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.