5 great teams that practiced Tiki Taka before Guardiola's Barcelona
In football, as it is in physics, nothing is lost, nothing is created, everything is transformed. Tactics and styles of play make no exception: if the Catenaccio - a tactic that would reap particular success in the 1960s - had its roots in the English football of the very early years, the so-called kick and rush, the Tiki Taka had as its most distant ancestor the Scottish football, better known as passing game.
This was a more purposeful, attacking football and would over the years take root first within the major footballing powers of Central Europe - Austria, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia - and later, on the threshold of the 1970s, in the Netherlands, before making its way to Barcelona. But what are the links between the early Scottish style and Guardiola's Barça?
The first team to go down in history for a football characterized by dense networks of passing and interchangeability of players was in all likelihood the Austrian Wunderteam of the 1930s, a team that had greatly benefited from the teachings of British coach Jimmy Hogan, who had arrived in Vienna years earlier. The Wunderteam, as well as other Central European teams of the time, adopted as its tactic the Method, or 2-3-5, an attacking-minded system that gave up the stopper to add a center half, a role corresponding to today's central midflielder.
The Wunderteam, which counted among its ranks champions such as Matthias Sindelar and Josef Bican, the latter being for around 60 years football's all-time greatest scorer, is often regarded alongside Puskás's Hungary and Cruyff's Holland as the biggest loser in history having not won the World Cup. However the truth is that the result, for the Austrians, was secondary to the show offered by the team. On one occasion, an uninspiring victory against Switzerland, the newspapers were dissatisfied. One headlined, "An insufficient show for 55,000 spectators."
The second team to deserve a mention is Grande Torino, known both for its highly innovative style in a country, Italy, that had always boasted a marked defensive tradition, and for its tragic end, the Superga Air Disaster, a plane crash that occurred on May 4, 1949. Eighteen players died, including Valentino Mazzola, considered by many to be the Italian Di Stéfano. Grande Torino - which would have supplied several players to the Italian national team ahead of the 1950 World Cup - adopted a tactic similar to a 3-2-5, but without particularly defined roles. Eusebio Castigliano, for example, who was a midfielder, often turned into an added striker and one year netted a whopping 20 goals. The club, which collected five consecutive national titles in Italy, had only the misfortune of never enjoying wide international prominence.
Hungary Golden Team
Unlike them, Ferenc Puskás's Hungary, better known as Aranycsapat, The Golden Team, made a name for themselves on the international scene. In this case, the label of losing team is perhaps somewhat unfair since the Hungarians lifted two out of three international titles, namely the 1952 Olympic Games played in Helsinki and the 1953 International Cup, but saw their World Cup dreams dashed the following year when they were unexpectedly defeated in the final by West Germany.
The Hungary of the 1950s is probably the team of the past decades that comes closest to the Tiki Taka concept. Puskás and his teammates did not practice the Total Football, they did not interchange roles so much; Puskás acted as a right inside forward, Kocsis as a left inside forward, Bozsik as a center back and Hidegkuti as a center forward, albeit in an atypical manner: he was in fact the perfect embodiment of the false nine, that is, a center forward capable of dropping back by turning into a midfielder to supply the strikers, something that several years later we would see both Cruyff and Messi (and in some cases Fabregas) perform.
In almost all of its most iconic matches - like the two games against England - Hungary overwhelmed its rivals with goals but conceded at least two, since the Magyars relied on their incredible ability to create goal-scoring chances and did not care much about defending.
Dutch Total Football
If the 1960s had observed a major shift toward a greater defensive focus - the Catenaccio was born as anticipated -, the 1970s marked the birth of Dutch football and with it a return to a more attacking style of play, albeit with some innovations on the defensive level as well. Cruyff's Holland featured a high and collective pressing that the Hungary of the 1950s did not practice, and also used a very high defensive line in order to constantly put opponents offside. In addition, Total Football was born: besides an emphasis on close play and passing, Dutch players had the ability to perform multiple roles. Of the four members of the defense line, only one was a pure defender - Rijsbergen - and the goalkeeper himself, Jongbloed, who certainly did not stand out for his prowess between the posts, was a pioneer of the modern conception of the role according to which the goalkeeper must be able to use his feet as a player of movement.
Just as Hungary did, the Netherlands would also fail in its World Cup consecration by being defeated by Franz Beckenbauer's Germany, a team that was probably less spectacular but more able to read the different moments of a game. However, while the Netherlands did not lift any trophies - they were also defeated in the 1978 World Cup final by Argentina - Ajax became in those years the benchmark team at the European level, winning the Champions League three times in a row.
The Netherlands would have a second golden generation years later, in the mid-1980s. Their idea of football had remained the same: to create players capable of performing multiple tasks and covering various portions of the field. If Ruud Gullit was born as a central defender and then transformed into a number ten, despite some atypical characteristics, Frank Rijkaard was able to cover both the position of central midfielder as well as central defender, and Van Basten would revolutionize the role of center forward thanks to a pure striker's frame combined with the technical qualities of a number ten that allowed him not only to score avalanches of goals but also to assist his teammates to perfection.
Benefiting most from these three aces was AC Milan first under Sacchi - who won the Champions League twice - and then under Capello, who lifted several domestic titles. Sacchi and Capello, however, were probably lucky enough to benefit as much from certain characteristics typical of Italian football, such as the defensive solidity given by players like Maldini or Baresi, as from the best Dutch talents. The result was an offensive football - expressed mainly by Sacchi - where ball possession had an important role but perhaps not as much as it would have been with Guardiola's Barça.