6 years ago they brought with them a brand of football that would revolutionise the game… Tiki taka. A possession based style of football that stifles the opposition and keeps them chasing shadows for 90 minutes, barely getting a touch of the ball. But what set the Spanish apart from the rest was the incision and penetration that came with Tiki taka. The one touch football on the edge of the box, the speed of thought and movement that would leave even the greatest of defenders mesmerised. This would be the identity of Spain over the course of a trophy laden 6 years of domination in world football. With this philosophy they would cement their legacy in Africa at the FIFA World Cup 2010.
In 2008 they won the UEFA European Championship and again went on to win the same tournament in 2012, but the biggest prize of all would come in 2010 at the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg when they went on to lift the FIFA World Cup, this would be Spain’s greatest moment in their footballing history, but like all good things it had to come to an end. And over the last 2 years we have seen the slow decline of Tiki taka as a dominant style of football.
A lot is to blame for Spain’s elimination from Brazil 2014. One cannot solely blame the style of play and philosophy of the team. There seemed to be a lack of hunger from this Spanish side. After dominating world football at club level and international level respectively, Vicente Del Bosque put together a team of superstars who had won it all, players who knew their names would be remembered for ever and were written in the history books. They no longer needed to prove themselves to anyone. Players like; Xabi Alonso, Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernández, Sergio Ramos, David Villa and Iker Casillas are players who have won multiple league titles, champions leagues titles and international titles. Yes they are names that will live in our memories for a long time but their contribution in this edition of the World Cup was that of a disinterested group of individuals.
Another element adding to their demise is the age of this Spanish squad. The game changers who helped get this nation to where it is now in world football are over the hill. Aging players like the aforementioned are over the age of 30 with the exception of Ramos. You could even add Fernando Torres to the list who is also now in his 30’s and has completely lost form. He doesn’t look like a player with the character to ever reach those heights again.
With an aging squad and a lack of hunger and bite the final element to Spain’s failing at the world cup would be that the game of football always moves on. The game always catches up and the game always evolves. It has always been a young man’s game but now it is also an athlete’s game and a tactician’s game. It’s not enough to have the exceptional technical quality the Spanish possess, but physically they must be prepared for the speed of the game, for the level of intensity the game is now played at. They also need a plan B, long gone are the days where a team can impose their philosophy until their opponents yield. Another tactical error was bringing in Diego Costa to play a style of football he is not accustomed to. He is used to a more direct style of football which he plays at club level with Athletico Madrid. The tiki taka system is better suited for a “false 9” or a striker who drops in deep to pick up the ball and be involved in the build-up play but still have the presence of mind to position himself to finish of the move himself… like a Lionel Messi but he doesn’t grow on trees does he?
Two seasons ago Barcelona and Real Madrid where demolished by German sides Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund respectively, purely because of the speed at which they played, how physical they were willing to get with their opponents and making the conscious decision to play a little bit more direct and face their opponents head on as opposed to what tiki taka has become, aimless passing around the box with no penetration, no incision and no end result.
In the last week we have seen what happened to Barcelona and Madrid happen to Spain with the 5-1 demolition job at the hands of the Netherlands, and the decisive victory by Chile over the world champions. We saw pace. We saw power. We saw hunger.
Looking to the future, Spain need not reinvent the wheel. They just need to adapt to the current climate. They must keep their identity and continue to nourish young talent with exceptional technical ability which allow them to slice their opponents apart, nothing is wrong with attractive football, but fast, robust direct counter attacking football can look just as sweet as slow, patient, methodical possession football.
La Furia Roja “The Red Fury” knew what and who they were going to face coming into this tournament. It’s not that Spain didn’t know what was coming; simply that dealing with it is a complicated business.