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  • Writer's pictureJoe Campos

The LaVolpiana Heist

The scene of the alleged crime is Puerto Nuevo, Mexico. Its December 2016 and Kali and Liz, both from Portland, Oregon had just arrived in Mexico for vacation. They quickly fell in love with a local delicacy, lobster burritos. That's what the news reports tell us. We're told the crime began when they started studying what they were eating. Savoring the ingredients, marveling at the amazing texture of the hand-made tortillas. Most of all, it was about the tortillas.

In a news interview, Liz described their heinous plot:

"I picked the brains of every tortilla lady there in the worst broken Spanish ever, and they showed me a little of what they did," Connelly says. "They told us the basic ingredients, and we saw them moving and stretching the dough similar to how pizza makers do before rolling it out with rolling pins. They wouldn't tell us too much about technique, but we were peeking into the windows of every kitchen, totally fascinated by how easy they made it look. We learned quickly it isn't quite that easy.

On the drive back up to Oregon, we were still completely drooling over how good [the tortillas] were, and we decided we had to have something similar in Portland. The day after we returned, I hit the Mexican market and bought ingredients and started testing it out. Every day I started making tortillas before and after work, trying to figure out the process, timing, refrigeration and how all of that works."

They were inspired to act. They conspired to act. And they followed through. Kali and Liz soon opened a little pop-up restaurant selling breakfast burritos. Kook's Burritos. It was a hit! Everybody loved their burritos, especially the tortillas!

Yet according to self-appointed cultural vigilantes, what Kali and Liz had done was a cultural crime. They called it "cultural appropriation". Apparently, for some people in Portland, Oregon it is a crime to make and sell burritos unless you are Mexican. According to Jagger Blaec of the Willamette Mercury,

"Portland has an appropriation problem...Several of the most successful businesses in this town have been birthed as a result of curious white people going to a foreign country, or an international venture, and poaching as many trade secrets, customs, recipes as possible, and then coming back to Portland to claim it as their own and score a tidy profit."

What is this alleged crime of "cultural appropriation"? Definitionally, some say, it happens when one culture adopts the use of the elements of another culture. Others argue that cultural appropriation is fine, so long as the appropriation is done by a non-colonial, non-dominant culture. In other words, two white women cannot make and sell Mexican food, but a Mexican man can make and sell British-style fish and chips. Make sense? Not to me. It makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. On what authority does a small band of ideologically paranoid and obtuse individuals declare that each culture be hermetically sealed from others? None, of course.

“I’m no innovator. I’m an ideas thief.” - Pep Guardiola

Man, this news made me angry. What a shame that two entrepreneurial souls had their passion and business crushed by rigid, political correctness ideologues. It also made me think. Culture is more than food. It includes language, art, architecture, ideas, technology, clothing and, yes, sports. How should we feel about American baseball being played in Japan? What kind of "cultural appropriation" is going on in the world of soccer? The world of soccer is full of different styles, perspectives, theories, philosophies and methods. From the perspective of an ideological freak living in Portland, it might be a cultural crime for an American coach to study, borrow and use ideas developed by a Brazilian coach. It might be a cultural crime for an English coach to admire and borrow ideas from an African coach. Perhaps a caucasian coach should not be permitted open a soccer school teaching Brazilian Jinga style or futsal, but an African coach should be allowed to teach Spanish rondos?

And if "cultural appropriation" were applied to soccer, one of the most obvious and self-admitted perpetrators would be one of the most celebrated and respected coaches in the world, Pep Guardiola. You see, in 2006, Guardiola committed the LaVolpiana Heist!

The story begins in Spain in 1998. FC Barcelona is playing Real Oviedo. the coach of Real Oviedo is Juan Manuel Lillo. Lillo is a talented coach. In fact, at age 20 he became the youngest head coach in Spain's La Liga. More important, though, Lillo was a great advocate and teacher of "juego de posicion" or "positional play". Barcelona win the game 4-2, but Guardiola is intensely impressed by the opponents and their style of play. After the game Guardiola went to the Oviedo locker room, knocked on the door and asked to speak with Lillo. When Lillo appeared, Guardiola said, "‘I love your teams, I’ve heard great things about you, can we be friends?’

Lillo and Guardiola remained in contact for years thereafter. In many ways, Lillo was as much a tactical mentor to Guardiola as Johan Cruyff, who was a massive force in shaping and guiding Guardiola's career as a player at Barcelona.

Fast forward to 2006 and Lillo has been named head coach of Dorados de Sinaloa in Mexico's Liga MX. The club is on the verge of relegation. Guardiola was in the twilight of his playing career having already left Spain and wrapping up a playing stint in Qatar. Lillo reaches out to Guardiola and persuades him to join Dorados.

[Juan Manuel Lillo (L) and Pep Guardiola (R)]

While playing in Mexico, Guardiola has the opportunity to observe and study the ideas of an Argentine coach named Ricardo LaVolpe. LaVolpe is head coach of the Mexican national team and his tactical ideas are spontaneously creating the LaVolpista school of thought among other Mexican coaches. Guardiola was paying close attention. What intrigues him the most is LaVolpe's thinking on playing out from the back.

In June 2006, writing in Spanish newspaper, El Pais, Guardiola wrote:

"Ricardo Lavolpe, Argentinean and Mexican manager, decided that his defense must go out playing. He does not mean that they begin the play, which is another thing altogether. For Ricardo LaVolpe, to begin playing means passing the ball among defenders without much purpose and then resorting to long balls, most of the time. But LaVolpe requires his players to do something else; he wants them to go out to play, by which he means nothing more than the ball and the players advancing together, at the same time. If only one [the ball or the players] advances, it is not worth it, they [the ball and the players] have to do it all together. Like boyfriends and girlfriends when they go out together.”

Guardiola was studying this Argentine coach who was working in Mexico. The way LaVolpe thought about and taught the buildup from the back intrigued Guardiola the most. The lynchpin of LaVolpe's ideas involved a very simple maneuver designed to solve problems created by an opponent that presses high, typically with two forwards. La Salida LaVolpiana. The maneuver is simple and elegant. The two center backs move very wide to either side of the penalty area. The organizing midfielder or holding midfielder (#6 in the US or #4 in Spain) drops into the space creating numerical superiority and passing options. The players and the ball begin playing, passing and advancing up the field, like boyfriends and girlfriends.

Here's what it looks like.

Now watch it being performed.

Guardiola used took LaVolpe's ideas to Barcelona, refined and rehearsed them, and then made them his own. He used them to great effect with FC Barcelona and between 2008 and 2011 that team was unquestionably the most dominant and tactically brilliant side in the world. Guardiola then moved to Bayern Munich and then Manchester City, taking LaVolpista theories and tactics with him.

So a Spanish man borrows tactical ideas from an Argentine coach working in Mexico, takes them to Spain, Germany and England, and uses them to build amazing teams and in the process becomes one of the greatest coaches in the in the history of the sport. And Guardiola is not bashful about his crimes or stealing ideas from Johan Cruyff, Juan Manuel Lillo and Ricardo LaVolpe:

"I've stolen as much as possible, but the ideas are nobody's, it's not copy and paste. I hope you do the same to me" - Pep Guardiola

“Ideas belong to everyone. “And I have stolen as many as I could.” - Pep Guardiola

The reality is that this kind of crime encourages copycats. During his time as head coach of Bayern Munich, someone else was watching Guardiola. Thomas Tuchel was the coach of German club Mainz 05 and his team was often on the receiving end of Guardiola's tactics. Tuchel watched and learned. Then he stole La Salida LaVolpiana and a whole host of other tactical ideas from Guardiola! Now Head Coach of Borussia Dortmund, Tuchel is using this tactic to dominate opposing teams in the Bundesliga. He may deny it, but the way his team plays proves otherwise. The evidence is there and its been studied and analyzed carefully. (To view the analysis, click here. Really good stuff here. Even better if you can read Spanish!!)

(Thomas Tuchel (L) with Pep Guardiola (R))

So now a German man steals ideas from a Spanish coach who stole them from an Argentine coach working in Mexico. If that isn't "cultural appropriation" I don't know what is. And if learning, studying and borrowing from smart coaches all over the world is a crime, then I'm with Guardiola, Tuchel, Brendan Rogers, Carlo Ancelotti, Zinedine Zindane and every MLS, college and youth soccer coach in the United States who takes the time to study the work of coaches around the world - guilty as charged.

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