Indian Super League

The Barcelona effect: How FC Goa and Sergio Lobera plan to revive tiki-taka in the ISL

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.

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.

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“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.