Human beings have always been very fascinated by concepts that appeal to them aesthetically, like grace and beauty. This is an obsession that runs deep, and extends to football as well.
Almost all of us love to watch teams like Barcelona and Arsenal passing the ball around in rhythmic fashion and playing the beautiful game the ‘right’ way. This sort of football is, of course, very easy on the eye, wins a lot of hearts, and is a great advert for the game, but it’s effectiveness is often doubted. With the emergence of the trophy-winning machine that is FC Barcelona, a lot of these doubts have vanished. Moreover, a host of top teams have moved to try and ape this style of play.
In order to play the much vaunted tiki-taka style of football, you need technically adept players to start. This however isn’t really enough. This group of players needs to form an excellent understanding in order to be effective as a unit. To achieve this sort of understanding, a lot of teams promote their youth level players en masse, so as to ensure that the required understanding is already there.
This does of course come with it’s own set of problems. Firstly, top quality youngsters come at a great premium today, meaning that it’s mostly teams with financial muscle that can attract such players. Secondly, due to the fact that teams need a fair bit of success in the short term in order to ensure they survive, and indeed thrive in the long run, a lot of chopping and changing takes place in every team. This tends to have an adverse effect on team chemistry. Thirdly, setting up youth academies that can train youngsters into top class international stars requires a large investment of both, money and time. While it may be possible for big clubs to do this, it’s very difficult for slightly smaller clubs to make such an investment.
This is why the shorter, technically adept player, and on a larger scale, tiki-taka, isn’t necessarily the way forward for all clubs.
For those who cant afford to buy/train the type of players needed, or those who just wish to adopt different strategies, the simple, effective ‘Route 1’ tactic might serve as a viable alternative. It offers teams a way to get the ball forward, and into dangerous areas of the pitch very quickly. It doesn’t necessarily require a great deal of technical excellence to work efficiently, and as several examples will prove, it is highly effective.
Stoke City: This is a team that isn’t really known for playing an eye-catching brand of football, in fact they are considered by many to be the anti-thesis of tiki-taka. But once we overlook the coarse nature of their football, we will notice that the tactics employed by Tony Pulis are simple, yet brutally effective. Not only have Stoke established themselves as a Premier League side since winning promotion in 2008, they’ve also played in one FA Cup final, and reached the heady heights of European football. Their basic approach isn’t geared towards dominating ball possession, but to dominating territorially. The players who have been very influential in this rise are the likes of Rory Delap, Kenwyne Jones, Ricardo Fuller and Peter Crouch. None of these players is renowned for his technical ability, but they’re all hard working players, and they’re all large players who can trouble defenders with their considerable physical girth. Building his team around such players and using a tactic that tries to keep the ball near the opposition area, and gets it there from the back very quickly has worked for the Potters. This approach is in sharp contrast to the short pass strategy propagated by many coaches today.
Newcastle United: Mike Ashley was criticized very heavily when he hired Alan Pardew to take charge of Newcastle United, but a lot of those critics praise that appointment now. Pardew took Newcastle to an impressive 5th place finish in the BPL is the 2011-12 season, above behemoths like Chelsea and Liverpool. Newcastle United played a brand of football that is considered far more attractive than that played by the likes of Stoke, but relied heavily on long balls, crosses in the box, and tall strong target men strikers. A lot of the tactics that are employed by Pardew directly oppose the principles of tiki-taka, but have served him and the club very well. Longer passing, and the use of the target man, not only allowed Newcastle to grind out victories consistently, but also led them to some very famous wins, like the 3-0 thrashing of Manchester United, where Demba Ba bullied Phil Jones, and the 0-2 victory at Stamford Bridge, dominated by Papiss Cisse’s brilliance. Newcaslte United are another team that have shown the world that tiki-taka isn’t the only way forward.
Chelsea: Despite being a team that can realistically expect to spend huge sums of money on players, and invest in a youth academy, the Chelsea of the latter part of 2011-12 will always be remembered for their superlative defense, and the heroics of Didier Drogba. In a clash of very distinct styles, Chelsea, with a fair amount of luck, managed to best the tiki-taka masters, Barcelona. This victory was no fluke, as it extended Chelsea’s unbeaten streak against the Catalans to 7 games. While a part of this may be considered to be the bleating of a Chelsea fan, it does not take away from the fact that long passes to physically imposing forwards also unsettle defenders. It also goes on to reinforce the notion that tiki-taka isn’t the only way to play, and that large target men still have a place in today’s game.
Apart from the drama that ensued in 2012, Chelsea’s defense has been their primary strength on may occasions in the past as well. Who can forget the halcyon Jose Mourinho days, where they coasted to back to back BPL titles. The primary strength of this team was their defense, who conceded a miserly 15 goals in the 2004-05 season. They also relied heavily on the aforementioned Didier Drogba, to hold up the ball in dangerous areas and bring other players into the game.
Sam Allardyce: ‘Big Sam’ has never been a proponent of fancy, free flowing football, quite the opposite in fact. Over the years, he has led many teams to success while playing a rough, yet very effective style of football. During his spell at Bolton, he took them, not only into the Premier League, but also to a League Cup final, and European football, after they finished level on points with Liverpool FC, in 2005, the then European champions. Before his time at Bolton, Allardyce worked wonders at Blackpool and Notts County, winning the Division Two league title with the latter by 19 points in mid-march. More recently, he’s been in charge of West Ham United, and brought them into the BPL, winning promotion from the Championship in his first season in charge.
Mario Gomez: The tall striker, whose key strength is to hold up the ball in dangerous areas of the pitch, contributed a telling 40 goals for his club in the 2011-12 season. Bayern has utilized the striker, who tends to play as a target man for both club and country, very well, and consequently enjoyed a good run in Europe, and at home, finishing 2nd in all three competitions they took part in.
Even at the Euro’s, for all the success that Spain enjoyed, a much lesser renowned Croatia team gave them a good run for their money, and their target man, Mario Mandzukic finished as joint top scorer in the tournament. All in all, football that isn’t necessarily tiki-taka can still win trophies. In other words, maybe clubs shouldn’t just focus on coaches and managers who will employ that style, or players who can play that way, they need to find the best fit for themselves, financially, and in terms of strategy, because for every Swansea and Barcelona, there is a Stoke and Chelsea.
Picture Credits to: socceranchor.com, telegraph.co.uk, magpieszone.com
Special thanks to my brother Adit Patel.