Pep Guardiola mastered the ‘tiki-taka’ style with Barcelona as the Catalans dominated the world for four years.
When Pep Guardiola was appointed as Barcelona’s manager in 2008 summer, he was still finding his feet having coached their ‘B’ team for no more than a year. With a rich talent pool at their disposal, the Catalan club struggled to reach their potential, resulting in the departure of Frank Rijkaard at the end of the 2007–08 season. Then Guardiola began his reign with the surprise departure of a club legend, Ronaldinho. A young Lionel Messi inherited the No.10 jersey from the Brazilian and thus began an era of dominance.
Barcelona were quickly noticed for their fierce attacking footballing, destroying defences, scoring goals aplenty. Their dominance echoed across Europe and Messi was at the heart of their success. After a disappointing 2007-08 season, when the Catalans finished a lowly third with a mere 67 points, the first season under Guardiola was believed to be nothing more than a rebuilding campaign. No one anticipated the dominance Barcelona enjoyed since then.
The style of play is characterized by quickly moving the ball with short passes, fluidity of positioning, and retaining the possession till a space opens up in the opposition defence. The idea is to making the pitch as big as possible, passing the ball through various channels, dragging the opposition defenders out of position to create an opening.
Even though Guardiola may not have been the pioneer in using the ‘tiki-taka’ style, the Spanish coach was the one who truly mastered it. The term first came to prominence when a Spanish commentator Andres Montes used it during Spain’s 2006 World Cup match, saying: “We’re playing tiki-taka, tiki-taka.”
Although it is difficult to find the origins of the style, the roots of it were implemented by the late Dutch legend Johan Cruyff during his time as Barcelona’s manager from 1988 to 1996. Notably, Guardiola played as a defensive midfielder under Cruyff in the early 1990s.
Barcelona used to pass the ball from the back, and yes, the goalkeeper also had a part in the build-up play. Victor Valdes was his preferred choice in between the posts. Defenders would fall back to receive the ball from keeper, while the midfielders dropped deep to offer passing support.
They mainly seek to have superiority in the center of the pitch. The fluidity in the movement allowed the player with the ball to always have 2-3 passing options. This creates triangles and diamonds in the playing structure.
Once in possession, the players wriggle their way through the opposition defence. In the attacking third, Guardiola gives them the license to be creative. He is not someone who likes to keep the ball for the sake of it, and wants to be purposeful in attack.
When they lose the ball, Barcelona players quickly close down the opponent ball player, forcing him to hurry up the pass. The system worked because everyone from the goalkeeper to the striker gave their hundred percent when in possession or not.
Messi might have received most of the plaudits, but all the players had a job to do and they executed it to perfection. This system gave opportunities to technically gifted players over physical ones, and Barcelona’s La Masia youth academy has to be credited for producing a generation of superstars – Messi, Xavi, Iniesta, and Fabregas.
Spain successfully employed the same style with Luis Aragones and Vicente del Bosque winning three trophies between them – 2008 and 2012 Euros, 2010 World Cup.
Guardiola will be rightly praised for adapting this playing style, but his biggest achievement was revolutionising the game by proving that a team playing beautiful football can still be successful.