The opposition is forever chasing the ball.
You start by keeping possession… that is the beginning… keep the ball and the opponents will chase it, then, they chase some more because we have all been taught that football without the ball isn’t football at all.
The chase gets frantic till finally, with time running out, the opposition runs into the ground. Then, with patience wearing thin, an error is made, the cracks appear and the team with the ball glides in and gets the goal.
Sounds a lot like the tiki-taka tactic that Barcelona used to capture the world? It is. And if FC Goa manager Sergio Lobera Rodriguez has his way, we might see a version of it in Indian Super League too.
Lobera has previously coached UD Las Palmas and Moghreb Tetouan in Morocco and was also part of Tito Vilanova’s backroom staff during his tenure as the Head Coach of FC Barcelona.
“There is a particular style of football that I want to play and we chose players based on that philosophy and ideals in conjunction with the image that the club wanted to project this year. We chose to get some players who are familiar with the system and we also got some players who we feel have great potential to excel in this system,” said Lobera during a press conference in Mumbai.
When asked to elaborate on his style, Lobera further added: “Lots of short passes, we keep the ball, we keep possession and when we lose the ball, we get it back quickly. That’s it.”
It seems simple enough but it hardly is.
When Barcelona first started to play tiki-taka under Pep Guardiola, they began to achieve unprecedented levels of possession. In his first season Barcelona had 65.7% possession on average, which became 68.9 the season after. Then in the third it was 72.7. This was – in many ways – football being played at its most extreme.
“What football, what dominance!” Xavi later recalled. “We had the ball all the time and when we lost it, we won it back instantly. It was football at its most sublime.”
To play that kind of football, you need players who understand not just the philosophy but also have the skills to back up that understanding.
Attacking midfielder Manuel Lanzarote will be key for Lobera. Having started his footballing education at La Masia, the Spaniard should be the man who will be counted upon to be the puppet-master. But the others, including Indian stars like Pronay Halder, Narayan Das and Brandon Fernandes and foreigners like Ferran Corominas and Bruno Pinheiro – will have to do their part. A passing game requires intensity, accuracy and a lot of patience. But perhaps most importantly, it requires vision.
One has to pass with the ultimate goal in mind – that is to weaken the opposition and score. And for that, you need someone who can see the whole pitch and pinpoint the chinks in the defence. Lobera will hope Lanzarote can be that man.
One of the keys to Barca’s success during the tiki-taka era was not only passing but also a pressing plan, which saw the Blaugrana regaining the ball almost as soon as they had lost it. This kind of intensity means you never stop running – a tactic which can have a great physical demand for the players.
But Lobera isn’t worried about that.
“Have the ball means running less,” said the FC Goa manager. “If you can control the ball, the opponents need to chase it. They get more tired. They get more fatigued. That’s what we want to do.
“If you have the ball, you can control the pace of the game. You can make it work for you.”
When asked whether this sounds a lot like Barcelona, Lobera just smiled and threw up his hands.
The essential simplicity of the entire tactic was endearing. You didn’t need to be big or powerful but you had to be comfortable on the ball. It was, as many have said, ‘not just a minor tweak but a whole new way of doing things.’
And that is why it was so successful. It met its match in teams that were comfortable playing without the ball… in teams that parked the bus and waited for the ball to come to them… in teams that countered rapidly. Now, the pretty passing style is all but history. There are variations that persist but the pure tiki-taka we knew is now history.
In his own way, Lobera wants India and FC Goa to be his test bed, a test that might just bring the tiki-taka back to life. It might seem like a pretty unlikely place for a comeback but in football, as in life, there are no certainties.