One (quite literal) field that is often overlooked in the discussion of creativity is that of sports. Just as it is necessary to create new styles of music, art, and literature to keep audiences interested and wanting more, so too must sports stars be ever more innovative. However, this necessity is perhaps even more pressing in sports than other areas, because to use the same tired style makes it much easier to be beaten, since opponents do not have to struggle to figure out how to defend against something new. While the players get most of the credit, as they are the ones we see, much of this innovation does not come from them, but rather from the coaches who guide them to success. The coaches are the ones who see new talent and nurture players to become superstars, finding the best style for their traits, and in some instances, developing entirely new styles altogether. This has been the case with soccer (or football) over the past decade and a half, during which coaches in Spain have developed a style called “tiki-taka” that has revolutionized the way the game is played.
It began during Johan Cruyff’s tenure as manager of FC Barcelona, and was continued there under subsequent managers, to the present day. However, it did not begin to gain world-wide recognition, both by other teams and fans of the game, until the 2008 UEFA European Championship, and again after the 2010 World Cup. The renown came from the Spanish National Team, which rose to success using the technique, eventually winning both competitions. Though the team was under two different head coaches (first Luis Aragonés, then Vicente del Bosque, the current manager) both men used, if not the exact same, a very similar style of play, recognizing the deadliness it would have at the feet of the Spanish players.
This style was dubbed “tiki-taka.” The phrase was used primarily in Spain prior to a commentator using it in a 2006 World Cup matchup of Spain vs. Tunisia; from there, it took off. The technique is characterized by very short, quick passes, and a domination of possession. While any team can use the method to great effect, the Spanish coaches saw that with the players at their disposal, a tiki-taka style of play would make them nearly unstoppable. The players necessary to make the technique work so well can all be found in Spain’s top players: small and quick forwards, such as David Villa, Pedro Rodríguez, and Jesús Navas (who is technically a midfielder but often players in a forward position); sharp, swift midfielders, like Xavi Hernández, Xabi Alonso, Cesc Fàbregas and Andrés Iniesta (who scored the winning goal); and powerful yet speedy defenders, such as Sergio Ramos and Sergio Busquets (again a midfielder, but one who on the national team takes on a more defensive role). What is clear is that speed and tactical superiority are necessary to bring about victory. As can be seen in the video below of the World Cup winning play, no player touches the ball more than 2 or 3 times before sending it on. While speed comes from the players, tactics must be understood and taught by the best of coaches.
This style makes it difficult for opponents to keep up, meaning that possession time is often around or above 60%. FC Barcelona, the most successful league team to employ tiki-taka had an average possession of 75% during the 2010-2011 La Liga season, sometimes owning the ball for upward of 80% of the game. Additionally, by employing the technique Barcelona was able to win The Sextuple in the 2008-2009 season, meaning they won six tournaments in one year, something no other team in history has been able to achieve. They have done so under the guidance of Pep Guardiola, a former player who was brought to the club by Johan Cruyff. Since taking charge of the team in 2008, he has surpassed his former coach as the most successful manager in the club's history. Critics of the method often say that it produces dull, boring football that is all technique and no art. While this can be true of less skilled or less qualified teams who attempt to play in such a way, at the helm of teams like Barcelona it is incredible to behold. The following video showcases some of the best examples of tiki-taka ever seen in the game, and it is hard to argue that their level of play does not reach an art form.
Prior to the advent of the tiki-taka method, there had been no successfully innovative style of play since the rise of the Total Football tactic in the Netherlands in the 1970s. Though the game is ever changing, and often specific teams have a distinguishing style of play, it is rare that a technique is so singular and dominant across the sport. The high success rate of tiki-taka with teams like FC Barcelona and the Spanish National Team has prompted more and more teams, and increasingly ones in countries outside of Spain, to utilize a similar style. The future of the style in the football world is unclear, but if Spain goes on to win the 2012 Euros, and become the first national team in history to win two consecutive Euros with a World Cup in between, it is likely tiki-taka will be around for a long time.