Tiki Taka Misinterpreted?

By Sam Wilkinson

We have all marveled at the Barcelona`s play and success over the last 5 years.  Their possession based game style and their commitment to stick to this playing philosophy regardless of their opponent’s negative tactics has been a joy to watch.  However……..…..I do wonder if at times some of Barca`s play is misinterpreted? in particular their combination play in midfield aka “Tiki Taka”?

There is no doubt that Barcelona effectively use short, sharp 1 and 2 touch combinations – particularly in the midfield and front thirds.  This form of play is often utilized to speed up the tempo of their play in order to create opportunities for penetrative passes and forward play.

What needs to be understood is that the “Tiki Taka” style play is a choice that the highly skilled player has, not a limitation that the 1 dimensional player is restricted to!

What I mean by this is that although Barca will often utilize “Tiki Taka”, when the game demands more of them they are all comfortable staying with the ball – particularly in tight areas of the field.  Take this in contrast to Michael Carrick or Jordan Henderson who are often limited to playing 1 or 2 touch (and this often involves them bouncing the ball back where it has come from) because they lack the ability and comfort on the ball to manage it in pressured situations and lack the vision and awareness to recognize forward playing opportunities.

The foundation of “Tiki Taka” is that all the players are comfortable staying with the ball and possess the individualism to solve problems when 1 or 2 touch is not a solution.  This is no more evident than when teams apply high pressure against Barcelona, it is often their individualism on the ball that enables them to still maintain positive possession.

Are we as coaches often trying to implement this 1 and 2 touch style of play with young grassroots players without fully understanding it? I see countless practices where coaches are encouraging and often forcing 1 and 2 touch play from young players that do not yet possess the skills or awareness to understand this form of play.  Young players must first be comfortable staying with the ball and have developed awareness and understanding before they can begin to utilize “Tiki Taka” style play. Enforcing a 1 or 2 touch restriction on a session can cause it to lose realism and limit the player’s decision making. 1 and 2 touch play must be a choice not a limitation!

John Cartwright often alludes to young players being told to “play it simple” but…. “what happens when simple isn`t good enough?” When simple isn’t good enough Barca`s players still have the individualism to cope with the demands of the game.  For all their fantastic 1 and 2 touch combination play how often have they won games through the individualism of Messi, Villa or Iniesta?

In finishing I would like to say that these are merely observations of a young coach.   I, like many of you watch Barcelona and see a lot of the individual and team characteristics that I am trying to develop in the players I work with.  My feeling is that we must first develop skillful individuals that understand when and how to conjoin with team mates not players that are restricted to playing 1 and 2 touch.

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11 thoughts on “Tiki Taka Misinterpreted?

  1. Yes, Sam, simplicity is not GREATNESS, it is an OPTION, that truly GREAT PLAYERS use when they decide a situation requires a simplistic solution; they still have their individual fantasy ready and available ‘up their sleeve’ for use when needed!

  2. Good article.The problem as i see it still remains lack of proper coach education as well as a defined playing system. Germany and Argentina would not try overnight to overhaul their systems because Barcelona play in a way as they have their own identified way of playing.What is the present day English way of playing? The answer is simple.NONE!!
    And because there is no football identity on this shores, its very easy for us to just change and go with the tide everytime a team dominates European and world football.
    I watch many colleagues who dont understand the depth to which football should be taught(not saying its the coaches fault) scream at kids to play a conditioned 1 or 2 touches game. Why ? why? why? when we all love watching players like Messi,Ronaldo,Nani,Thiery Henry,Silva,Tevezand of late Neymar.Do all these players play one touch football every time. The answer like we know is NO.Like John rightly said The truely GREAT ONES decide when to simplify play or pull out a bit of magic from their armoury.

  3. Good article Sam. It is true that Barcelona have such skillful and unique individual players that one touch football is purely an option they often choose to implicate. However, when space becomes much tighter, they have the individuality and the high skill level to carry the ball out of these tight areas which allows them to maintain possession. It is also important to point out that due to their incredibly high fitness levels, when they play against teams that also have high skilled individual players (such as Real Madrid), their ability to continually close space down is second to none. When tired legs start to creep in from opposition, it is often this individuality from players such as Messi, Villa or Iniesta that can grab a late goal and make the difference between drawing or winning the game in the final ten minutes. The combination of 11 skillful players that are comfortable on the ball (and have the ability to play 360 degrees – not just the way they are facing as mentioned in your article), the high fitness levels, and the correct decision making is what has lead Barcelona to becoming the successful and dominant force they have been for the last five years.

  4. 1 or 2 touch is a traditional British coaching rule that has been around since year dot. It is a firm favourite with the less experienced coach, who believe that this will help their players develop good passing skills, ultimately to win matches, but no real thought about developing a player. Simple change in a coaches terminology would make a diiference, “can you play 1 touch when it is the right decision?”. Challenge the players, rather than restrain them.
    Choosing the right time in a players development is crucial, that is the big problem with 1 or 2 touch it is done far too early.

    Practice Play Level 1 – STAYING WITH THE BALL

    For those of you who have attended a PS course you will understand what I am on about, if you have not SHAME ON YOU, lol. In Level 1 you will see adult players as soon as they go into a team game, the individualism disappears, they revert back to type, pass pass pass, no flair or skill to beat players. All this because as soon as we start to play as a child we are told to pass to your team mates, now with so much adult interference it has got a lot worse, even the mums who dont play football tell their kid to pass, as if it is a bag of sweets that you should pass around. I played a 6 aside game last week, with friends, so I went on a run, did not pass, tried to beat as many players as possible without losing the ball cheaply and within 20 seconds the moans started, “hey Dave pass the ball”. Generation after generation the game plan never changes and in a time when it is easier to change than it has ever been. The FA have youtube, billboards, coaching courses, FA Tesco schemes, the radio, tv, email, more football shows in a week now than we had in a year back in the 70/80s when I grew up. As has been said before, if you say it often enough and loud enough people will believe what they hear. Tell everyone we want our kids to win by playing exciting football, we want our children to run with the ball and beat opponents, they are good enough, we can be world beaters, dont except the norm, keep telling them, say it so often that even the children understand that playing with skill is the only way to win.

  5. Hi Dave. WOW ! You are certainly a PREMIER SKILLS ‘convert’. I wish we could uncover another million or so more like you, perhaps then our young players would experience the true qualities of Association Football and not just the ‘hyped’ standards of mediocrity we have become accustomed to see.

  6. Dave said;
    1 or 2 touch is a traditional British coaching rule that has been around since year dot. It is a firm favourite with the less experienced coach, who believe that this will help their players develop good passing skills, ultimately to win matches, but no real thought about developing a player. Simple change in a coaches terminology would make a diiference, “can you play 1 touch when it is the right decision?”. Challenge the players, rather than restrain them.
    Choosing the right time in a players development is crucial, that is the big problem with 1 or 2 touch it is done far too early.

    When I was doing my Pre lim around the mid nineties I remember a guy on the course saying that Barcelona’s coaches did 2 touch practices religiously. I put that to the back of my mind not really giving it much credibility …but last summer I was part of a tour to Villareal ( who definitley favour the Barcelona method). The coach did a sesion on playing out from the back. It was an excellent session and was built up logically step by step….the sort of session Roger would have been ticking boxes on for methodology…but he was quite emphatic about wanting everything done on 2 touches. The players were not even allowed to play 1 touch…it HAD to be 2…control…pass…control…pass. This was ,he explained how Villareal players were taught to do play arounds. I was sceptical initially for all the reasons that have been highlighted in this post ( and which I totally agree with) but I realise that it is essential whilst emphasising a key theme like “staying with the ball” to emphasise the importance of not dwelling on the ball. The coach wanted the passing at the back to be rapid and he wanted the player “opened out” receiving the ball. I have incorporated this session into my own prog with the rejoinder that IF the coach does touch restriction practice he MUST explain the exact purpose of it.
    I believe tiki taka is more than an option. I think Barcelona employ tili taka as a very deliberate tactic to suck in the oppo; to frustrate and wind them up; to create large areas of the pitch to switch into and because from a simple logical/mathmatical point of view the shorter the distance travelled the quicker the arrival. tiki taka allows a team to constantly switch the play. Coaches so ofton think of switching the play as “the big switch” but as John Cartwright says in Football for the Brave….football is a sideways game.

  7. Great players can stay on the ball, screen, twist and turn, interlink, play one touch, two touch – THINK MARADONA and by definition practice all these things. THINK THE BRAZILIANS – ie Socrates and Falcao (as examples) – who are the greatest purveyors probably of beautiful one touch volleys! Training must have some one of incorporating all the components that make up the individual tool-kit of the complete player…but in essence the instinctive, familiarity of a football comes by becoming a GREAT INDIVIDUAL FIRST…hence Practice/Play.

  8. I am not at all surprised in the least that Villareal play two touch; albeit I think we can suppose they do the rest also… the Spanish most definitely have a more-rounded ‘skill-based’ development process… one and two touch is part of the collective process.

  9. Fletch wrote: ” I believe tiki taka is more than an option. I think Barcelona employ tili taka as a very deliberate tactic to suck in the oppo; to frustrate and wind them up; to create large areas of the pitch to switch into and because from a simple logical/mathmatical point of view the shorter the distance travelled the quicker the arrival. tiki taka allows a team to constantly switch the play. Coaches so ofton think of switching the play as “the big switch….”

    This is what John/Roger and Sam talk about in the PP courses – trying to create overloads. I have been working with the young players I coach for about 2.5 years now and am trying to develop a possession based deliberate build up play game style.

    We discuss (I don’t tell them) about how we can suck players in or drag them out of position to create space elsewhere. They are 11 and 12 now and as a result of becoming more tactically aware are actually trying to do it concsiously as a deliberate tactic.

    They don’t get it right every time but 2.5 years of encouraging ball down on the ground, playing ‘in the light’ and in three dimensions (not always forward trying to crash through challenges) they are starting to look a little like ‘proper’ footballers and as a team too.

    Those with closer technical skills are encouraged to use them, but to MAKE THEIR OWN DECISIONS based upon the state of the play and the game – when is it best to dribble and feint and beat a player, when is it most advantageous to combine with a team mate etc

    PP’s tactic to ‘Go Home (or Start Again)’ and ‘Play Round’ helps our players and gives everyone more time on the ball actually playing the game rather than just aimless kicking.

    I enjoy coaching the game that way and, so far as I can tell and from feedback I’ve had (though would an 11/12 year old tell you anything else?) they enjoy practice and playing the game that way.

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