his first three years as Barca manager. Now Spain too are a mere impression of themselves.

Yet how much of ‘Tiki-Taka’s’ decline is down to the players, rather than the system? Seven of the team that started the World Cup final four years ago started against the Netherlands. In a system which is so dependent on the midfield, the central trio of Xavi, Xabi Alonso and Sergio Busquets looks tired.

Spain’s game against Chile on Wednesday night 8pm will provide an indication as to how Del Bosque sees his country’s footballing future. Does he turn to the bench for new ideas or stick with the philosophy that has brought Spain so much?

‘Tiki-Taka’ might not be dead, but football’s sake we should all hope it is.

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