An awful lot names were being bandied about as possible replacements for Pep Guardiola when the departing Barcelona boss was still considering whether to sign up for another year of pressure and punishment at the Camp Nou or take a bit of a career break on the beach.
This list of the great, good and probably-not-a-good-idea included Marcelo Bielsa, Ernesto Valverde, Luis Enrique and André Villas-Boas. But Tito Vilanova, the figure with the dubious honour of following one of the most successful managers of modern times was nowhere to be seen on the pundits’ predictions.
The current right hand man for Guardiola - until after Friday’s Copa del Rey final is over and a promotion kicks in - is well known in Barcelona as the figure who has played a significant role in the rise and rise of Barça over the past four years. Vilanova is known every else in the world as the unfortunate fella who was poked in the eye by José Mourinho after a Spanish Super Cup clash last summer.
Vilanova is known every else in the world as the unfortunate fella who was poked in the eye by José Mourinho
The 42-year-old has been with his current boss ever since the pair got together in 2007 when Vilanova joined up with his close friend to work as his assistant in charge of the club’s ‘B’ team. The Catalan coach then moved up with Pep to take on the same role for the first team helping to deliver some astonishing success.
Unlike Guardiola who has always been a famous figure in Spanish football both as player and now coach, Vilanova had a fairly undistinguished playing career in the lower leagues despite starting off in la Masia. The former midfielder retired in 2002 before spending a short period coaching in Barcelona’s youth ranks including a team containing Cesc Fabregas, Gerard Piqué and Leo Messi.
But after rejoining the club and forming a dynamic duo with Guardiola, Vilanova became a key member of Barcelona’s coaching team playing a significant role in the club’s tactical innovations over the years and perhaps most importantly of all, being the rock, go-to-guy and confidante of Guardiola in what was a successful but incredibly stressful period. “If Guardiola was the ying, he is the yang,” wrote Santi Nolla in Mundo Deportivo. “As excellent as a person as a football coach.”
Barcelona are hoping that this continuity and reflex of looking internally for managers as well as players will lead to a smooth transition with a figure who is already well known and respected by the players sitting on the Barça bench. However, Tito is not Pep Mark II. Not by a long way.
“If Guardiola was the ying, he is the yang,” wrote Santi Nolla in Mundo Deportivo. “As excellent as a person as a football coach.”
Like Guardiola when he took over four years ago, Vilanova does not have an expansive managerial CV to call upon, however unlike his predecessor, the new Barça boss does not have a glittering playing career and a reputation as a great leader to fall back on. “Tito is more shy, more reserved, and of course not such a good speaker. Barça are betting on another home-grown coach with the desire that he continues the success of his friend and maestro,” opined Josep María Casanovas in Sport.
Although Vilanova will be well aware of the pressures of being Barcelona boss both on and off the field, it’s another thing to have to shoulder them personally, which is what he will have to do from June. The new manager faces a resurgent Real Madrid who have taken back the league title, a defence that needs an overhaul and a squad that requires a few new tactical tricks up their sleeve to avoid more shut-outs by the likes of Chelsea.
The move has both been heralded as a smart one by Vilanova’s supporters but also as a ‘panic decision’ by former Barcelona president, Joan Laporta. There is even the story swilling around that Guardiola himself was not entirely happy with the appointment, wanting Marcelo Bielsa instead. Either way, the new Barcelona boss is going to be under an awful lot of pressure the second that Pep Guardiola steps away from the Camp Nou scene. How Tito Vilanova deals with it is as much as mystery as who the manager is for many.
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