The easy thing to do after Spain’s two defeats at the World Cup is to label and accept the downfall of tiki-taka – and they’re embracing it by the boatload.
There’s something joyous about seeing a power that once toyed with some of the best across Europe reduced to rumble; each of Chile’s goals at the Maracana on Wednesday felt like thunderous blows. By the end, Spain’s empire looked to be in ruins.
It’s easy to label it as such, the ‘death of tiki-taka,’ because it’s fun. A lot about sports is celebrating the misery of others, especially those who have tasted such glory for prolonged spells (see Manchester United). But Spain’s performances at the World Cup thus far have confirmed one thing: things need freshening up.
Here’s the thing that left me a little confused about this hysteria about tiki-taka football’s ashes being spread over various cities in Brazil: doesn’t it actually have to be enforced by Spain, followed by a convincing win from the opposition, for the whole thing to be unravelled and consigned to history? Because what we saw from Spain’s two performances was anything but the tiki-taki football we’ve come to know over the past five or six years.
Spain’s players, their best players, looked mentally exhausted. Xabi Alonso had one of the worst games of his career against Chile; the Real Madrid midfielder did, however, rack up 46 appearances last season for club and country, reaching two cup finals and battling almost to the wire for the league title.
Diego Costa should never have been on the pitch. Just as Diego Simeone did in Atletico Madrid’s final two games of last season, Vicente del Bosque made a disastrous mistake in fielding the Chelsea-bound striker against the Netherlands and Chile.
David Silva was generally ineffective over both games. Gerard Pique did himself no favours against many in the football community who are far from convinced of his abilities as a centre-back. In hindsight, Iker Casillas, Real Madrid’s cup ‘keeper last season, should have made way for David de Gea. Oh how Victor Valdes must be cursing his misfortune at being sidelined with injury.
These Spanish players are mentally and physically exhausted. Club duty of the past season has taken its toll; the successes of the past three international tournaments have finally caught up to them. What we’ve seen from Spain isn’t too dissimilar to what we’ve seen from Barcelona at various points over the past 18 months.
Del Bosque or not, the immediate future of the Spain squad needs something new. Koke was introduced at the start of the second half against Chile on Wednesday. The Atletico midfielder, coming off an incredible season, should have started for Spain against the Netherlands.
Javi Martinez will play an important role in Spain’s future, but probably not at centre-back. His misfortune is in Sergio Busquets’ relative youth. A possible option is to move Busquets slightly further to accommodate Martinez. It’s not out of the question, with Xabi Alonso and Xavi regulars in the Spain team over the past few years.
Thiago Alcantara is a huge miss. The Bayern midfielder is the obvious successor to Xavi, though some have backed Koke to perform that role going forward.
There’s Isco, Asier Illarramendi, Jese Rodriguez, Ander Herrera, Gerard Deulofeu. And let’s not forget that Cesc Fabregas, Juan Mata and David Silva will also be a part of the next World Cup. Andres Iniesta too.
There was nothing wrong with the system; there were problems with the personnel. Spain as a nation hasn’t run out of players to perform in this tiki-taka system. Until that well of talent dries up, the option will always be there to play this style.
But the players need to be fresh and hungry. The glory of the past three tournaments has clearly played its part in helping to end this World Cup prematurely. In contrast, the Netherlands were ravenous, as if wanting to immediately make up for their World Cup 2010 disappointment and the terrible showing at Euro 2012. Chile were fantastic and deserve all the credit they’ve gotten and will continue to receive.
The key pieces of the next Spain squad will come from the obvious sources in Spain, but also at Bayern and in the Premier League. Chelsea’s recent signing of Cesc Fabregas will take on a far more important role in the national side in the future. There may be some ambiguity about which position suits him best, but his experience will be invaluable in the absence of Xavi, Xabi Alonso and Carles Puyol.
And then there’s Diego Costa. The naivety of some to label him a failure after two World Cup performances is staggering. Had he been fit, though, it would have been a different story. OK, maybe only slightly. Costa is 25 and at present Spain’s best centre-forward. If they decide to use that option rather than Fabregas or Silva in the false 9 position, Costa should be the go-to candidate.
Tiki-taka isn’t dead, but this cycle with these key players for Spain is certainly over.