It’s an age-old argument, one that is far-reaching, controversial and oh so topical given the recent struggles in El Clasico: just what is the "correct" way to play football? Now, people suggest the answer can only ever be subjective, and in essence, they are right, but quite simply, I would care to argue there is only one way and conveniently enough, it encapsulates the Barcelona ethos.
Pass and move, possession play, Totaal Voetbal. It is all one and the same, focusing on attack as the best form of defense; superior technical ability as opposed to sheer athleticism and brute force. Good versus evil if you are so inclined to believe. Positional interchange and constant pressure are paramount, counter-attacking is frowned upon. Certainly it is the polar opposite of Catenaccio, and ever since Total Football’s introduction into the world of football around the times of Ferenc Puskas, Catenaccio has been trying to play catch up.
It’s a healthy rivalry, but the fact of the matter is this: Total Football is always one step ahead. Ever since the 1930s when Uruguay dominated the inaugural World Cup right through to Spain’s triumph in 2010, international football has always favoured those who proactively go in search of the win. Pragmatic and functional football has its place as well, but historically, teams like Brazil, Argentina and more recently Spain have seen more success.
However, that’s beside the point considering that this is a Barcelona blog, what I mean is Barcelona play the correct brand of football when compared to their rivals. Tiki-taka is the right way to play, far superior to whatever you want to call Jose Mourinho’s tactics. Quite simply, only one of the two tactics can lead to long-term success.
Look at Jose Mourinho’s record at any club. Astounding levels of success are the norm, but he leaves within three years, and typically, the side he leaves dip in form soon after. Have you ever stopped to ask yourself why? Why does this happen? Why doesn’t he stay? Well, Mourinho knows it himself, you cannot sustain a high level of success for very long, but when you play in the way that he has become famous for, it becomes impossible.
We are witnessing it with FC Barcelona at this current point in time. The level of success is unprecedented, but after a few years, the motivation levels fall. Not only that but the concentration of the players slowly decays, leading to poor results, ultimately making further success difficult. With tiki-taka, the high-line of pressure slowly drops further and further back, the passing can become laboured and inaccurate, while the movement could cease to exist entirely.
In Catenaccio or similar tactics like those employed by Jose Mourinho it is worse. Catenaccio requires non-stop concentration, while the positional interchange of tiki-taka allows certain players to rest, both physically and mentally during a match. Cast your mind back to the Champions League semi-final of 2010, when Mourinho’s Inter ousted Barcelona. Would that have been possible if any one of the Inter defense lost concentration at any stage? Doubtful.
Furthermore, it is hard for the players to continue playing defensively after they achieve success. If you are recognised as the best in Europe, why would you set out to defend?
Jose Mourinho is a smart man. He left Porto after two seasons for Chelsea, where he stayed for a little over three seasons. It was a surprising move, but when he realised that he could no longer get the best out of the players with his tactics ( after a 1-1 draw with Rosenborg), he left the club. Mourinho had learnt his mistake, the tactics were not the problem per se, they had lead to a high level of success, but after a couple of years, the players could not maintain that level of concentration, if anyone remembers the Rosenborg goal in that match, it was down to complacency from John Terry to let the centre-back nip ahead and connect with the volley.
Mourinho joined Inter Milan were he won the treble, but left immediately to join Real Madrid. Unsurprisingly, the Inter Milan side that was custom-made to play on the counter attack declined at an alarming rate, before being decimated by Tottenham Hotspur the following year.
Now we have the rumours that Jose Mourinho will leave Real Madrid at the end of the season, whatever happens at the capital club. It certainly would not be surprising. Barcelona are working through a blip, but nothing more. The positional flexibility means that players can be moved around to new positions if only to keep them on their toes. The 3-4-3? Well, that’s merely an extension of the same philosophy. Constant evolution to not only stay one step ahead of Catenaccio and Mourinho, but to keep the players focused on the prize.
Tiki-taka is currently being taught to every kid at La Masia, and despite the poor result, the Villarreal match showed us that there are more stars on the way. Cristian Tello was a breath of fresh air, while we know of the talent that Gerard Deulofeu, Jean Marie Dongou and Rafinha Alcantara (among countless others) possess. Can you teach counter-attacking to young players?
If you need convincing, just look to the future, how will Barcelona be playing in ten years? One imagines it will be exactly the same. Now compare that to Real Madrid. How will Los Blancos be playing in a year let alone in ten? Attacking football is football’s past, present and future. After all, it is the right way to play...