‘Tika-Taka': The potential for a Footballing legacy?
Throughout this tournament a discussion has been raging on, discussion that was not planned nor was it to be expected. We all thought Spain were entertaining, a Barcelona ‘lite’, a team that everyone rallied behind because of the way they played the game.
Turns out not everyone is flicking through a thesaurus to find unused superlatives to describe them this tournament, many are opting for those commonly used words of ‘boring, dreary and dull’.
There is no middle-ground in this discussion; seemingly people have adopted the use of dualisms to describe Spain. Spain are either defensive or offensive, boring or entertaining.
If the entertainment of a football match was purely judged on goals then yes, it would be justifiable to regard Spain as boring – for their past three matches have all been one-nil victories and they’ve only scored 1.2 goals per game so far. For a team who before the tournament put six past Poland, these statistics are unspeakable, but football isn’t just about goals scored – football consists of different layers, from the most physical layers consisting of results right down to the philosophical nature of football, the part of football that books talk about and the part that people connect with on an emotional level.
For Spain and their ‘tika-taka’, the observation of small passes that reach players in tight areas and the ease to which they can play their way out of a situation is mesmerising. The lack of clear cut opportunities created is not what makes this team memorable, it’s simply their belief in a system which clearly states that the opposition are not going to get the ball. This group of players are the only players in the World who could play in such a way.
Watching a team with belief in pure possession-football offers a different meaning and different paradigm to viewers of English football – often characterised by a ‘kick and rush’ style of play, the difference is what draws people like myself in. For what Spain lack in clear cut chances, they make up with an intangible belief and philosophy on how the game can be played, something that does not exist in today’s footballing world.
When watching Spain, you’re not seeing a strategy for that single game, you’re seeing an over-arching belief system that has been in place for several years and will continue on for more years. As a viewer, even if there are changes in personnel you do not expect changes in the style of play. This means there is an onus on the opposition to figure out a way to stop Spain having the ball, that’s the first question that needs to be answered. The question of ‘What are we going to do with the ball to score against Spain?’ doesn’t get thought about until after the first one is answered.
The combination of passes and movement in the middle of the pitch is fascinating to watch, everyone knows where everyone is. Each player is composed and measured, able to glide the ball over the midfield area to feet, free of errors. Added to this is the constant rhythm in midfield, just keeping the ball moving, it doesn’t matter if they keep possession for two minutes, they’re just keeping it – that’s what matters. You’re watching the physical implementation of an internal philosophy, one that does not change, it remains constant. It’s active, not reactive and for a team to play with such a dogged belief in a style of play offers something different to the spectator.
In the same way Daniel Winner connected to the idea of ‘Total Football’ when watching Ajax in 1971, will people connect to Spain’s ‘tika-taka’ style in the same way? Well, the two are connected, for the foundations were built from the Dutch idea of ‘Total Football’, where Johann Cruyff was the figurehead and the face of their style of football. When he moved to Barcelona, he bought this belief system with him, creating a legacy that is obviously evident today. A legacy is seen as something that has been handed down from the past, and Barcelona still breaths and produces footballers akin with the principles of ‘Total Football’ that has its origins in 1960’s Holland. It is no wonder that Spain’s current style exists when many of the starting eleven were all coached by Barcelona.
The lasting point here is that will Spain’s style of play, which has its roots firmly in Dutch culture, be remembered in the future? Seemingly, for a style of football to be remembered with such longevity, such as ‘Total Football’, there needs to be a social link to it – it needs to have meaning extended beyond the football pitch and in some ways be an alternative social commentary, and I don’t know whether Spain has a narrative to latch onto nationally. This is perhaps a reason why ‘Total Football’ is so revered and remembered even if it ultimately won nothing. However, Spain’s style of play could consist of a lasting narrative if they win tonight, for that is when Spain’s ‘tika-taka’ philosophy wins the biggest prize of all, the World Cup – something that could remove the term of the Spanish being perennial underachievers.
For a fantastic look at how Dutch football has influenced the football the Spanish play today, read Zonal Marking’s piece here