“Get the ball down and pass it!” That is the roar of the present-day manager as he desperately attempts to implement a more flowing, natural game to his team’s play. To activate the three P’s in football: passing, pressure and possession with as well as without the ball. A more attractive, modern game. But I do pose the question, in this current day of football: is this the only way to play? Is this seductive, easy on the eye nature of stringing together a couplet of passes, mesmerizing your opponent in the process before sticking the ball into the back of the net the one and only means by which to become successful in the game? It appears so. Especially in the light of recent years.
If any team is to be taken as an example of the game of passing it is to be the present-day cliché of FC Barcelona. And although it is tiresome for fans of clubs outside of the Catalonian giants to constantly be reminded of their success we must appreciate it for what it is.
However although FC Barcelona did not invent the passing game, they so nearly did perfect it. In the period of Pep Guardiola’s tenure at the Nou Camp from the summer of 2008 until May 2012 he instilled a style of play that captured the imagination. The professed title of this play being known as tiki-taka takes Johan Cruyff’s ideology of Total Football and pushes it further. Slick passing, fierce pressure and always the lions-share of possession dominated Barca’s play whilst also allowing players to express themsleves on the pitch in a creative manner. This style of play brought with it overwhelming success and the sentiment that we were looking at one of the greatest sides ever to be seen in world football. But, is it the only way?
José Mourinho recently said in an interview: “Possession is only important when you have the players to keep possession. The problem is that sometimes people wish to make possession the main principle, and the players are not ready nor have they those kind of
qualities.” This is a wonderful insight into the topic. Mangers, players and fans alike hold this idea that being like Barcelona or Spain is the only way to become a successful side. However this is not the case. The reason these sides and sides that have gone before us have been and still continue to be successful in this way is because of the raw talent that exists within the formation or the tactics or the philosophy. You cannot take a team that play a defensive setup or a counter attacking style and tell them to play the passing game. Not only are the players not equipped with the technical ability but it would lead to sheer frustration at trying to play another team’s way. If we all tried to be like these teams that can play this way then football would be a very predictable and uninteresting game.
But that is the beauty of the game. Different styles, different ways, different philosophes. Just when you thought FC Barcelona who I have refered to as being one of the greatest teams in the history of the game look set to take over the world they continue to get knocked out again and again and again. Managers had to find a way to defeat them. The very first of these being none other than José Mourinho’s Inter Milan side of 2009/2010, followed by Chelsea FC in 2011/2012 with the infamous ‘park the bus’ method, followed again by FC Bayern München with a 7-0 aggregate demolishing last season which led to the proposed idea of tiki-tika being dead and buried.
The different means by which teams defeat one another is what captures our imaginations decade after decade. The rise of counter attacking football can be seen in the blissful nature of Jürgen Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund. The oldage way of Catenaccio in defensive football in Juventus with their three-man defence system as well. Is the passing game the only game? No. But it is tempting.