On Wednesday, FC Porto, last year’s third-place Portuguese club who only made it into the UEFA Champions League by virtue of the Play-off round, beat reigning Bundesliga kings Bayern Munich, with noted machinist Pep Guardiola at the managerial helm. The German giants had lost only three games all season coming into the match, depending on when you started counting, and looked poised to similarly dismantle the ostensibly outmatched Porto. But a funny thing happened on the way to the semi-final.
Gather ye rose-buds while ye may, old Time is still a-flying: And this same flower that smiles today, tomorrow will be dying.
–Robert Harrick, “To The Virgins, To Make Much of Time”
For the better part of the last five years, at least since Euro 2008 signaled the dawn of a Spanish renaissance in the sport, the Spanish men’s national football team has ridden a possession-heavy, triangular passing-based game to great success and historic heights, and not only by Spanish standards. The style they have made their own, affectionately dubbed tiki-taka for its quick passing, had its roots in the Ajax/Netherlands “total football” system of the 1970s. When the greatest Dutch player ever, Johann Cruyff, became FC Barcelona’s manager in 1988, he brought the total football mentality with him and placed the greatest burden in the field on his most talented midfielder, Josep Guardiola. Guardiola ascended to the throne at Barcelona in June 2008 and left it four years later having put together perhaps the greatest list of accomplishments in any four-year span in the history of club soccer.