Australia can learn from Pep Guardiola’s success at Bayern Munich.
Guardiola redefined football. Barca have been an outstanding football team throughout the decades, including the 1994 dream team with Michael Laudrup, Guardiola himself, Romario and Hristo Stoichkov, 1997 with Ronaldo, and Frank Rijkaard’s team with Deco and Ronaldinho but Guardiola’s football was different.
More Barca, the epitome of their philosophy and taken to the ultimate level. The perfect demonstration of the game they taught their homegrown players from the youngest ages.
Passing and possession football, yes, but more. It became "tiki-taka", the form of football that passed the ball more than it has even been passed, more that we thought it could, and that mesmerised the world.
It was beautiful, artful and successful all at once – and it took the game to a new level.
At a time when risk was becoming a byword for naivete, Guardiola turned the concept on its head and proved that to give the ball away was riskier than keeping it in one’s own penalty area, with Victor Valdes very often racking up more passes that key opposition players, or even entire teams.
This was different, bolder, technically more brave and an entirely distinctive kind of game. And it won. But, here in Australia, the doubters persisted.
Many said our players couldn’t play this way, when they should have said our coaches can’t coach this way, and that our physical strengths, which are a key component of our future game, mean this football is not suitable.
So, then, Guardiola’s move to Germany was perfect from an Australian perspective because the same people said the Germans are closer in physical make-up than Barcelona and are therefore a better model, though Dani Alves, Adriano, Pedro, Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique always seemed pretty strong physically to me. Guardiola’s work in Munich was of great interest.
Supposedly, because the German players have always valued physical fitness and strength in their game, Guardiola’s tiki-taka would not work.
Subsequently, of course, he showed that passing the football, dominating the game, playing in attack with fast transitions to defence and using space and player movement with great intelligence is cross-cultural, not tied to nationality, and will succeed anywhere with the right coach and quality of players.
Bayern Munich already had the playing model inherited from Louis van Gaal, so they already played a form of the Barca way, now Guardiola increased their speed of game and used their physical qualities to the benefit of the team to make them harder to play against, since their collective output in closing the ball, winning it back and creating opportunities is extremely high.
Tiki-taka on steroids, as some have characterised the style, but still the same game principles, applied by different players, in a different country, with a different mentality and to the same effect.
Twenty-seven games unbeaten this season, 19 straight wins. Favourites for back-to-back Champions Leagues. Earliest ever Bundesliga title won with seven games remaining. Likely, highest points total. More records, more style. More style, more records. Which comes first?
Here, we talk only about results, as though this is completely independent of the style of game. No connection. As long as three points ensue, nothing else matters. But Guardiola calls it a lie, because he breaks records with both.
The virtuous cycle continues, the doubters discredited, the game better off and the German national team to follow that of Spain in benefiting from Guardiola’s work with a core group of their players.
Where does this leave Australia, then?
In the same place as before, in knowing that a style and quality of game must match the mentality of a nation and ours is perfectly in line with what Guardiola has done.
But also that our physical strengths, now continuing to develop in the A-League, which gets faster and stronger every year, can be added to a game based on keeping the ball and controlling the game to create a perfect mix, neither taking away from the other.
People here saw diminutive players like Xavi and Andres Iniesta playing with extraordinary intelligence and decided this game cannot be for us and yet Javi Martinez, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Thomas Muller and Arjen Robben have done the same thing.
Playing great football is, apparently, independent of physique, with which you can either speed up, or slow down the game according to the output you are capable of producing.
Australians can culturally produce plenty, including this style of game, and now thankfully the final excuses are disproved.