SINGAPORE — Since the "Unleash the Roar" project to revive Singapore football was launched in March, it has always envisioned a unified playing philosophy across all levels: proactive, possession-based and high-tempo.
If that style sounds familiar, it is because it will be largely adapted from the "tiki taka" football perfected by Spain and its top clubs such as Barcelona and Real Madrid - intricate passing to unlock defences, intelligent runs off the ball and incessant pressing to win back possession.
"Tiki taka" brought unprecedented success for the Spanish national team, as they won back-to-back European Championships in 2008 and 2012, as well as the country's first-ever World Cup in 2010. Meanwhile, Barca and Real took turns to dominate European football, each winning four European Cups in the past 15 years.
It is not surprising that many countries around the world are seeking to emulate the Spanish way of playing football, and Unleash the Roar made it official last week when it announced a partnership with LaLiga, Spain's top professional league, to bring in coaches to helm key positions in 10 new School Football Academies (SFAs).
The aim is clear: Singapore's budding football talents will learn a football system similar to that of their Spanish counterparts, and hopefully find success via this eye-catching brand of football.
Conversely, LaLiga is hopeful that the Spanish football philosophy and methodology can find success overseas, and could bring in more audience to its popular league.
"We feel a sense of pride when we see our coaches and methods having success abroad, as it indicates that our methodology is a well-thought-out way to achieve the objectives and engage people around football," Juan Florit, LaLiga's head of sport projects, told Yahoo News Singapore.
"We're never one to rest on our laurels; we are always looking forward to enrich our game models and training. Football is a dynamic sport, and we need to be able to evaluate and improve our procedures regarding players and team profiles."
Evolved from Dutch Total Football
Interestingly, "tiki taka" also evolved from a foreign country's football philosophy - the Dutch's Total Football, where players in any position can attack and defend accordingly, creating a fluid style that is entertaining and effective when applied intelligently.
That brand of football was brought into LaLiga in the 1990s under former Barcelona manager and Dutch legend Johan Cruyff, who laid the foundations of the "tiki taka" amid the Catalan club's renowned La Masia academy, which produced world-class players such as Lionel Messi, Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta.
Coupled with Spain's traditional exuberance and technical brilliance, the national team were transformed from perennial underachievers to dominant winners, and Florit attributes such success to a culture of holistic player development from the grassroots to the professional stage.
"Spain had to go through a revolution of the style and ecosystem as it transformed into a culture of adapting to intelligence, technique and ball retention," he said.
"Our aim is to prepare the players for the challenges they will face in competitions.... taking into account the complexity of football where every single action is going to be different from the previous one.
"In Spain, we feel comfortable being protagonists, always looking at going forward to bite the opponent through pressing after possession is lost, with combative/variable attacking actions, high pressing and quick-attacks if we have the clear opportunity and the resources to do it."
Such pro-active attacking mentality sets Spain's "tiki taka" apart from the negative, counter-attacking football that had been prevalent in Europe, drawing in fans who are taken in by the flowing football as Spain started winning trophies from the mid-2000s onwards.
More crucially, the emphasis on skills and intelligent reading of the game meant that those who are less physically-built can still carry out such style of play.
"The distinct identity was also devised and structured to suit the personality and physicality of Spanish players, and in particular in Asia, where players are less physically built or tall, this style of play suits these nations to a tee," Florit explained.
Specific demands in Spanish football
So when the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) approached LaLiga to help shape the football style of "Unleash the Roar", the Spanish league welcomed the proposed partnership.
Nonetheless, to transplant a football style that is successful in a European country into a Asian nation who has been struggling to produce winning football of late, what are the requirements needed among Singapore's young talents in order to play "tika taka" football?
After all, the Singapore senior national team did try to play possession-based football when they hired Bernd Stange as head coach in 2013. However, the German was unsuccessful as the Lions floundered badly in regional competitions, leading to his eventual departure in 2016.
"Possibly the most important requirements for young players to have would be concentration, engagement and self-responsibility to understand that it is also up to them just how far they can go," Florit said.
"We have very specific demands in our model, we need smart players able to scan every situation of the game and think as a collective, but we also need high technical standards per position to fulfil every game situation. This is not possible if the players are not ready mentally and possess a certain level of physicality.
"Consistency, technical ability, and tactical understanding can all be developed."
Even local coaches will benefit from partnership
With such intricate footballing style needing plenty of time to develop, it is perhaps a key reason why the FAS wants to bring in LaLiga coaches into their youth setup rather than the senior national squad.
Its head of methodology Philippe Aw believes that young footballers will benefit greatly from being coaches by Spanish coaches who have been part of one of the world's top youth systems.
"Apart from (the youngsters) picking up superior technical skills from its coaches, LaLiga will also help facilitate the hiring of football specialist coaches and analysts who can better harness technology and data to further enhance the youth footballers’ progress," he said.
"Another key objective of the LaLiga partnership will be the upskilling of our local coaches. Through mutual exchanges of insight and sharing of knowledge, football coaches in Singapore can be better equipped to train and groom our next generation of football players."
Ultimately, both FAS and LaLiga will be hoping that the partnership is beneficial both ways: Singapore football standards get a much-needed boost, and LaLiga grows its audience base and appreciation for its league.
"LaLiga is always seeking to open barriers and sharing expertise to boost the sport we all love," said Ivan Codina, LaLiga's managing director of Southeast Asia, Japan, Korean and Australia.
"We believe that if our football grows in other countries, we stand a chance to grow as well. Through these partnerships, we have the opportunity to constantly learn, give back and improve."
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