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Tiki Taka--the Right Way To Play
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Tiki Taka--the Right Way to Play

For anyone that's ever played soccer (football for you non-Yanks), particularly if you've ever done so at a high level, you understand that there's a right way and a wrong way to go about playing. Yes, as with all sports, it tends to be result driven, but there's a level of aesthetic that goes into this particular game that isn't expected from other sports. A level of artfulness and guile is what is expected from the successful, something that separates those of quality from your average pub bums having a run about.

They do call it the beautiful game for a reason you know. If you can't make it pleasing on the eye, your success is often times viewed as a sham or a cheat of the system. It's why teams that pack it back and absorb pressure, relying strictly on the counter attack schemes to keep pace are typically resented and those that always come to play are honored even in defeat.

There is a moral hierarchy about style of play that should be observed, at least amongst the game's purists. I admit it, I am no different. Sitting and playing to slow the game down, to frustrate and hinder your opponent should be vilified. Catenaccio, while impressive from a tactical standpoint, is an admission of cowardice and inferiority.

It should never be an issue of sitting and defending, hoping for a lucky break, waiting for one chance mistake. Particularly when you're dealing with younger players. You can maybe justify the approach at the top tiers of the pro game (and I do stress maybe) where everything hinges on the money value of a win, where millions of euros ride on a single match result in some tournaments, but it's always a cop out.

That all brings me to my rather over-delayed point about there being a right and wrong way to play. Soccer is a game of skill and subtlety, where physical presence can (and usually is) outweighed by craft and creativity. All you need do to find evidence of this is take a look at the US national team, a system that has always favored superior athletes over superior talent. Bigger-faster-stronger is more important in our youth system on into our professional leagues over players that aren't in the same physical specimen category but have light-years more to offer as far as actually being a proper player.

Take Barcelona and Spain as your example, with their tiki taka. The short passing schemes, the one and two touch play, the constant movement off the ball, the determination to attack and go forward regardless of circumstances, and the high pressure and will to reclaim possession if it's gifted away are the equivalent of moral authority in soccer. Everyone getting touches, everyone involved, everyone moving and supporting, attacking and defending as an entire unit—all done with players that are the furthest thing from imposing.

The tiki taka style is the way that we were all told is the right way to play as kids growing up learning the game but it isn't the way that anyone is ever taught how to play. The ideals of constant one and two touch passing all over the field, players being unselfish with their movement off the ball, passing up half chances of their own to get someone with more space or in a more dangerous position involved instead, thinking and moving with one goal and one mind is the way it was meant to be done.

It's the definition of art in motion in sport, both breathtaking in its execution and irresistible in its prevention. The concept of bigger-stronger-faster doesn't help one wit if you can't get a touch of the ball, and it doesn't help either if that touch is a poor touch because your players have been brought up through a system that teaches the wrong principles, focusing on being able to will themselves to success by sheer determination instead of being able to achieve those results through skill and out-thinking ones opponent.

As a player, it's the system you should want to play in because you're always involved in the action and always have the opportunity to make a contribution regardless of your role on the field. As a coach, it should be the system you want to teach and use because it masks other deficiencies and keeps your players motivated.

Of course, all of the success behind the tiki taka style illustrates a very confusing trend—so few teams use it. I can't think of any team that runs the tiki taka that isn't massively successful. And it isn't a matter of using it as a sort of bragging right--”look what we can do and you can't”. These teams that use it are good because they play that style, not the other way around.

Most of the teams that play the tiki taka would struggle in any other system because it hides their weaknesses, so you would think that it would become more vogue to other teams. Especially considering the simplicity behind it. All there is to it is pass-move-pass-move done with a patience that doesn't involve forcing the ball into areas where there isn't free space. It accentuates all of the things that are supposed to be the backbone of the game—head up to see the field, play the open option, move into free space to support the ball, have some idea of where you're going to go with the ball before you receive it, chase it down immediately if you give it away.

Those are all simple concepts, things that are verbally ingrained into you as a player from the earliest stages, things that are supposed to be the right things. It's baffling trying to figure out why players and coaches don't try it. It's a bit like they want to make things more complicated than they have to, though I can't tell you why since there's more than enough to think about on the pitch without complicating matters.

And naturally, watching teams play against the tiki taka is just as mind blowing. Rather than pressuring the ball and forcing them to make quicker decisions, it's inevitable that teams think the only way to counter it is to sit back and crowd their own area with bodies in the hopes of clogging passing lanes.

I could be mistaken, but less time to sit back and make a good decision would seem like the ideal way to disrupt a patient possession based system. Giving them time to get everyone forward, then allowing them to pick and choose where the ball should go at leisure seems a very backwards way of doing things. Eventually someone will make a mistake, someone won't track a runner, someone will come up with something truly special because he has too much time on the ball.

And we circle back around to the right way to play again, the honest way of playing, not a coward's wait and hope approach. Having played my fair share, it's a very uncomfortable thing using that tactic. It's admitting before the match even starts that you're outclassed and have no hope in an open situation. But I've always preferred to go down swinging; better to challenge them and get hammered for it than never put yourself into the game from the start.

As a player you're supposed to have that pride that demands you come out and compete properly. That is the whole point behind sport in the first place, that and entertaining. It isn't as if all players aren't competent enough at that level to play the tiki taka, so it must just be that they aren't willing.

It just baffles me why the tiki taka isn't more widespread when it's such a simple system and promotes all of the good things about the game, the right things, when all the pundits and players lavish it with so much praise. It should be something that's adopted by all the youth programs, all the developmental systems to create proper players the world over. It's just the right way to play.

Street Talk

I am a Real Madrid fan and have been for my entire life. However, I love watching Barça when they play because, if perfection exists, this team could be the best example of the word. I haven't seen a game of Netherlands and their "total soccer" but watching Lio Messi defending and attacking with the same intensity is inspiring. The sad part is watching the spanish classic because Real Madrid is always trying to destroy the beauty of Barça's game instead of trying to attack in the same way, and I think Mourinho should not be Madrid's coach because he thinks of winning at all cost, even if that means sacrifying spectacular soccer.

  about 1 decade ago

I can't disagree with you on anything there. they play the way that I always wanted my teams to play when I was still running about. something about watching a team hold onto 65-75% of the possession is a bit breathtaking considering the level of the opponents that they do it to. the usually defensively disinterested attackers doing their share of work winning the ball back in the first third of the field is what impresses me the most. as for Mourinho, I won't deny that I think he's probably one of--if not the--most tactically talented manager in the game, but I have no use for his approach. he's a game killer, and it's supposed to be something of beauty and awe. as a fan and former player, I'll always take playing the proper way and having inconsistent results over getting wins at the expense of art. cheers.

  about 1 decade ago
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