Barcelona fans, myself included, should have plenty of reasons to celebrate, the Blaugrana have won 15 out of their first 16 matches in La Liga, and lost none, establishing a new record along the way. Furthermore, Barcelona have a healthy nine point advantage over second placed Atletico Madrid and an almost insurmountable 13 point cushion over Real Madrid. The ongoing 2012/13 Champions League campaign has also been kind to Barcelona, having topped their group and qualified for the knock-out stages with relative ease where the Blaugrana will encounter AC Milan. The Italians are a team in transition and have lost a lot of quality over the summer that hasn’t been adequately replaced. Therefore the Rossonieri should be a manageable opponent over two legs. Taking all into account, on a sporting level it’s almost too good to be true. Even Barcelona’s failure to buy a specialist defender in the last transfer window hasn’t negatively affected the Catalans.
For example, even the absence of a Dani Alves can be compensated these days. A key player under Pep Guardiola at present the Brazilian is far from a mainstay in Barcelona’s XI. Though he has been below his imperious best for the better part of 18 months now, he’s probably still the world’s greatest right-back. However, the addition of Jordi Alba on the opposite flank has rendered the need for another all-action full-back a la Dani Alves almost obsolete. The emergence of the more defensive minded Martin Montoya provides balance which would be lacking if both, Alba and Alves were featured in the starting XI.
Whereas the acquisition of Alexandre Song has been nothing short of a disaster thus far, he was never earmarked to be more than a squad/utility player, albeit a costly one. At the heart of defense Gerard Pique is nearing the kind of form which prompted observers to compare him with the legendary Franz Beckenbauer. His partner-in-crime Carles Puyol has also given FC Barcelona reason to rejoice as the talismanic captain returned from injury. Add a resurgent Adriano into the mix and the Blaugrana’s defensive options look bright as day for the remainder of the campaign. Even Cesc Fabregas appears to be enjoying his finest spell in a Barcelona jersey. Though not awarded to start every game for Barcelona since his return from a lengthy spell at the sidelines yet, David Villa is also fit and nearing form as the season is approaching a crucial phase. In short, Barcelona are more than well-positioned to reach all of their targets. As a bonus, and to the joy of all Barcelona fans, perhaps all football fans, Eric Abidal has not only fully recovered from his cancer-related treatment, he’s also training again, indicating a return to football in the not too distant future.
It would take an implosion of gargantuan proportions to not win at least the domestic league. At this point anything less than La Liga plus X would be an utter disappointment.
However, Culés are a pessimistic breed. Only recently have we allowed ourselves to get carried away and actually believe in winning. We always suspect something will be going sideways eventually. “When it’s too good to be true, it usually is.” That used to be the mindset of plenty of Culés. When Lionel Messi was carried away on a stretcher just a few weeks ago I almost instantly had visions of Barcelona losing La Liga. In this instance it definitely looked worse than it actually was.
Just as the first half of the 2012/13 season is coming to a conclusion and the Christmas festivities are about to start, Barcelona’s manager Tito Vilanova is suffering a cancer relapse. The man directly responsible for the euphoria surrounding Barcelona has been struck once again by the deadly disease. It puts all in perspective. Football is just that, football. Nothing more, nothing less. It’s some 90-plus-minutes of good entertainment. Whoever is first, second or third-placed is not the most important thing in the world. Unfortunately, and as messed up as this may sound, Tito’s team has to carry on and they should out of respect for the man that has guided them for the past couple of months.
After his operation Tito Vilanova has to undergo six weeks of chemotherapy and he will likely need an unspecified amount of time for a full recovery. Some fans would like to see Pep Guardiola filling in for his dear friend, and the rationale behind it is fully understandable – he’s available, he knows the philosophy and there’s probably nobody who could do the job better than him. However, hiring Pep Guardiola, even on an interim basis is not the right decision.
Barcelona’s recent period of domination has been called the Pep-era, and rightfully so. From 2008 to 2012, he helped mold, shape and define Barcelona’s trophy-laden spell. He himself chose to leave Barcelona and take a sabbatical year from football. Once again, he has more than earned the right to do so. But with his exit he confirmed the end of the Pep-era. His reign is over. It’s not his team, not anymore. His exit has given birth to Tito Vilanova’s team, the side currently smashing records left, right and centre. It wouldn’t be right install Guardiola as caretaker manager as his name and legacy would always overshadow Vilanova’s accomplishments. This project must not be associated with the former boss. It would also send the wrong message to Tito’s staff. Provided he handpicked his no. 2 it would only serve to insinuate that the Barcelona board didn’t trust his judgment. Hence, Barcelona’s choice to proceed with his assistant manager, Jordi Roura, is the sensible decision.
As much as people still crave the Pep-era they should learn to put trust in Tito Vilanova’s judgment. He hasn’t been wrong so far, has he?
Follow Sebastian on Twitter @JubeiKibagame