Tito Vilanova? Nope, we had no idea either. A quick bit of research reveals that the 42 year old has spent a number of years working in Barcelona’s youth structures, and became Pep Guardiola’s assistant manager in 2008 when the young Spaniard replaced Frank Rijkaard as the Blaugrana boss. Far from being the ilk of manager Real Madrid would wheel out after periodically sacking the latest incumbent to secure a major trophy but inexplicably “fall out” with a star player, Vilanova is, it is fair to say, hardly a high profile replacement. Guardiola’s announcement of his departure had a dual effect: first of all, it unleashed a wave of horrendous “Pep talk” puns, all as inept as the last, and also raised the spectre of the 41 year old moving to Chelsea, conquerors of the Catalan giants in this week’s Champions League semi-final second leg.
Vilanova’s record on paper looks remarkable: he has won 13 titles during his time as assistant manager, which lasted from 2008 to yesterday. However, what the statistics do not tell you, is that he only amassed such a dazzling array of trophies through the success achieved by Guardiola. This, of course, begs the question: is it the manager, or the assistant, who really breeds success? Alex Ferguson’s longevity at Manchester United would suggest that the assistant manager is a fairly vital figure, certainly in terms of day to day activity. Given that the Scot has been in charge at Old Trafford for what feels like a century, he must have taken his beady eye off the ball at least once: United, however, have continually come back to prove fans, pundits and “experts” wrong with sides capable of achieving major silverware, and succeeding in a plethora of (certainly domestic) competitions.
Thus, perhaps Vilanova is just what Barcelona need in this time of uncertainty. The club is, almost certainly, in turmoil, with Guardiola acknowledging the unthinkable: the team must change its style. Having been defeated by arch-rivals Real Madrid, both in an individual game, and most probably over the course of a season, defeat to Chelsea means the “greatest team in Europe” may well end up with only the Copa del Rey to show for their season. As Liverpool fans are constantly reminded, and this is particularly pertinent given the way in which the cup is devalued in Spain, winning domestic competitions that aren’t the Premier League doesn’t necessarily count as achievement.
Back to the original point, the hiring of a big name would only spell trouble for Barça, as it has done for Madrid many times before, and even Chelsea in our very own Premier League. So perhaps, in failing to satiate the media’s desire for a big story, Barcelona have saved themselves from years of underachievement and drama, in favour of continuity and quiet progression. Time will tell.
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