Will the lack of a Xavi or Iniesta damage Brazil’s hopes at World Cup 2014?

Barcelona trio Xavi, Iniesta and MessiSpain and Barcelona’s success in recent seasons has led to both the club and national teams being discussed as among the best teams ever. It is not just the amount they have won, with Spain becoming the first ever country to achieve three consecutive major international tournament triumphs, but the way in which they have done it. An aesthetically pleasing brand of quick, high-intensity pass-and-move football, coupled with high pressing and squeezing of opponents to win the ball when not in possession. In short, ‘tiki-taka’.

Both sides appear to be turning the whole of the pitch into midfield. Every player is technically gifted and comfortable with the ball at their feet, similarly to the Dutch ideology of ‘Total Football’. It makes it difficult to win the ball in any area of the pitch and opponents must be on guard as they can be picked apart at any moment. As seen at Barcelona and with Spain at Euro 2012, even conventional strikers made way for midfielders as the ‘false nine’ role took to the international stage.

At the heart of the team are Xavi and Andres Iniesta. Two midfielders of a slight build whose deft control and unerring precision with the ball, as well as the amount they utilise it, have made them icons of the game. And with countries across the globe worshipping this style of football, many want to replicate it.

In Brazil, the lack of shorter technically gifted players in the ilk of Xavi or Iniesta is being bemoaned by their national press. In their squad they only possess midfielders at either end of the spectrum. Robust holding-midfielders or energetic, playmaking attacking-midfielders. Spain have stolen the moniker of ‘home of the beautiful game’ from Brazil, and it seems the general consensus is that they must join them in their style of play to regain that title.

It would not work.

Many of the Spanish team have grown up with the possession-based philosophy promoted at every stage of their development, while in Brazil the dedication is less intense and there is still that extra admiration and encouragement of individual brilliance. The majority of the Spaniards also adhere to such notions week in week out whereas none of the Brazilian side can boast that they play in such a 4-2-3-1 system, with a similar passing style, at club level.

The desire to imitate the Iberian teams suggests there is a notion of the right way to play, something which Jonathan Wilson speaks at in length in Inverting the Pyramid. This is not the case. While Barcelona’s football may have wowed fans all over the world, they found themselves stifled by the defensive tactics of Chelsea in last season’s Champions League semi-finals. The Blues were derided for their negative ‘anti-football’, but they ended up as champions. Added to Real Madrid’s dethroning of the Catalan club in La Liga last season, it show the ‘right’ way is not always the winning way.

Brazil have become far more of a pragmatic sideover the last 30 years. Current coach Mano Menezes has recently introduced a high pressing game as part of Brazil’s make-up, but when it comes to possession they should aim to utilise the current tools they have to their maximum. If they cannot hold the ball against a team like Spain then they must exploit their pace on the wings (Hulk, Neymar and Lucas Moura) and robust midfield (Lucas Leiva, Sandro, Ramires) to counterattack. It is a method that has frequently been used in an attempt to best La Roja and the Catalan club, though admittedly only to limited effect.

It is not as easy as suggesting playing in a completely different manner in two years time. You need the correct players to do it. If the success of Spain has encouraged Brazil to return to the more fluid, dynamic football of old then that is what they should seek to begin instilling at youth level. Of course, the successes of Marcelo Bielsa at Athletic Bilbao and Jorge Sampaoli at Universidad de Chile have shown that such a philosophy can be rapidly installed at club level, but they train their players on a far more regular basis than at international level. If they attempted to implement such changes on the senior national team with the current crop of players in two years time, it would be a complete failure.

When it comes to the World Cup in 2014, Brazilian football fans will be desperate for glory. If they manage to lift the trophy, it will not matter too much if they do not win by playing the swaggering passing game with which the Spanish have been so successful. La Roja did not become successful overnight. It has taken years of work in youth development yet while ‘tiki-taka’ may be lauded and put upon a pedestal, it is not the only way to claim silverware as both Real Madrid and Chelsea have shown.

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