Tito Vilanova keeps Barcelona ticking over
Pep Guardiola replaced by his assistant
10 July ~ When Pep Guardiola announced his resignation at the end of last season, Marcelo Bielsa, Laurent Blanc and Arsène Wenger were among those speculated as potential replacements. Not many would have predicted that Francesc "Tito" Vilanova would be awarded the post. Vilanova has been Guardiola's right-hand man for the past four seasons, guiding the Barcelona B team to promotion in his debut season in 2007-08, before taking his seat next to Guardiola at the Camp Nou. Although he failed to make a first-team appearance for the club, Vilanova came through Barcelona's acclaimed La Masia academy.
Like Guardiola, he understands what it means to be azulgrana. Evidence of this was shown in the second leg of the Spanish Super Cup in August when he was involved in a touchline spat with Real Madrid manager José Mourinho. Mourinho was handed a two-match ban for jabbing the Barcelona assistant in the eye, while Vilanova was suspended for one game after slapping the Portuguese in retaliation.
The 42-year-old is not one of the better-known faces in European football but his appointment sends out a strong message. That Barcelona refused the urge to appoint a household name and settled insted for Guardiola's assistant is a testament to the club's principles.
It is no surprise that Barcelona's greatest success was orchestrated by a man who had made 263 first-team appearances for his boyhood club before leading them to an unprecedented 13 trophies in his short four-year tenure as manager. Guardiola is a Barcelona man through and through, and by recruiting from within once again, the club aim to maintain their "total football" philosophy: a purist vision that has produced one of the best and most entertaining sides in history.
When he announced his resignation in April, Guardiola said the club had taken "the best decision possible" by appointing Vilanova: "He is more than capable. The players know him. He will make few changes. He will give the club and these players something that I thought I could no longer give." Consistency and continuity is the key to Barcelona's long-term success and Vilanova's time shadowing Guardiola closely, overseeing the successes and failures of the tactical genius, will be crucial.
Vilanova has been strongly influential on and off the pitch and has worked with many of the players at youth level, making it unlikely that he will receive a backlash if his ideas and tactics fail. He was the club's Under-15 manager for the class of Lionel Messi, Cesc Fabregas and Gerard Pique, while his close interaction with the B side means that he can assure a successful and fruitful transition for many of the club's young players.
His appointment was backed strongly by the playing staff. Club captain Carles Puyol sayid he is "the ideal person" to take the club forward, while Javier Mascherano said: "Tito is the best thing that could have happened." Barcelona's director of football, Andoni Zubizarreta, said Vilanova's appointment was a straightforward decision as he "represents the philosophy of the club".
Jordi Roura and Aureli Altimira, two of Vilanova's closest friends in the La Masia academy in 1985 and fellow team-mates at UE Figueres in 1992, will make up his backroom staff as assistant coach and fitness coach. With Barcelona losing out on the La Liga title for the first time in four seasons, Vilanova does not seem fazed by the challenge ahead of him. He is aware of the legacy Guardiola has left behind but knows it is time for him to make his own history. "I'm going to lose all of the comparisons with Guardiola, I know that. But I've not come here to be compared to him, I've come here to do my job."
The signing of Jordi Alba, one of the stars of Spain's recent European Championship success, for a mere €14 million is a step in the right direction. If Vilanova can utilise Messi and the tiki-taka style to the extent Guardiola did during his tenure, Barcelona should once again be the leading superpower of European football. Max Bentley