That brings us back to reigning World Cup champion Spain, which suffered shock back-to-back defeats against the Netherlands and Chile. To describe Spain merely as the reigning champion is to do the team's recent achievements a disservice. La Roja had established an unprecedented hegemony at the top of the international game, winning two consecutive European Championships on either side of the 2010 World Cup. They have defined soccer’s modern international era, playing an irrepressible brand of tiki-taka, a strategy pioneered by Barcelona involving short, sharp passing designed to maintain huge amounts of possession before incisively cutting through rival defenses once they had been stretched apart. At its best, Spain’s brand of tiki-taka was dizzyingly brilliant and simply unbeatable. Their dominance was awesome and complete.
But that very dominance presented national team coach Vicente del Bosque with soccer’s equivalent of the innovator’s dilemma. Like the CEO of an industrial giant that dominates its market and is wedded to the business model that guarantees its revenues, del Bosque was tied to the players and system that had guaranteed so much success even as Spain faced fresh threats to that dominance.
The first symptoms were evident in the 3–0 defeat to Brazil in last year’s Confederations Cup final—one of the warning signs that tiki-taka’s era of pre-eminence was coming to a close. Months before, Barcelona experienced a humiliating 7–0 Champions League aggregate semifinal defeat to a finely honed, counter-attacking Bayern Munich side, bringing an abrupt end to their dominance. This year, with Bayern Munich now playing a Teutonic variation on the Spanish style under the former Barcelona coach and high priest of tiki-taka Pep Guardiola, the German champions experienced a similarly emphatic 5–0 drubbing at the hands of counterattacking Real Madrid. As the great soccer tactics writer Jonathan Wilson put it, these results showed that “radical possession football could be defeated by radical non-possession football.” Patient possession can be a liability when faced with reactive teams content to strike fast.
How is counter-attacking not a sustaining innovation?
Sports analogies don't work for disruptive innovation because on the rare occasion they come up in sport, they tend to be nullified by rules changes very quickly.