Liga - Who is Tito Vilanova?
Pep Guardiola's decision to quit as Barcelona coach was no great shock - but the appointment of assistant Francesc 'Tito' Vilanova as the new boss was surprising to say the least. But who is Guardiola’s right-hand man, and is he the right appointment?
Logic dictated that Guardiola would be replaced by a ‘club’ man, someone with Barcelona blood in his veins and strong knowledge of the inner workings of the club. That has been the 'boot room' tradition, and it continues to be thus.
The bookies’ favourite was Athletic Bilbao’s Marcelo Bielsa, but he was never in the running, with no connection to the club and an eccentric personality that would likely upset the club hierarchy and sponsors.
A more rational choice seemed Luis Enrique who - like Guardiola - is a former Barca midfielder and B-team head coach; he joined Roma in the summer though, and is overseeing a long-term project at the Serie A giants. His single season thus far has hinted at nothing other than a young coach learning his trade, the jury still out on the ex-Spain international.
Similarly, former Barca and Holland sweeper Frank de Boer had a good claim for the job - an adherent to Total Football, his first season as Ajax boss yielded a Dutch title, and he is set to repeat the trick this time out.
An outside bet was current Barca B boss Eusebio, also a former midfielder at the club, but he has been tarnished somewhat by a poor spell in charge of Celta Vigo, hinting he may not be up to the top job.
But Vilanova? A Barca youth-team product, yes, but a journeyman pro who barely touched Spain’s top flight? A man with no actual experience as a head coach (although he was Terassa’s director of football), having been Guardiola’s B-team assistant as well as senior number two?
It is a strikingly odd decision to many, but our Spanish office think it is the correct one.
"When Guardiola became a coach, his right-hand man was always Tito Vilanova," says Jorge Ordas, football editor at Eurosport.es.
"A lot of people believe Tito is the real brain behind Barcelona’s success, the tactical creator and the training-ground coach, with Guardiola the ‘face’ of the team, both publicly and to the players.
"There is a concern that the players may still see him as a ‘number two’. In this case, it is important that the captains - the senior players like Carles Puyol, Xavi, Victor Valdes and Andres Iniesta - are with Tito.
"If he keeps them on his side, he will be able to manage the team properly."
There may be other, political reasons for this appointment.
The notoriously conservative board do not want their coach to rock the boat, either internally or with the football authorities, something they could not count on with Dutchman De Boer, and certainly not with the outspoken Bielsa.
He also brings continuity. Whether or not you agree that Vilanova was the brains behind the operation, as Guardiola’s assistant - and a fellow former midfielder - you can count on his philosophy being consistent with the Xavi-driven passing rhythm established at the Camp Nou.
Loyalty is another attribute that Barca value greatly. Vilanova stayed with Pep after he replaced Frank Rijkaard as first-team coach, despite being offered the chance to manage the B team in Spain’s third tier, not to mention other coaching jobs. He has done his time and, as club policy dictates, should be given his opportunity.
There are obvious concerns though. The only Barcelona boss in recent history to have not played international football was Louis van Gaal, who already had an excellent coaching record and had been a solid professional player in Holland and Belgium.
Can Vilanova keep his cool under pressure, particularly in the face of provocative antics from Real Madrid boss Jose Mourinho, who infamously poked him in the eye after a fiery Clasico?
Is he close to being as attractive a proposition to potential new signings, or is this appointment making a statement that the Cantera is king, that the likes of Isaac Cuenca, Thiago Alcantra and Cristian Tello are the future?
There is another theory, that Vilanova is ‘holding the fort’ until Luis Enrique, De Boer or even Xavi is ready. It would be a risky ploy - such experiments tend to fail disastrously - but given how far ahead Barca and Real are from the chasing pack, one that would hardly see them slide out of contention for titles.
Barca seem to think he fits the bill, as they did when they employed Guardiola four years ago - which, at the time, was itself considered a risky appointment. And that turned out just fine...
Five facts about Tito Vilanova, the new Barcelona head coach (Reuters):
- Born September 17, 1969 in Bellcaire d'Emporda in Spain.
- On the youth team books at Barca, he went on to play for the likes of Celta Vigo and Mallorca as a midfielder.
- He was Barcelona B assistant coach with Guardiola in 2007-08 and graduated to the first team with Guardiola in 2008, again as his number two.
- Vilanova was famously poked in the eye by Real Madrid boss Jose Mourinho during a fracas at the Spanish Super Cup last August.
- He had a successful operation on a tumour in his saliva glands in November.