Saturday, July 19, 2014

Did Pep Guardiola have anything to do with Germany’s World Cup triumph?

To confuse you further in the debate of the success of Germany in the 2014 Fifa World Cup, I throw doubts in your beliefs about the greatness of one Pep Guardiola. Sunday Oliseh even says that Tiki Taka is alive and sound., a point I greatly dispute. Few claim Die Mannshcaft went through the back door to have Beyern Munich hire Guardiola so he can coach the nine players in their squad to play the Barcelona way.  The theory is noble given that 2010 Fifa World Cup champions, Spain had Pep’s nine players from Barcelona. To the preachers of that gospel, that is not coincidence.

I will take you to the days before the Backlays English Premier League. Nottingham Forest was coached by Brian Clough. Many dubbed him useless as a coach and manager. His team ran on a shoestring budget. He relegated and promoted that team perpetually for over half a decade. He built a team and destroyed it. Built it up and destroyed over and over.

Pepe inherited a Frank Rikjaard Barcelona that was already playing a philosophy set up by Johan Cryuff of Holland. Cryuff introduced the system earlier, the Dutch football that Ruud Gullit tried to employ at Chelsea when he prescribed it as ‘sexy football’. Guardiola did a great job in maintaining a legacy that had lived and will live for many years longer. Those players had been doing the same thing, with a few more foreign contingent than they did with Pep. Rikjaard and Guardiola both played for Barcelona previously.

The former Barca captain took over treble winning Jupp Henynckes Bayern Munich side. The later coached a team left by both Andreas Jonker and Loius van Gaal. The influence of Pep was visible in many Munich matches, and some Germany matches. Prior to Guardiola’s arrival, Bayern dismembered the Spanish giants in the UEFA Champions League, proving their superiority and fluidity. How easy it is to say he brought a wholesome change to the squad and to Germany national as a whole. Both these clubs, Barca and Munich, had funds to buy anyone they wanted, anyone who played the way they loved.

Without much need to compare Jose Mourinho, who won the Portuguese championship and UEFA Champions League with little known Porto, Brian Clough who yo-yoed Nottingham Forest, Harry Redknapp who saved Tottenham Hotspur from relegation and took them to UEFA Champions League pinnacle in a couple seasons, one has to look at the margins of success and the resources. Keeping firm on what is there is a lot easier than building anything from the ground.

As for Germany playing Tiki Taka football, I am not yet converted. The Chileans put to death Spain. If Spain come back anytime soon, it could be a different story, but to say Germany Tiki Taka-ed, is a little bit over the top. They moved and passed the ball well. They had a plan in place before Pep arrived. Their game revolved around the quick recovery and long retention of the ball. The crisp one touch passing to open defences was never their strength. The biggest weapon in their arsenal was the mentality of stay strong and focused. The aggression in combats and transition was complemented by the precision passing and efficient goal scoring.

The table below will illustrate how playing too many needless passes was almost fatal for Germany. The Germany struggled against Ghana, only benefitting from the Africans’ naïve play. They survived the Algerian scare as the fasting Arabs succumbed to their nutritional demands of extra time. As for Italy and Spain, we all know their fate. They were not so fortunate.

GROUPS STAGE TEAM STATISTICS

#
NUMBER OF PASSES BY TEAMS
TOTAL
AVERAGE
1
Germany
1934
645
2
Spain
1913
638
3
Italy
1735
578
4
Argentina
1694
565
5
France
1576
525

 

Given these first-round statistics, France, Argentina and Germany benefited by going through to the next round. At a later stage, one can guess the champions had a field day of passing against a pedestrian Brazilian side. If one uses that data to claim Tiki Taka is alive, there can never be a misleading statistic. For the propagation and perpetuation of the name, and not concept, what Germany played can be accepted as a positive variant of Tiki Taka, the game both Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund played to reach the 2013 UEFA Champions League final.

Remember that Tiki-Taka is football characterised by short passing and movement, working the ball through various channels and, most importantly, maintaining possession. Germany maintained possession well without moving the ball with short quick passes through various channels. They made efficient use of that possession and made it count, sometimes against all odds.

The Barcelona type of football would equal to walking the ball into the net as they intrinsically weaved the passes in the 12-yard box until the goal-line. Save for corner-kicks and goal melee scrambles, that did not characterise the Germany goals in the 2014 Brazil Fifa World Cup. A little more similar aspect of their game was winning the ball as high as possible, especially where they lost it. This made them dangerously pounce vehemently and attack simultaneously before the opposition defence organised themselves.

Many coaches and managers find teams like Barcelona and Bayern Munich and take them to the doldrums. The genius of Guardiola made sure such never happened. To credit Spanish and Germany titles to the man is a little too generous. If there are coaches worthy of Fifa World Cup praise, can’t we look at Joachim Loew, Alejandro Pasella, Louis van Gaal and Jurgen Klinsman? also in their successful 2012/2013 treble run. There could be some truth in that but then they were more defensive-conscious and played most of the passes in their own half.

It his analysis, Oliseh noted that German goalkeeper ‘Manuel Neuer and central defenders Hummels and Boateng were the initiators of most attacks and a passing game that averaged 645 passes in a game’, scoring 17 goals in six games (a goal every 34 minutes), with 64 attempts at goal. All Germany reaped was fruits of a work that began with the squad which campaigned in 2010 South Africa Fifa World Cup, when Diego Maradona asked Muller if he was a ball boy. It was their grand plan after the failure to deliver in 24 years, not the mastermind of the great Pep Guardiola.

As for Tiki Taka, until its revival in the future, it is gone. We welcome the trend of the new world order in football, a fast paced forward moving game based on quick transition by fore-checking and crossing into the prime target areas. The Spanish football has proved it passed its usefulness, being nothing more that romance in the child-bearing process.