Perhaps one of the most popular football trends of all time, tiki-taka became quite known in the early 2010s as FC Barcelona dominated world football while practicing that particular style. A lot of possession, intricate passing, off-the-ball movements and overall technical proficiency, tiki-taka quickly became a huge trend in the game. But where did it all started? Let’s have a look.
Football, like any other sport or art, has been defined by trends or certain historical periods that molded the game for future generations. Every certain amount of years we get a new team that makes a specific playing style popular and a lot of other managers and teams decide to adopt some of their methods to improve their own, thus leading to certain trends. That is the case of tiki-taka.
When we talk about tiki-taka, we refer to the Spanish brand of football that is based on maintain possession of the ball, a lot of passing, intricate off-the-ball movements and an attacking mentality. Like every other trend, it has its defenders and its detractors, but no one can deny that tiki-taka has become one of the most popular football styles in recent years. While possession has always existed because most attacking teams get the most hold of the ball during games, River Plate’s La Maquina side of the 1940s, perhaps the greatest Argentinian team of all time, was one of the first teams to make that their main ethos and we can see the free-flowing nature of tiki-taka starting there.
However, the more known and popular origin of tiki-taka goes back to the 70s, when Dutch manager Rinus Michels innovated with the concept of “total football”, winning the European Cup (now Champions League) three times in a row with Ajax in the early 70s and pushing the Netherlands’ national team to the 1974 World Cup in Germany, ultimately losing to the host country.
“Total football” was a football doctrine based on constant dynamic movement by the footballers, great technical proficiency and, you guessed it, a lot of ball possession. It was about playing aesthetic football, but also done with the purpose of overpowering the opposition and maintaining control of the game while the rival gets tired chasing the ball–this is a main trait and reasoning behind tiki-taka that is often ignored when talking about it.
Later on, when one of Rinus Michels’ players and pupils, Johan Cruyff, became manager of FC Barcelona in the late 80s, he went on to develop a possession-based football style at Barcelona that would translate to them winning four Spanish leagues in a row and a European Cup in the early 90s. This was Cruyff’s “Dream Team” and would be highly regarded as a golden era in the club’s history. But Cruyff’s influence ran deeper than that as he taught his methods and style in La Masia, which is Barcelona’s youth system. Their academy started to focus on keeping the ball, on technical proficiency and more attention to football IQ rather than brawns, which would be the Catalan club’s methodology for years to come.
Another Dutch manager that had an input in the birth of tiki-taka and who is often forgotten in these discussions is Louis van Gaal, who coached Barcelona in the late 90s and reinforced their possession-based approach with a much more disciplined and methodological feel than Cruyff’s. Van Gaal was also key in giving one of Cruyff’s biggest disciples, Pep Guardiola, the armband at Barcelona and forming his knowledge as a manager, allowing Guardiola to learn from two of the greatest minds of Dutch football, who are as similar as they are opposites.
But perhaps van Gaal’s greatest achievement was giving their debuts and develop the likes of Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta, who would go on to become two main symbols of tiki-taka football in Spain. And why is it named tiki-taka, you ask? Well, there’s not great a story behind it: famous and late TV football commentator Andreas Monte used to call it that way whenever Spain or Spanish clubs would play beautiful football that was possession-based and the term kind of stuck in the collective minds of football fans. But tiki-taka as a football style has deep roots in Dutch football and Barcelona.
Of course, the big breakthrough of this playing was when Pep Guardiola took over as Barcelona’s head coach in 2008, building the team around Iniesta and Xavi while exploiting Lionel Messi’s entire potential. The result was Barcelona’s greatest ever period of their entire history, winning multiple trophies and doing so with an extremely aesthetically-pleasing playing style based on passing, possession, very technically-gifted players and a chemistry that was developed because most of them played in La Masia.
This influenced Spain’s national side as well, with many of the Barcelona players of Guardiola’s teams leading them to win the World Cup in South Africa in 2010 and two Euros (2008 and 2012). Simply put, a golden age for Spanish football. Naturally, a lot of football managers and teams, especially in Spain, have adopted the methods and traits of tiki-taka, whether it’s to replicate it or to give their own spin to it. And while no one has enjoyed the level of success that Guardiola’s Barcelona by playing that style, we cannot deny that tiki-taka is a very influential football style.
In recent years we have seen intensity and high-octane football gaining a lot more attention and notoriety, with Klopp’s Liverpool and Flick’s Bayern Munich sides being prime example of this brand of football. But tiki-taka or any other interpretation of possession-based football still remains popular among a lot of coaches and fans alike. A key era in modern football, tiki-taka has a left a huge imprint in the game and it’s very likely that we’re going to see a rebirth in the coming years as formations, approaches and styles usually get revamped for newer generations. That is, after all, the nature of football.