A key figure from the world’s strongest football club of the past decade has been in New Zealand this week, spreading the gospel of tiki-taka. Joan Vila Bosch spoke about the Barcelona way with Michael Burgess.

Joan Vila Bosch is a footballing missionary. He played with Johan Cruyff at Barcelona and, as a youth coach, helped shape the careers of Lionel Messi, Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta and Cesc Fabregas at the Nou Camp.

Now he is director of methodology at Barcelona, charged with ensuring continuity in the famed style of play and philosophy that has brought the club so much success in the past 12 seasons (seven La Liga titles, four Champions League triumphs, three Club World Cups).

Their style has been emulated across the globe with varying success and is the template for possession-based football. Many club and national teams want to play like Barcelona but Vila Bosch says there is no secret formula.

"A lot of people come to Barcelona and want to discover what we have done ... how we are doing it," says Vila Bosch. "It's like they are looking for the formula for Coca-Cola, like this is something so simple. It's not that simple.


"We have an idea and we are faithful to it but there is no secret. What we have done is the result of years of hard work by many people and a belief in our system."

For that reason, Vila Bosch expects ongoing success for the Catalan club, even when the likes of Messi and Iniesta finish playing.

"Barcelona is much more than Messi," says Vila Bosch. "He is a huge talent but is also much more productive [at Barcelona] than he would be at any other club. He's become a much better player, a better team player. At Barcelona, the team is always bigger than any player. It might be hard to repeat this generation but we are working to make sure the team remains strong, that we don't depend on any particular player."

Vila Bosch has served Barcelona for more than 30 years. He came through the youth system in the 1970s and though most of his appearances were for Barcelona B, he played some first-team games in 1978 and 1979. From 1987 to 2005, he coached youth and lower division teams, guiding future club legends.

Joan Vila Bosch has worked with Messi, Iniesta and Xavi at Barcelona. Photo / AP
Joan Vila Bosch has worked with Messi, Iniesta and Xavi at Barcelona. Photo / AP

"I first saw Iniesta and Xavi as 11-year-olds," says Vila Bosch. "They thought much faster than the others and always made the right decisions. Since then, they have grown and the club has grown with them. They are great talents but are also very humble team players."

After a period away, Vila Bosch was hired by Pep Guardiola for his current role in 2010.

Reflecting on Barcelona's rise as the modern masters of possession football, he says the philosophies were "fermenting" in the 1970s. They were cemented in 1988, when Cruyff returned as coach, before "exploding" in 2008 with Guardiola and his La Masia graduates.

Tiki-taka has since swept the world and, though it hasn't always been successful, Barcelona's faith in the system will never falter.

"Maybe before 2000, some of the directors had their doubts - 'What if we lose?', 'What if it doesn't work?' But now, I don't think you could be president of Barcelona if you don't believe in the system. More than 150,000 members and millions of fans worldwide won't permit that.

"Winning 1-0 is not enough - it's about how they win."

Vila Bosch was brought to New Zealand by the Youth Football Development Trust, in collaboration with Auckland City, and ran coaching seminars in Auckland and Christchurch last week. His visit also symbolises the ongoing relationship between the Catalan giants and the ASB Premiership club.

"It catches your eye that such a small club can have the same philosophies and style of play," said Vila Bosch of Auckland City.

"A lot of people think only the biggest clubs with the best players can play this way, but it is not just a privilege of the elite. I'm delighted to be here, representing Barcelona, at a club that thinks the same way. Like us, they believe in football based on creating, not destroying."